On Saturday night, I got together with a few friends to join in a book club discussion and potlock. The book was How to be Free, by Tom Hodgkinson (and there will be a blog post to follow on our inspiring and open discussion) and the potluck included homemade dishes made with local, seasonal ingredients. Our lovely host Jackie, inspired by the book, made delicious bread loaves to go with hearty winter soups and stews. The downstairs neighbours brought up pecan encrusted baked brie and cinnamon apples (after having just finished a post-holiday dairy-free cleanse, I truly savoured this treat). I decided to pioneer a new culinary invention, Beet and Greens Barley Risotto.
I am a huge fan of the humble beet. I love the way the beet announces itself from garden to fork with its pink vibrancy. It stains cutting boards, drips off of knives, tints lips and permeates dishes with a bright pink hue and earthy sweetness. I finally got my hands on a coveted Beet The System tee-shirt (slightly different design from above) from the Moss Street Market last summer and I wear it proudly. I think that the Beet is the perfect advocate for local, seasonal eating and garden growing – beets are fun, delicious, nutritious and most certainly bold!
Let’s not forget the other hero in this dish: barley! I love using barley in risotto. It offers a delicious chewy texture and high-fibre nourishment not available from arborio rice, which is traditionally used in risotto, without sacrificing the creaminess you expect in risotto. Using whole barley in this dish makes it much more nutritious, much less expensive and more environmentally friendly, as arborio rice often has to travel long distances from its source to our plates.
My friends loved this dish and I hope you enjoy sharing this risotto with your friends and family, too.
Beet and Greens Barley Risotto
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic (I love garlic, so I use large cloves of local organic garlic)
3 large or 5 medium beets
2 cups beet greens (kale, spinach or other greens can be substituted)
1 1/2 cups of barley
5-7 cups of vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1/2 cup of dry red wine and handful of fresh herbs
First, be ready to give this dish your full attention, as a risotto’s success depends on the cook’s vigilance. Hover lovingly over it with your spoon! Heat your vegetable stock in a separate pot so it will be hot and ready to add later. Dice the beets, chop the onions and the garlic and add them all to a wok or heavy-bottomed pot coated with a bit of hot oil (I used olive oil). Sauté on medium-high for about 7 minutes until the beets begin to soften, the onions become transparent and you can smell the sweetness of the garlic (stir continuously, lest you burn the garlic!). Chop the greens, add to beets and sauté for a few more minutes until they wilt. Add your barley and stir to coat for about 5 minutes. If you are using wine, add it to the hot pan and stir until liquid is absorbed. Now, add a bit of the hot stock (it helps to use a ladle) to the barley and stir until it is absorbed. Repeat several times, always waiting until the liquid is absorbed before adding more, until the barley achieves a chewy texture and creamy consistency. This process should take between 20-30 minutes. Finally, add the juice from 1 lemon and zest from half, and season with salt and pepper and chopped herbs. Plate and garnish if you wish with lemon zest and green herbs.
This dish was shared as a side dish among 8 people and there was some left over.
Beet the winter blues with pink!