Over at Coconut and Quinoa, Amy Chaplin has a fab recipe for farro salad with roasted squash and chard. I love the combination of grains and greens, but my inner Scot really can’t get past barley as a base for nutty, grainy, chewiness. Of course, in Scottish cuisine, barley is most often found in soups (or at least that’s where I encountered it as a child). I like it fine in soups, but I prefer to make it the star of the show so I tend to cook it like an Italian barlotto; like a risotto but with barley instead of rice. I knew I wanted a barlotto with greens on top, and I decided to add sweet potatoes for warmth and goat cheese for sharpness.

How to flavour the barlotto? I turned to the spices I bought from a lovely North African spice vendor in Paris. I love North African flavours, but I really don’t know these cuisines at all well, so the bright yellow and red spices I brought home tend to find their way into my more, um, experimental dishes. Here, I went for ras-el-hanout, which can have all manner of ingredients, but often includes nutmeg, turmeric, cumin, coriander and cinnamon. The bag I brought home from Paris is fragrant with coriander and nutmeg, with a distinct cuminy undertone that melds perfectly with nutty barley.

For toppings, I used baby red kale and red peppers sautéed in garlic, and I roasted sweet potato with another Parisian find: a mild, bright red chili powder called piment fort. To finish, I added hazelnut and goat cheese. It’s a bit geographically confused, but the overall effect is Mediterranean and has a summery vibrancy despite being filling enough for a winter’s night.

Greens and sweet potato barlotto

  • a cup of pot barley (pearl if you want it to cook quicker, but I prefer pot)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp ras-el-hanout
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock
  • a bunch of baby kale
  • 1/2 a red pepper, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into small dice
  • 1 tbsp piment fort, cayenne, or other chili powder
  • 1/2 a round of goat cheese
  • a handul of hazelnuts

Fry the onion in olive oil and, when browning, add in the ras-el-hanout. Cook it a little in the oil but be careful not to burn it. Add in the barley and enough stock to cover by about an centimetre. Bring to the boil then lower to simmer. Keep an eye on it, stir periodically, and add more stock or water as it dries out. You don’t have to watch barley with anything like the attention of a risotto, but do check in on it every few minutes. It will take about an hour or so to be tender and chewy.

Meanwhile, toss the sweet potato with piment fort powder, salt, and some olive oil and spread out on a baking tray. Roast at a high heat until soft. (This seems to take an age in my oven, so timing is very variable.) On a separate tray, roast the hazelnuts for 15 minutes. When you take them out, wrap in a teatowel for a few minutes, then rub off the skins through the towel.

When the barley is almost ready, fry the garlic and red pepper in a wide pan in more olive oil, then add the kale and wilt. Salt to taste. To assemble the dish, pile barlotto in a bowl then top with greens, sweet potatoes, some nuts and some dollops of cheese.