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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.

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Young radish leaves kimchi casserole

I’m not a fan of “quick ‘n easy” cooking. Don’t get me wrong: I’m love cooking that is quick and cooking that is easy, but just not the genre of food writing that sees cooking as something to be got over with. But we all have busy weeks and I stupidly picked one to start a blog. In my other life, I had a huge deadline this week and I’ve been working flat out, getting increasingly panicked about missing The Deadline. So, what to eat when you feel guilty taking even a couple of hours away from work? I discovered the answer in a shortcut product that’s about as far as you can get from Sandra Lee: the wonderful world of kimchi. Not only is it insanely moreish right out of the package, kimchi forms a simple basis for a reassuring winter casserole. For this recipe, I like to use yeolmu (young radish leaves) kimchi, but you could use cabbage instead.

I don’t know that much about Korean food – it’s an area I want to explore more. I enjoy eating it in restaurants, but so much of the appeal is in the panchan (the little bowls of vegetables and fish that are served with meals) that it seems ambitious for the home cook. So, my Korean casserole isn’t terribly authentic. It’s more a variation on ingredients and flavours I’ve encountered in homestyle Korean joints in New York.  It is, however, incredibly easy to make and the combination of sweet, salty and spicy is perfect therapy for the stress-case.

Kimchee and beef casserole

  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • a knob of ginger, julienned
  • 500g of ground beef
  • 4 scallions / spring onions, in longish slices
  • some shichimi togarashi (Japanese spice mixture)
  • 1 package yeolmu kimchi
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes, thickly sliced

In a heavy, lidded pot over a medium heat, fry the garlic and ginger in a little oil till just colouring. Add the beef and stir around until browned. Shake in a goodly amount of the shichimi togarashi and throw the scallions on top. Sauté for another minute or two till nothing looks raw. Now mix in the kimchi.

Next, arrange the sweet potato slices on top of the mixture in a pleasing pattern. (This is an important part of the stress relief. Look, something you can control!) In a measuring cup, mix the two types of soy sauce with water to take the total to about 1/3 cup. Pour over the potatoes. You should have enough liquid that if you push a potato slice down firmly, it is covered, but not enough that the whole affair is submerged.

Now, bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice.

PS:  I know the pics aren’t great quality. I’m planning to invest in a better camera, but baby steps…

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