Last week I had one of those dread days that was far from stellar. In fact, as days go, that one was a bit of a stinker. Our three year old had a mysterious high fever and was feeling really off. Our one year old, despite being so tired that he fell asleep while I was changing his diaper, decided he was going to refuse in the loudest, most fervent manner to have any naps, and so turned into a very small (and less green) version of the Incredible Hulk complete with the smashing of things and inhuman rage. Meanwhile outside it was hideously blustery with rain lashing against the windows and wind blowing up through the floor boards.
But there is always a bright side to heinous happenings and inclement weather. On this occasion it prompted the clear need for comfort food, and my current comfort food of choice (other than massive amounts of chocolate which, really, just goes without saying) is barley.
Barley is the perfect comfort food. It is loaded with nutrition including, and most importantly to its comforting status, tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is crucial for serotonin synthesis and resultantly, melononin production (also present in dark chocolate…I’m just saying…). In other words, it calms us and makes us happy. Plus it’s just warm, filling, a bit chewy and basically just comfort in a bowl.
A couple of years ago I found this excellent recipe at BBC Good Food for Creamy pea and chive risotto. I love it because, other than being insanely delicious, it uses barley instead of rice and as a result doesn’t need the constant stirring that rice risotto requires. (I think I’ve even written about this very recipe before in another post) That recipe has been a mainstay in our house ever since. For the longest time I stuck, verbatim, to the original recipe. Then, as time passed I slowly began to swap the odd ingredient here and there, and the recipe evolved a bit. It’s excellent because it’s really adaptable. With the creamy barley base you can pretty much add anything and it will probably be good.
So finally after being cheered once again by lovely barley, it’s time to share this glorious recipe. I hope that it will cheer you up on a lousy day, or even better, that it will be the icing on the cake of an already wonderful day!
What foods do you find comforting?
- 10g dried mixed wild mushrooms, chopped
- 1L vegetable stock, hot
- 1Tbsp coconut oil, or oil of your choice
- 2 leeks, cleaned, trimmed, halved and chopped
- 200g pearl barley
- 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 100g quark
- Place the mushrooms in a large jug or heatproof bowl and cover with the stock, set aside to soak somewhere where the stock will remain warm.
- In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil and then add the leeks. Stirring frequently allow them to cook until beginning to soften, about 5-8 minutes.
- Add the barley and allow it to sizzle, continuing to stir, for about 5 minutes.
- Pour in half of the stock and mushrooms, add the leaves from about 4-6 of the sprigs of thyme, stir well, bring to a simmer, cover and leave to cook.
- Continue to cook the barley, adding more of the stock and stirring occasionally as the barley absorbs the liquid, until all of the liquid is used and the barley is tender and cooked through, about 25-35 minutes.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the quark and sprinkle over the remaining thyme to serve.
- Quark is a type of soft cheese that's virtually fat free. It has a slightly more sour taste than cream cheese. It's quite readily available now, but if you can't find it, or if you prefer you can replace it with cream cheese. Equally delicious!