We all know that whole grains are an important part of a well-balanced diet; full of protein, vitamins and minerals, fibre and antioxidants, a diet that includes whole grains can help reduce obesity, type 2 diabetes and helps to reduce the risk of heart disease. Getting whole grains in your diet is easy, as there are numerous multi-grain breads on our shelves to choose from. Starting off the day with a bowl of whole grain cereal like oatmeal or Red River Cereal is a great start.
One of our favourite whole grains is barley. Not exactly the latest darling of pop culinary culture, we leave that to quinoa and amaranth and other esoteric grains, but barley has been a reliable, affordable and easily grown and accessed grain for millennia, and pops up in Western Culinary standards like pilafs, Scotch Broth and orzotto, the Italian dish similar to risotto but made with barley instead of rice. And of course barley is a key ingredient in the manufacture of beer and whiskies.
When it comes to the barley you buy off the shelf, basically there are two types; hulled barley and pearl barley. Hulled barley has its inedible outer shell removed but otherwise is left intact. It is also known as barley groats, pot barley or Scotch barley. Pearl barley is more commonly used by cooks as it is literally more refined; its outer hull is removed, and then the bran is polished off, removing some of the nutrients and fibre but resulting in a more tender grain.
On the nutrition scale, barley comes out a winner; a hundred grams of barley gives you 68% of your RDA of fibre as well as 12 g of protein, 19% of your RDA of iron and 15% of your daily vitamin B-6 needs. But start adding a little barley to your diet and you’ll find yourself reaching for it more and more, for its versatility and delicious, nutty taste, especially in dishes like this fabulous Mushroom Orzotto.
1 cup peal barley
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Clean the mushrooms, remove stems and discard or save for stock. Slice the mushroom caps and set aside. Cook the barley for 15 minutes in a pot of lightly salted water. Drain and set aside. Bring the chicken stock to a boil. Once it boils reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil, add the mushrooms and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 4 minutes over medium high stirring until the mushrooms are soft. Stir in the barley. Add 1 cup of the stock and cook over medium to low, stirring until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Keep adding the stock 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly for about 25 minutes or until the barley is al dente and you have a creamy sauce. Stir in the butter and parm. Season with salt and pepper.