Risotto of black barley, garlic scapes and white corn

Black barley risotto

People become vegetarians for lots of different reasons. Some people just don’t like the taste or smell of meat. I am not one of those people! I haven’t eaten meat since I was about twelve, so I don’t remember exactly what it tastes like, but sometimes…when I smell a steak being grilled or bacon being cooked, it smells good. I know assuredly that I don’t want to eat it, but I find myself trying to make things that taste like my memory of the taste of meat. When I made this risotto, I kept describing it as “meaty.” I feel like I may have used that word so many times that my family wanted to go out and buy me a thesaurus! There’s just something about this broth – it’s dark and savory and flavorful, but it has a kind of sweetness to it, as well. For some reason it just tasted…meaty.

We got some garlic scapes from our CSA. They’re the lovely, long, curly green stems of garlic bulbs, which taste like a milder, sweeter garlic. They can still be quite pungent, raw, but in this dish they’re stewed in delicious broth for some time, so they become soft and sweet. They go nicely with black barley, which has a nice, nutty flavor. You could easily use regular barley or arborio rice to make this, and it would take less time and probably be creamier. But it wouldn’t have that distinctive deep, black barley flavor and color. It did take more than an hour for all the broth to be absorbed, but you don’t have to stir it the whole time. The barley almost spoke to me, as I made this … as soon as I heard the barley sizzling in the dry pan, I knew it was time to add more broth. It told me when it was ready! As ever, the broth is quite important in a risotto. In order to make it, well, meaty, I used a little marmite, a little tamari, some tomato paste, and a handful of french lentils. You could use whatever you have on hand, though!

Garlic scapes

Good heavens!! Helen Humes! Why have I never heard of her before? She’s amazing. Smokes. Here she is singing Garlic Blues. Wow. Wiki says, “…her true young voice consorting oddly with bizarre material like “Garlic Blues.”
Consorting oddly! Gotta love the wikipedia. The other day I said I’d like to someday be introduced as “my colleague” (“My esteemed colleague, obviously, being ideal). I’ve changed my mind. I want to be introduced as “Claire Adas … and her orchestra!”

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Black barley with baby kale (and roasted mushrooms, potatoes & pecans)

Barley & kale

I know I shouldn’t go on about it, but it’s on my mind. My dog died a couple of months ago. I still miss her everyday. I still look for her each morning, where her bed used to be. I dream about her incessantly. I’ve dreamt of her as a puppy, I’ve dreamt that she’s lost or not well, and I can’t save her, I’ve dreamt that she never died at all. The strangest dream was probably the most like actual life. She died, and I missed her, and it felt so unaccountable. Why do the most literal dreams feel so odd? I don’t want another dog, I really don’t. But I miss canine companionship. Our house feels so human, somehow, without her. The other day Isaac said, “Mom, you can’t just go up and pet every dog you see!” And he’s probably right, but that’s what I’ve been doing, and trying not to think that Steenbeck would have gone crazy if I’d gone home smelling like another dog. So yesterday, when I went to get the boys from school, and I saw a tiny, dark, bundle of puppyhood…I attacked it. I dropped everything (literally! it’s lucky no little children were standing below me because my umbrella is quite pointy). I grabbed it. Oh, the soft, round little belly. The hot little body, the racing heart. The little puppy eyes and ears! The puppy smell!!!! She didn’t really want to be held by me – she wanted to be running around, with the kids her own age. But I wasn’t taking the hint. I couldn’t let her go. My boys looked at me with sideways, skeptical looks. “Who is that?” they asked? The little kids who actually owned the dog danced around me, looking anxious. “When is she going to give it back?” they asked their nanny. Never! I cried. But I did. I put her down. The little dog was sort of blacky brown. She had that short, dark fur that looks almost purple or blue in certain lights. In other words, she looked like black barley. You see? There is a connection. Barley would be a good name for a dog, wouldn’t it?

This black barley dish is almost like a risotto, but like a risotto made by a very lazy person that didn’t want to make a broth or stir it every minute of the day. The barley is cooked till it’s tender but toothsome (if that means al dente). And it makes its own creamy sort of sauce, just like a risotto. I warmed some butter and white wine and herbs in a big frying pan, and added the barley with its creamy broth. Then I added some water and let that cook down a bit. I found baby kale at the grocery store, and I was quite excited about it. It does have a kale taste, but not as assertively. It has a little bite. I cooked it for much less time than I usually cook kale – I tossed it into the barley broth towards the end, and cooked till it was nicely wilted. (You could easily use regular kale, cooked first, or baby spinach, which wouldn’t need to be cooked at all.) I also made roasted mushrooms and tiny crispy roasted potatoes, to toss on the dish. And I toasted some pecans. I like all of these tastes together – and they all go so well with sage, rosemary and thyme, which I used to flavor pretty much every element involved. I topped mine with some crumbled bleu cheese, too, which added a lovely creamy/salty element, but nobody else in my family did, cause they’re not fans of the bleu cheese. The whole thing added up to a very savory, meaty meal – the smell of barley and roasted mushrooms lingered in my house all evening. It’s a nice smell!

Here’s Rebecca Sugar with Sleepy Puppies. I think it’s lovely!
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Black bean, black barley soup & toasted barley walnut bread

Black bean black barley soup

Yesterday was rainy and cold. I felt tired (Isaac had kept us up for hours after our crazy neighbors talking to the police had kept us up for hours.) I felt discouraged. I should have taken a nap. What did I do instead? I baked bread! And then … I made soup! Just before we ate the bread and the soup I realized they both contained barley. OMG! Is that like wearing your plaid shirt with your plaid pants? It is, isn’t it? But then, maybe you’re thinking about it, and you realize that though they’re different plaids, they do have a few colors in common. They do look sort of nice together. You could just pretend you’d planned it that way all along. It’s an outfit!

I bought black barley at the whole foods last week, and I’ve been so excited about cooking with it! David suggested black barley & black bean soup, and the second he said it, I could just taste it! It would be dark and savory and smoky. Meaty almost. It would be simple – just the beans and the barley, but it would have a lot of flavor. Rosemary, sage, smoked paprika, a little tamari… a nice dark rich broth.

I’m not sure how the barley-bread bee got into my bonnet. I wanted to make a dark, dense crunchy bread. With nuts and whole grains and a crispy crust. I think it turned out that way! It’s got toasted walnuts and toasted oats, both roughly ground. It’s got whole wheat flour and black pepper. And it’s got toasted barley flour, which has a lovely, distinctive, sweetly nutty flavor. I made a long, thin loaf, for maximum crust, and I bent it into a “C” shape, because I wanted to bake my initials. Nah, really, I wanted to fit it onto my baking sheet. It was very very nice with the soup, and good sliced thinly and toasted with cinnamon sugar as well.

Here’s Aaron Copland’s Barley Wagons. It’s lovely!
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