Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Carmelized Onions

One of the many things that I love about barley is its seem-less entry into turning itself into a lovely risotto. Sometimes you just need something that is a bit more hearty and stick-to-your-ribs, and other times, you just want to avoid white rice. This recipe came out of desiring both. It was cold and we wanted to feel comforted. This my friends, is where barley steps in. Pair it with some hearty porcini mushrooms and a liberal dose of basil; top with carmelized onions and pine nuts for extra flair, and you have a one bowl feast. The result was very delicious. But before the recipe comes to you, a bit of history and nutrition about our humble grain barley. Barley, for those of you who don't know, has been with us since the beginning of time. Before there were refining mills and cross-pollinated strains of god knows what, many people relied on barley as both a food source, and of course, a beverage source (mmmm, beer).The grain is often thought to be the first cultivated grain in our civilization, and according to Pliny, was the food of the gladiators until the rise of Rome. Those in ancient Greece fermented beverages that were made of barley and used in ceremony and ritual. (source). Barley most likely fell out of fashion with the rise of wheat, and thus, the middle and upper classes. In more recent times, barley was considered to be peasant food, while wheat was the grain of choice for those who were prosperous. But here's a little bit more to chew on: one cup of cooked barley provides a quarter of your daily fiber requirements, is high in protein and iron, and is a great of calcium, magnesium, selenium and phosphorus. So onward and upward with barley! In this recipe a simple grain is turned into the most elegant of meals, pleasing the highbrow snob in us all.

Mushroom Basil Barley Risotto topped with Pine Nuts and Caramelized Onions

2 large red onions, sliced into thin half moons
; water for deglazing pan
6 c. water
1 10 oz package porcini (baby bella) mushrooms, stems removed and reserved, caps diced

1 1/2 c. barley
1tbsp olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, chopped
black pepper and salt to taste
1/4 c. pine nuts


For the onions:
We are going to caramelize onions a la Mark Bittman (whom I adore). In a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, place onion slices and a dash of water. Cover and let sit for about 7 minutes, or until onions begin to brown on one side and sugars caramelize on the bottom of the pan. When this happens, add about 1/4 c. (I eyeball it) water to the pan, swishing and scraping with a rubber spatula to de-glaze. Do this as needed until the onions are sufficiently caramelized. I find that once you de-glaze the pan, you are golden (ha ha ha, I have been quite pun-laden lately), and the rest takes about 5 - 10 minutes. Easy and tasty! When finished, cover and set aside.

For the barley:
Place 6 cups of water and mushroom stems in a sauce pan or a large tea kettle (I find that my kettle is great for this!). Heat until significantly warm; turn off heat and cover.

Following this, place oil in a medium-sized casserole, preferably cast-iron. Heat oil and add barley, stirring to coat each grain and toasting a bit. Add mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, stirring for a majority of the time to release the starches in the grain. As the liquid is absorbed, add 1 more cup stock. After adding the fourth cup of liquid, stir in chopped mushrooms and cook down. Depending on the tenderness of your grain (yes, you should taste it), you may only have to add one more cup of liquid; others may have to add two. Whatever the verdict is, add the fresh basil in after you have added your last cup of liquid. The idea is to let the basil wilt and infuse its flavors into the dish. Taste again and season with black pepper and salt to your liking (you may notice that I never really cook with salt- and if so, it's just a dash. Too much salt is not good!).

When the risotto is finished, place into serving bowls and top with a healthy dose of caramelized onions. Garnish with pine nuts for extra Gladiator Goodness and supreme upper echelon points.

PS I always promise music as part of the cooking experience, and while Frank and I listen enthusiastically while cooking, I rarely discuss it. While making this meal, I do believe that we were listening to the delightfully challenging and catchy RAM, by Paul McCartney. Released in 1971, it was his second post-Beatle LP, created largely with Linda, and leading into Wings. All Music describes it as 'humble' 'organic' and 'ramshackle'. I call it, catchy, ragged, and almost reeling in the power that it manages to give off to the listener at times. RAM feels like a proper follow up to later Beatle material, while being slightly less abstract in its musical tendencies. The album is a definite investment for those, who like me, are all about the Beatles together and solo, but really really dislike Wings and Ringo.

Spicy, Hot, and Damn Good

As we all know, the throes of winter and January blues have descended upon us all, due to this explanation. I grew up in Rochester, NY, where temperatures of 0 and below are pretty common every winter. Unfortunately, this weather every year did nothing to increase my tolerance for it. Even though it is a 'balmy' 25-30 degrees here in New York in comparison to the arctic temperatures present in other parts of the country, simply walking for 10 minutes in this weather makes your toes go numb, your fingers unable to bend and your poor mouth longing for something warm to be promptly placed inside of it. So dear readers, that is where I come to the rescue. No, I won't fly out of the sky with a piping hot bowl of soup to hand to you on the street, but this is pretty close. Prep time excluded (and it's not long), this takes about 30 minutes to have on the table, and will warm up your mouth and body with spice and nutrition.I had been thinking about making a vegan tortilla-esque soup for a while, but since there are no refined flours on the menu for January, this has turned into a lovely Mexican Vegetable Soup. Onwards and upwards!

Mexican Vegetable Soup


1 large red onion,
3 cloves garlic,
2 jalapeno peppers, diced (we left the seeds
in rather than using chili powder or cayenne, but use your judgement)
1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp marjoram

1 tsp coriander

1/2 Tbsp cumin

black pepper to taste

1 28 oz can diced tomatoes

7 cups water (2 cans worth)

1 can 15.5 oz can black beans, rinsed

3 ears of corn, or 1.5 cups frozen
8 oz frozen or fresh summer squash, diced into quarters


In a large pot, saute onion, garlic, and jalapeno over med-high heat using
either water or olive oil. When soft, add in all spices and cook for
another 2 minutes.

Add in tomatoes and 2 cans of water (the easiest way to measure out water and get the extra tomato in the can!), beans, and corn. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes to allow flavors to come together.

If using frozen squash (we received ours from our winter CSA share), thaw in a colander under running water and add to the soup. With the frozen squash, the soup really only needs to cook for another 5-10 minutes or s
o; just enough to warm everything up to your desired temperature again. If using fresh squash, add to soup and cook until tender-firm, roughly 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste for seasoning, and enjoy!
What, you ask? Why, this post my friends! Between the holidays and traveling and moving and starting a new job, my world has been hectic to say the least. So in order to get back into the swing of blogging life, I have decided to offer up to all of you a re-cap of the culinary highlight created in my kitchen over the last bit of time. Some come from my head; due to time, most from books; and some are a combination of both... but the main key is that they are all tasty super-vegan winners. So, without further ado...

Celeriac-Apple White Bean Pie
Adapted from Asparagus White Bean Quiche from Veganomicon, subbing celeriac for the vegetable, thyme and sage for spice and adding sliced apple on top. Mmmm Mmmm.

Chickpea Cutlets, Brussels Sprouts and Mashed Turnips with Chickpea Gravy
The vegan version of meat and potatoes, with a side of greens. If you have not made mashed turnips (we used CSA turnips), they are delicious!

Chickpea Pancakes with Cardamom Spiced Cabbage
The cabbage comes from Robin Robertson's Vegan Fire and Spice. Simple, but one of the many tasty options Frank and I discovered this year for our CSA cabbage. The chickpea pancake recipe comes courtesey of the Indian Culinary Institute and is delightful. You can find it here on Not Eating Out in New York, a great blog that, while not completely veggie-minded, offers cost cutting/calculation tips and plenty of adaptable recipes.

Spicy Bolivian Cabbage and Potatoes
The final cabbage dish! A quick and easy recipe from Vegetarian Times that tastes as good as it looks. Use purple potatoes and green cabbage (maybe even a yellow or orange pepper instead of red) for extra color contrast. You can find the recipe here.

Cranberry-Ginger Scones
A beaut of a scone! The basic dough recipe was adapted from Vegan with A Vengeance. I then added in 1 cup of sliced fresh cranberries, subbed brown sugar for regular sugar and used ground ginger in place of the spices. I place non-crystalized candied ginger on top. These were the hit of the weekend when I made them.

Christmas Cookies!
And lastly, a fine way to cap off the holiday season. This is the selection that I sent to Frank's office, on a groovy Cynthia Rowley for Target plate that I bought millions of years ago but still love. Anyways, back to the matter at hand. The majority of these cookies came from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, the latest offering from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Allow me to say, woah! Everything was incredible and once you get into cookie-baking mode, easy to take on for an afternoon. Starting with the second cookie on the left, we have: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows, Linzertorte Thumbprints, Magical Coconut Bars, and Pignoli. The Linzertorte Thumbprints call for hazelnut butter, which I made in my food processor (soon it will be a Vita-Mix!) with a little bit of elbow grease, and it definitely paid off. Frank, his co-workers, and my co-workers all gave these cookies thumbs up. The first cookie on the left is one of my 'staple cookies', a veganized recipe from Better Homes and Gardens called Cardamom Snaps. This cookie pleases everyone from aged 6 - 100, so beware of cookie stalkers knocking on your door at all hours of the nite. You can find that one here.

There you have it! A round-up of the top notch recipes I have made over the last month or so. I highly encourage you all to try these if you have not done so yet, or go back to them if you already have. I tend to find that I make recipes from books only once, but all of these are repeat offenders in the best way possible.

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