Barley Risotto with Red Wine
Again, those mysterious blue eyes penetrated my soul, and I agreed to develop my own barley risotto for this column. I promised to make it just as delicious as the rice risotto I created many months ago. Of course, the health benefits of the barley risotto will outweigh those of the rice risotto by a long shot. I will not hold my breath for Febrizio to stick around this time, but I do hope to impress him one more time.
One of the reasons (other than Febrizio’s eyes) that made me decide to take on this barley risotto project was how surprisingly good it tasted! Pearly barley makes a wonderful risotto, because barley retains its distinct chewiness while releasing its starch to create a risotto as creamy as the one made with Arborio rice, but with awesome health benefits to boot. The consistency is slightly different from rice, and another upside is that one does not have to stir continuously while cooking.
Barley is not only rich in nutty flavor, but versatile as well, with a pleasing chewy, pasta-like consistency. Before barley is edible for humans, it is pearled, which means that it goes through a polishing or abrasive grinding process three or four times to remove the outer husk and some of the bran layers of the kernels. Once the barley is pearled, it is ready for use in dressings, cereals, infant foods, and soups, or it can be ground into flour. Barley is also roasted and used as an alternative to coffee and to make vinegar.
Barley’s first known recipe is for barley wine, dating back to Babylonia around 2800 BC, and barley water has been used for its medicinal value since ancient times. The origin of barley is attributed to Ethiopia and Southeast Asia, where cultivation dates back 10,000 years. The Greeks used barley to make bread, and ancient Greek athletes believed that a barley diet contributed to their strength. Roman athletes were known as hordearii, meaning 'eaters of barley.' The ancient Chinese symbol for male virility was barley. In the Middle Ages, wheat was expensive; therefore, many Europeans combined barley and rye for bread-making. Barley was brought to the USA during the 17th century by the Dutch and British settlers.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, by Behall, et al., examined the consumption of barley as it relates to reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors. The results of the 5-week study showed significantly lower total cholesterol. The conclusion of the study was that the addition of barley to a healthy diet may be effective in lowering total cholesterol and low density lipid (LDL) cholesterol—that’s the bad kind—in both men and women.
Barley has high fiber content, which is important for intestinal health. Barley provides bulk and decreases the transit time of fecal matter, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer. Barley also provides what we call 'good bacteria' in the large intestine, which ferments barley’s insoluble fiber, resulting in a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid that is good for healthy colon cells.
Besides the high fiber content of barley, it is also a good source of niacin (also known as nicotinic acid or vitamin B3), which protects against cardiovascular risk factors. Eating whole grains such as barley about six times a week is great for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure. Erkkila, et al., published a study in the American Heart Journal stating that postmenopausal women with cardiovascular disease who ate six servings of whole grains, such as barley, a week experienced slowed development of atherosclerosis (build-up of plaque in the blood vessels) and less progression in stenosis (the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.)
A note here is in order concerning the gluten grain group, which includes wheat, oat, barley, and rye: those who are on a wheat-free diet may want to check with their health care professional as to the use of barley in their diet.
One cup of barley contains 270 calories, with 13.6 grams fiber and 36 mcg selenium. It is also a good source of copper, manganese, and phosphorus.
Barley Risotto with Red Wine
| • The barley should feel soft and creamy yet al dente.
• You will use at least 3 cups of broth.
• Total cooking time is about 45 minutes.
• The barley risotto should be creamy with some thick liquid.
• Mix in the cheese and serve.
• Serves 4-6.
- Other articles by Samia Mounts:
- Risotto al Barolo: An Italian Creation for the Soul - January 13, 2007