Mushroom, spinach and goats cheese pearl barley risotto

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

Serves four

  • 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.

Sweet potato and vegetable soup

I’ve got a cold and it’s turned autumnal and chilly in Cape Town – it’s time for soup. As much as I am a summer person, I’ve kind of been looking forward to the arrival of winter just so that I can make yummy wintery soups that simmer away on the stove for hours and fill the house with soupy wholesomeness. I’ve been sick with a cold for a few days and I’ve been craving hearty vegetable soup but been too lazy to cook, so I’ve had ready-made packet soups, which really don’t live up to the real thing. This soup really hit the spot, and it couldn’t have been easier to make. This makes a massive soup, which is great if you don’t have time for cooking on weeknights. Make it on Sunday afternoon, and you’ll have soup for the rest of the week.

Sweet potato and veggie soup

  • 1 onion
  • 5 sticks of celery
  • 6 carrots
  • 1 tbsp crushed garlic
  • Two handfuls fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 70 g tomato paste
  • 5 tsp vegetable stock powder
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into big chunks
  • 250 g soup mix (I used Woolies’ soup mix of pearl barley, green lentils, red split peas and green split peas)

To make this easier for myself, I blitzed the onion, celery, carrots and a handful of parsley in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor though, just chop them all into small pieces. Fry gently in a slug of olive oil for a couple of minutes, and then add the garlic. Fry for a couple more minutes until everything starts to go a bit soft. Add the tin of tomatoes, the tomato paste and about a litre and a half of hot water, along with the veg stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat, simmer and put the lid on. Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking on water levels. If it starts getting a bit thick, just add more hot water. Add the sweet potatoes along with about two cups of hot water and put the lid back on, keeping the soup on a simmer. Cook for a further 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are just cooked (don’t overcook them as you don’t want them to get mushy). Stir in a handful of chopped parsley and the chilli flakes and serve with lots of ground black pepper.