EDISON, NJ - Most people think of barley as something that is added to soups and stews during winter. Further, most people neither think of barley as a main ingredient nor have they ever tried it as such. Pearl barley, specifically, is considered a whole grain and has wonderful nutritional benefits. The meal which includes whole grains, greens, and protein is satisfying in its own right or can be served as a first or second course. When I made it, I served a salad to start and used this dish as the main course.
This is a great anytime meal. By that, I mean you can make this year round, using whatever fresh greens you have on hand. I received some local dandelion greens and paired them with the earthy, almost sweet taste of the pearl barley. The bitterness of the greens is tempered a bit by the creaminess of both the egg yolk and the natural creaminess you achieve by cooking grains in the risotto style. Risotto is not difficult at all but it is time intensive. It requires a lot of attention as frequent stirring is a must. It also takes about 45 minutes to an hour to make. So, this is a slow cooking meal made with care. If you’ve never tried pearl barley but you enjoy risotto, this is a great entry point for you. If you’ve tried pearly barley and enjoy both the taste and the health benefits, this is a great little recipe to add to your barley repertoire.
Notes: You must use fresh eggs. Since the egg yolks are raw as you add them to the dish, freshness is absolutely imperative. If you don’t remember when you purchased your eggs or if the date on the eggs has passed, do not use them in this recipe. It would be better to skip the eggs completely than to use eggs that are not fresh.
Also, cooking with alcohol can be dangerous as it’s flammable. By turning off the heat and then adding the Cognac to the pan, the chances of a flare up are mitigated. However, the chance still remains even if you use this method so it’s important to be careful and aware of what you are doing and how you are doing it when cooking with alcohol. If you are unsure or uneasy about using it, just skip it completely. Better to err on the side of safety.
2 Cups Pearl Barley
½ Onion, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, finely chopped
2 Bay leaves
2 Sprigs fresh thyme
2 Quarts chicken stock
3 T Cognac
1 Bunch dandelion greens
4 Egg yolks (1 per serving)
3 T olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
· Heat a pan over medium heat. Wash dandelion greens. Place a tablespoon of olive oil in heated pan and place greens in pan. Wilt greens, turning occasionally. Season with sea salt to taste and set aside.
· Heat the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
· Heat a large, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and ½ of a finely chopped onion. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the finely chopped garlic to the pan and cook another minute. Add the bay leaves and the thyme to the pan.
· Add the pearl barley to the pan and cook, stirring often for about a minute. Turn heat off and add Cognac and allow the Cognac to sit in the pan for about a minute or so. Turn heat back on to medium/medium-high and allow Cognac to all but dissipate, which should happen very quickly. Add about 2 cups of the simmering stock to the pot.
· Stirring often, allow barley to absorb most of the stock. When the barley starts to stick to the pan a bit, add about a cup more stock. Continue stirring often, adding stock cup by cup as needed until the barley is cooked to your preferred level of doneness (it should be al dente, not too soft). I cooked mine for approximately 45 minutes and used the full two quarts of stock. If you run out of stock and feel that the barley needs more time to cook, start adding water cup by cup until fully cooked, stirring often.
· Taste and adjust seasoning by adding sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
· Separate egg yolks and set yolks aside.
· Place pearl barley in bowl (about ½ Cup per serving). Place a few of the wilted dandelion greens in or around the bowl. Add an egg yolk to each bowl. Serve while very hot.