I have a feeling I should be calling this a ‘barlotto’ rather than a risotto, as the ‘ris’ in risotto refers specifically to rice, and I take enough liberties with that particular medium as it is, with my use of long grain rice in place of arborio to keep the costs down. But risotto, barlotto, whateverotto, this combination of pearl barley and brown lentils is fast becoming my new favourite, having had it in various guises for dinner for the last three nights running.


I was once quite intimidated by pearl barley, not being entirely sure what to do with it, how to cook it, if it needed soaking beforehand, and thinking it was more of a ‘waitrose type’ ingredient than something for me, but my Mum, who is a Northern Irish lass, scolded me for my preconceptions, telling me that it was one of the main ingredients in her Irish Soup that she would make for herself, her eight brothers and sisters, and her Mum and Dad. Chastened, I decided to investigate it for myself a few years back, and bought a large bag of it from the supermarket, where it has sat gathering dust on my shelf ever since. I dusted it down for an old Guardian recipe, once, and then promptly put it back. This week it has had something of a resurgence in my household. Triggered, in fact, by a high street salad that Mrs J had, with pearl barley, lentils and (whisper it) quinoa in. I poked around at it, took a photo of it, and made a note to make something like it myself when we got home. And I haven’t stopped since.

To answer my earlier questions, no, it doesn’t need soaking, but you can speed up the cooking time by doing so. It absorbs a LOT of water, more so than rice does in a standard risotto, and takes a little longer to cook. You can enjoy it warm or cold, and it has a sweet, slightly nutty base flavour. It’s high in dietary fibre (17g per 100g compared to 0.4g in rice) and protein (12g/100g, whereas rice is 2.7g/100g). It’s slightly more expensive than basic rice, but still relatively cheap at 55p for a 500g bag from major supermarkets.

The chestnuts were a last minute addition to this – my friend Caroline picked me up some yellow-stickered ones that were a bargainous 20p a few weeks ago, well in date, but possibly being shunted off the supermarket shelves to make way for more seasonal produce, so I put them in here. You can add them if you wish, but I haven’t costed them in because they weren’t full price, so it wouldn’t be fair to send you all on a wild cheap chestnut chase.

Serves 4, generously, from 44p each.

(This post is not sponsored; I provide links to the ingredients that I use so you can see how I calculate my recipe costs, and I may earn a small commission if you click the links or purchase any ingredients.)

1 large onion, 9p
1 tbsp light cooking oil, 2p
6 fat cloves of garlic, 10p
Salt and pepper, to season, <1p
200g pearl barley, 22p
500ml vegetable or chicken-style stock, 3p

1 tbsp lemon juice, 2p
1 tsp mixed dried herbs, 4p
1 x 400g tin of brown or green lentils, 55p
400g mushrooms, 54p
250ml water
100g spring greens or other leafy green veg, 12p
Optional: 180g cooked chestnuts

First peel and finely dice your onion – for ease, you can use frozen onions and piut them straight in the pan, making this recipe almost effortless; I interchange between fresh and frozen depending on how I feel on the day, and both are good choices. Add the onion to the pan, and measure in 1 tbsp light cooking oil. Peel your garlic cloves and quarter them lengthways, and add to the pot. They will be getting a long, slow cook, and will soften and sweeten along the way, so you can afford to leave them a little on the large side.

Bring to a medium heat on your largest hob ring, and cook for around five minutes, stirring intermittently, to start to soften.

Pour in the pearl barley and stir through, then pour over the stock. In reality, I crumble in the stock cube and pour over the water, and it all turns out fine, but some people like to make the stock in advance and add it. Perhaps it feels a little more like ‘proper cooking’, but to me it feels like a bit of a faff, so I don’t bother.

Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the lemon juice and herbs and stir well, then simmer for 25 minutes, until the water is all absorbed. You will need to stir intermittently to stop the pearl barley from sticking and burning to the bottom of the pan.

Drain and thoroughly rinse your lentils, and add to the pan. Slice your mushrooms finely and add those too.

If you have opted for chestnuts, crumble some up and leave some whole, and add them here. Fold through, and add another 250ml water. Bring back to the boil, then simmer again for another 15 minutes, until the pearl barley is soft. Finely slice your greens and drop them into the pan a couple of minutes before the end, to soften them but not overcook. If you like your risotto (or barlotto) soupy, you can add a splash more water, and stir it in until starchy.

Season with extra black pepper, and serve warm.

Leftovers: Allow to cool completely, then seal in airtight bags or containers. Will keep in the fridge for 72 hours, or freezer for three months. Heat through completely to serve from frozen, or can be served chilled from the fridge for a cold lunch, mezze or snack

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All text copyright Jack Monroe.

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