Asparagus pearl barley risotto

I conjured up this tasty rice dish with ingredients in the fridge and cupboard. It’s tasty and simple to make. Pearl barley is a healthy wholegrain and is a great substitute for risotto rice. It brings earthy, nutty flavours and adds wonderful texture with a bit of bite.

The vibrant, green asparagus has a satisfying crunch with a striking and fresh flavour. The creme fraiche and cheese add a layer of richness, but these ingredients can be left out to make the dish vegan friendly. And the soft cooked mushrooms on top balance out the crunchy textures.

This dish is cooked using the same method as risotto. It’s a great meal to make one evening after work.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 160g pearl barley
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 3 closed cup mushrooms
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 dessert spoon of creme fraiche
  • A handful of mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • Plenty of seasoning

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 2


  1. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes, or until it has softened.
  3. Pour in the pearl barley and mix in well with the onion. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cut off the woody ends of the asparagus spears and chop each spear into thirds.
  5. Turn the pan down to a low heat and add a ladleful of stock to the pan, stirring occasionally. When the stock has been absorbed by the barley, add another ladleful and repeat the process.
  6. Put the chopped asparagus into the pan and stir in with the mixture. Add the next ladleful of stock as before, and continue this process until all of the stock has been added. This should take about 30 minutes.
  7. While the risotto is cooking, add the butter to a small pan and put it on a medium heat. Chop the mushrooms into thin slices and add them to the pan. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown. Set aside.
  8. When all of the stock has been absorbed by the barley, give a grain or two a taste. It should be fairly softer, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a splash of water and wait for that to absorb, for a further 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the barley is ready, take the pan off the heat and season well. Mix in the creme fraiche and cheese and serve in large bowls with the mushrooms arranged on top.

Aubergine and asparagus curry

This delicious vegan curry of juicy pan-fried aubergine and crisp and crunchy asparagus is bursting with fantastic flavours from India and Southeast Asia.

At the base of the sauce is a fiery homemade curry paste packed with a wealth of spices, and strong hints of garlic and chilli, which is offset by the sweet and creamy taste of coconut milk and thickening chopped tomatoes.

Aubergine and asparagus curry

The fusion of traditional Indian spices like turmeric and cumin and Southeast Asian ingredients like coconut milk and ginger, as well as seasonal asparagus make this dish really interesting and unlike anything I’ve tasted before.

Serve it with poppadoms to start and sides of brown rice and chapattis and you’ve got the perfect filling feast.

It’s sweet, spicy and scrumptious – give it a go and let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below.


  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 small to medium aubergines
  • 200g chopped tomatoes
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 165ml can of coconut milk (or use just less than half of a regular 400g can)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the paste

  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric

Optional sides

  • 1 mug of brown rice
  • 2 chapattis
  • 4-6 poppadoms
  • Mango chutney

Preparation time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves 2


1. Tip all of the curry paste ingredients into a measuring jug and use a hand blender to whiz them together until they form a thick paste.
2. Take one of your aubergines and slice it lengthways, then cut each half in half again. Then slice each quarter into three. You should have 12 pieces altogether. Repeat this process for the second aubergine.
3. If you’re planning on serving your curry with brown rice, then put the water on to boil for your rice at this point. If you’re not, ignore this point and move on to number 4! Brown rice takes about 25 minutes to cook, twice the amount of time it takes white rice. I use half a mug’s worth of rice per person, with double the amount of water (my mum’s failsafe instructions).
4. Pour one tablespoon of sunflower oil into a large, non-stick frying pan on a medium to high heat. When the oil’s hot, lift the pan up and tilt round so the oil is evenly dispersed around the pan. Add half of the aubergine slices and fry for 5-7 minutes, until they start to soften and brown up. When the first batch is done, lay the slices on some kitchen roll on a plate or chopping board. Pour in the second tablespoon of oil and repeat the process for the second batch.
5. Put a wok or a large saucepan on a medium heat and add in a tablespoon of oil. Pour in the curry paste and cook for a few minutes, stirring often. Add the aubergines and mix in with the paste for a couple of minutes, until they’re well coated.
6. Pour in the coconut milk and chopped tomatoes and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Cover and simmer on a low heat for 10 minutes.
7. Chop the woody ends off the asparagus. Add them to the pan and mix them in, then cook for a further five minutes.
8. While the curry is finishing cooking, heat the chapattis in the oven as per the pack instructions.
9. Season the curry well and serve on a large plate with the brown rice along with the chapattis, poppadoms and chutney.

Aubergine and asparagus curry

This recipe was inspired by and adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s aubergine and green bean curry in his book River Cottage Veg.

Vegetable paella and what to eat before running a marathon

It’s been a bit quiet on the Peckish Pescy front the last few weeks. By no means have I been less peckish, but I’ve been so busy preparing to take part in the London Marathon (which I am very pleased to say that I completed yesterday in 4 hours and 20 minutes) that I’ve not had an opportunity to write about all of the tasty food I’ve been eating.

Food in the week leading up to a marathon

I did a fair bit of reading about what to eat in the week leading up to a marathon, and across the board, oats, carbohydrates like basmati rice, pasta and sweet potatoes, oily fish and plenty of fruit and vegetables came out on top.

Paella: a penultimate pre-marathon dinner

On Friday, as a penultimate pre-marathon dinner, I decided to make vegetable paella, ticking the carbs and vegetables boxes.

Vegetable paella

Paella, a rice dish which originates from Valencia in Spain, is a meal I associate with holidays and festivals. My favourite memory of eating paella has got to be on a summer holiday to Spain with my best friend from university, Claire, back in 2007. We stayed in a little coastal town called La Pineda in Catalonia and stumbled across a modest and slightly bizarre cafe/restaurant down a side street, with a big TV playing MTV music videos.

At the time, Claire and I were both strict vegetarians so we were delighted to see an interesting looking vegetable paella on the menu. It had all sorts of vegetables in it, including brussel sprouts, which was unusual, but absolutely delicious! I feel hungry just thinking about it!

Paella traditionally contains meats like chicken, rabbit and chorizo, but there are different varieties like seafood paella and more contemporary vegetarian versions.

Vegetable paella recipe

This version of paella is vegan. I love the variety of vibrant colours from the pepper, tomatoes, asparagus and peas. This is a really wholesome dish filled with tasty and healthy ingredients. The fresh taste of the flat leaf parsley brings the dish to life and is complimented by the tarte and zesty lemon juice.

Vegetable paella in a panYou could easily add in other vegetables like carrots, butternut squash and green beans. Or if you fancy making it fishy, you could add in some seafood like prawns and squid.


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 small red onions (you could use one large onion), finely chopped
  • 150g paella rice (I used Sainsbury’s paella rice)
  • 450ml vegetable stock
  • 400g can/carton of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 orange pepper, chopped into 4cm chunks
  • 3 asparagus spears, sliced into quarters
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • A handful of frozen peas
  • A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon
  • Plenty of sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Serves 2


1. Drizzle the oil into a large frying pan (ideally you should use a paella dish, but a frying pan does the job) and put it on a medium heat.
2. Add the onion and pepper and fry for five minutes, or until the pepper begins to soften, and then pop in the dried thyme and paprika. Stir for a minute or so and then gradually add the stock, stirring constantly, followed by the tomatoes.
3. Season well and cook for 15 minutes, adding the asparagus slices after 7-8 minutes. Stir the mixture occasionally.
4. Pour in the frozen peas and cook for a further five minutes, or until the peas have warmed through.
5. Take the pan off the heat and squeeze over half of the lemon juice. Sprinkle the parsley over the paella and stir through. Season well.
6. Serve in large bowls with the remaining quarters of the lemon and garnish with a piece of parsley.

This recipe has been adapted from BBC Good Food’s easy paella recipe.