Friday, October 31, 2014

Bleeding Barley

OK, it's Halloween, so gross is rather in style. :-) This recipe isn't as disgusting as the title would indicate. The "blood" comes from beets, which are scary for lots of folks. I love beets - they are little sweet like carrots but more earthy. Some would argue that's a nice way of saying they taste like dirt. Try them like this before you dismiss them.

The best way to cook them is either roasted or in the microwave. Boiling them is an option too, but I like the microwave better. You don't need to peel them before cooking them. The peel is easier to remove after they are cooked. I suggest you use latex gloves when peeling and cutting up beets. They will turn your hands bright pink to blood red. Which would be fitting on Halloween, now that I think of it.

Not a true risotto - that's made with short-grain rice - barley risotto has a similar creamy texture and cooked in the same way. It's less expensive; pearl barley is inexpensive while arborio rice can be pricey. The stirring releases the starch, which is what gives risotto its creamy texture, not cream or butter. Though many recipes say you need to stir constantly, that's not really necessary. Stirring every few minutes is sufficient. Yes, it takes some work but not too much.

Bleeding Barley
(serves 4 as a light entree, 6 as a side dish)

3 medium beets, about 12 oz.
6-7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
3 Tablespoons butter
¼ cup minced onion (or 1 Tablespoon dried minced onion)
2 cups pearl barley
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
cheese (optional)

Trim the off the leaves and cut the stem within 1" of the beets. Trim off the hairy tip of the root. Wash well. Using a large kitchen fork, poke each beet a few times. Rub them with oil. Place in a microwaveable dish with a couple of tablespoons of water and cover. Microwave on high 10 minutes. Give the a poke with a paring knife to see if they are tender. When they are cooked, the knife will go in easily. If not fully cooked, move them around in the dish, recover, and cook for another few minutes. Uncover and let cool for 5 minutes. Peel them with a paring knife and dice. Set aside.

Bring the stock to a simmer and keep it there. Heat the butter in a large saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and stir. Cook until softened, 2 minutes. Add the barley, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add 1 cup of stock, and stir frequently until all the stock is absorbed. Maintain a simmer - reduce to medium-low if the stock sizzles when you add it. When the previous addition of stock is absorbed, add another cup of stock and continue stirring and cooking until the barley is tender, about 30-40 minutes. You need to try it to see if it's done at 30 minutes. It should be slightly chewy but not hard in the center. If it's not done, add more stock and keep going.

Add diced beets, last tablespoon of butter and black pepper, and mix to melt butter and incorporate the beets. The risotto will turn a lovely shade of pink. Taste for salt. If your stock is salted, you may not need any more. To serve, grate or crumble on cheese, if using. Creamy goat cheese is the traditional complement to beets, but you can use Parmesan, blue cheese, or an aged sheep cheese like Manchego instead.

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