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

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  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.
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Mediterranean potato, tomato and pepper salad

To celebrate National Vegetarian Week and the May Bank Holiday in the UK, impress your friends and family by having a go at making this wonderfully flavoursome Mediterranean potato, tomato and pepper salad.

It’s really easy and cheap to make, looks exotic and appetising, and it’s low in fat!

As the weather slow starts to warm up (if we can brush off this pesky rain), and you’re thinking of organising a barbecue, serve this salad as a summery side dish, or as an alternative addition to a veggie Sunday lunch.

It can easily be doubled, tripled or multiplied further if you’re feeding the masses.

Mediterranean potato salad

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 8-10 Charlotte or new potatoes, cut in half
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 5 green olives
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 200g chopped tomatoes
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips
  • A small handful of fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes
Serves 2

Method

1. Half-fill a medium to large saucepan with cold water and sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil.
2. Pour the olive oil into a decent sized frying pan and put on a medium heat. Add the onion slices and fry for 5-7 minutes, until they begin to soften.
3. Meanwhile, when the water has boiled, add the potatoes and cook them following the pack instructions – which is usually around 15-20 minutes.
4. Add the garlic and oregano to the frying pan and and cook for a minute or so, stirring frequently.
5. Tip in the sliced pepper and fry for a further 5-7 minutes, stirring often.
6. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and season well at this point. Bring the sauce to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
7. Prod one of the potatoes with a knife and if it’s quite soft, they’re ready. Drain them over the sink using a colander.
8. Mix the potatoes and olives in with the tomato mixture and heat through for a few minutes. Give the sauce a taste and see if it needs more seasoning.
9. Serve the mixture in a large bowl. Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and scatter over the mixture.

If you make this dish, I’d love to hear how you get on with it. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

This recipe is based on BBC Good Food’s Mediterranean potato salad.