Love risotto in winter? Feel guilty about all that starchy rice and Parmesan? This pearl barley risotto is a healthier option and it’s also delicious. I tried this mushroom and spinach pearl barley risotto the other day and my boyfriend gave it the enthusiastic thumbs up, so now it’s a regular on cold wintry nights. I haven’t tried to make pearl barley with anything else but I’ve seen recipes for it with roasted pumpkin, which I imagine would be rather tasty.
On a separate note, I went mushroom foraging this week at Delheim Wine Estate and was treated to a three-course mushroom lunch. I’m now so into mushrooms I’m cooking them for practically ever supper. No more button mushrooms for me – it’s all about shiitake, enoki and shimeji from now on. All these exotics are taking me back to when I lived in Taiwan and there were no buttons to be found. Instead we bought strange-looking mushrooms from the supermarket and veggie market, with no idea what they were (although they were yummy).
Mushroom, spinach and goats cheese pearl barley risotto
2 big leeks or 5 baby leeks, chopped
One tablespoon crushed garlic
A big pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
400 g of mushrooms (be adventurous – I used a mixture of portabellini, shimeji, shiitaki and enoki), chopped roughly
200 ml white wine
200 g pearl barley
750 ml warm vegetable stock
150 g spinach
50 g (or more, up to you) chevin/goats cheese (I like one encrusted with garlic and herbs)
A handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Fry the leeks in a glug of olive oil until they’ve started to soften, and then add the garlic (and chilli) and fry for a further minute or two. Add the chopped mushrooms at this point, keep the heat on medium, and cook until the mushrooms start to emit water (about five minutes). Add the pearl barley and mix well to coat it, and cook for a minute or two. Pour in the white wine, turn up the heat a bit and wait until the wine has reduced by about half. Now add the stock slowly, ladleful by ladleful until it’s all used up. Stir for a bit, turn the heat down so the risotto is simmering and put the lid on. Go and relax for thirty minutes, giving it a stir every now and then. When the pearl barley is tender and the stock is almost all absorbed, stir in the spinach leaves and continue to stir until they’ve wilted. At this point stir in the parsley and take it off the heat. Serve the pearl barley risotto in deep bowls with slices of goats cheese on top and loads of black pepper.
It’s the start of the new year, and as always, my resolution is to cook more and eat more healthily. The key to both of these is easy cooking. None of my recipes take long to make, but some of them require a bit of planning and some a lot of chopping, so this year I’m really going to try and come up with recipes where you can throw a bunch of things in your fridge together in less than 30 minutes. This is one of those recipes. I didn’t plan it – I just had a whole lot of veggies in my fridge and some quinoa in my cupboard and I felt like a quick curry. This dish really couldn’t be simpler. If you’ve never made a curry before because you thought it was hard – try this.
250 g courgettes, chopped
2 medium aubergines, chopped into smallish pieces
1 onion, chopped finely
1 red pepper, chopped
1 tin of chickpeas
1 tin of chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 cup of quinoa
1 heaped tsp hot curry powder
1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp tumeric
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp cumin seeds
A couple of dried curry leaves
1 T apple cider vinegar
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (if you want the curry spicy)
Handful fresh coriander
Handful of flaked almonds (optional)
Fresh mint and basil (optional)
1/2 a lemon
Feta, to crumble on top (optional)
Make the quinoa according to the packet instructions.
Meanwhile, fry the onions (I use coconut oil for frying when making curries – it’s much better than olive oil) and when they’ve softened a bit, add the garlic. Fry for another minute or two and then add all the curry spices and leaves. Mix well and fry until fragrant. Add the aubergine and courgettes and cider vinegar and fry for another five minutes or so (you may want to add a bit more oil at this stage if it’s a bit dry). Pour in the tinned tomato and turn down the heat so it’s simmering. Stir occasionally and add the red pepper and chickpeas after about five minutes. After adding the tinned tomatoes, the curry needs to cook for around 10 – 12 minutes, or until thickened.
Once the quinoa has cooked, squeeze in half a lemon, season with black pepper and chop up some fresh basil and mint if you have it. It’s not essential to add the herbs, but I love herby quinoa and I think they make it a bit more interesting. You only really need a tablespoon or so of each herb. I also love adding almonds to the quinoa for some crunch – mix in a handful or two if you have them.
When the curry is ready, serve it on top of a helping of quinoa with fresh coriander on top. I like crumbling feta over the curry, even though it doesn’t traditionally go with curry. I don’t cook with salt, so I find feta adds a bit of a salty kick to the dish.
I had to make bread for a picnic last weekend. Mistakenly I thought I had a packet of my handy country loaf bread mix in the cupboard. By the time I realised that I didn’t have a bread mix, it was too late to go and buy one so I had to come up with a bread recipe using whatever I already had. I was a bit nervous about it working out (I’m not a very confident baker) but somehow it did. It’s a lovely moist, dense bread with lots of crunchy seeds – a perfect picnic loaf.
Makes 1 loaf
500 g nutty wheat, or other wholewheat bread flour
500 g plain fat free yoghurt
1 free-range egg
3 T canola oil
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
Two handfuls of seeds (I used sunflower, linseeds and pumkin seeds)
3 T seeds (for sprinkling over the bread)
Combine all the ingredients together and mix well. If the mixture seems a little too dry, add a bit more yoghurt. It shouldn’t be runny though – it should have the consistency of really thick porridge. Pour the mixture into a greased loaf tin and spinkle over a mixture of seeds. Bake in a 200 C oven for about one hour and a half until you are able to stick a knife into the middle of the bread and it comes out clean.
A pasta salad popped out of a friend’s picnic bag at a wine tasting picnic I was at last weekend and it was delicious – just the right combo of saltiness (feta), crunchiness (cucumber) and soft creaminess (av0). Since then I’ve been so into pasta salads – they’re perfect for an easy dinner, cold lunch and of course, picnics. This is my ultimate pasta salad, but you can always add all manner of other goodies to this basic recipe.
Serves 6 generously
500 g small pasta shells
1 cucumber, chopped into smallish pieces
500 g rosa or cherry tomatoes, halves
2 mielies, cooked (I do this in the microwave) and kernels removed
Half a packed of black olives, pitted and chopped
1 yellow pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 red pepper, chopped into small pieces
120 g feta, chopped into small squares
Canola or olive oil
Pinch of sugar
Cook the pasta and let it cool in a colander. Once it’s cooled down, pour into a large bowl and mix in all the ingredients. To make the dressing, combine about three tablespoons of oil with one or two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of mustard, a pinch of sugar and lots of black pepper and shake up in a jam jar. These are not exact measurements though – add more oil, vinegar or mustard to your taste. To transport the salad for a picnic, I keep the dressing in the jar and pour it on only when we get there.
I’ve been going to about three picnics a week lately, so I’ve been cooking an enormous amount of picnic goodies. Picnic food is the best – I love the mini-ness of everything. These miniature frittatas with sundried tomato, feta, courgettes and olives sum up what picnic food is all about – bite-sized, packed with summer flavours and infinitely more-ish. They couldn’t be easier to make, and you can pretty much put anything you like in them, from different kinds of cheese, mushrooms, peppers, spinach…
Makes 12 mini frittatas
6 free-range eggs
250 courgettes, grated
Handful of sundried tomatoes, chopped finely
Handful of olives, pitted and chopped
8 peppadews, chopped finely
1 T wholegrain mustard
5 or 6 fresh basil leaves, chopped finely
1 T fresh chives, chopped finely
After grating the courgettes, place them in a colander over the sink and spinkle them with salt. Leave them to drain. Meanwhile, crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Crumble in the feta and add all the other ingredients. Season well with black pepper. I like to add a dash of Tabasco and a generous sprinkling of cayenne pepper, but that’s up to you. Pour the mixture into a greased muffin pan (filling up each pan almost to the top) and bake in a 150 C oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the frittatas have started to turn golden.