Whatever you thought of barley – boring, dull etc., put it out of your head and make this dish. It’s simple really, barley, mushrooms, caramelized onions finished off with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Could it be a simpler dish?! I’ve been making this as a compliment to some other dishes in my “What’s for Dinner” classes at the PC Cooking Schools this month. The feedback has been overwhelming so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s classic vegetarian but can be served with a protein as a complement.

I came up with it as my son asked me for some ideas for a dish that was filling but wouldn’t leave him feeling heavy at the end of the meal and that could stand on its own, or have a protein added to it. So I came up with this recipe. The dieticians that attend my classes (and by the way are provided free of charge at your Loblaw’s and Superstore’s) loved me for it. They said it’s good to eat if you have diabetes as it fights hunger by raising blood sugar more slowly than something that contains sugar i.e. a cookie or donut – who knew!?! It’s also low on the glycemic index (GI) – which is good – I’m told.   I’m usually getting in trouble with them as I am constantly talking about flavor in cooking which doesn’t “always” support sensible eating. Okay, that’s my science lesson for today.

Caramelizing the onions for about 15 – 20 minutes is the first step to this recipe, but where you get maximum flavor is when you throw in a splash of balsamic vinegar to finish them off. I learned two things (actually I learned much more than two) about vegetables from an Italian Chef a long time ago. First, always sauté your vegetables separately – that way, carrots taste like carrots, onions taste like onions, celery… well you get the idea. And second, to always add a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar to the vegetables just before they are done. They make the flavor of the vegetables rise to the surface and make your taste buds tingle with delight.

You can add anything you like to this dish; I just wanted to keep it simple. If you think about it and can plan in advance, soak your barley overnight, and then boil it for 5 – 10 minutes until desired doneness. If you don’t think about it the night before, then boil as per package directions – about 35 – 40 minutes. But please don’t overcook it. When done properly, it resembles a risotto without the richness. So less rich, but high in taste – that’s a winning combination in my books. So try this dish. As always – enjoy!

1 cup barley, pearl or pot barley – cooked as per package directions
2 cups assorted mushrooms – white button, cremini, shiitake, king oyster etc. sliced or quartered
2 medium sized onions, roughly diced
1 – 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
Extra Virgin Olive oil, salt and pepper

Boil the barley as per directions, drain and reserve
In a heavy bottom frying pan, sauté the onions in olive oil until caramelized, 15 – 20 minutes
Just before they are done, splash some balsamic vinegar on them in the pan – give it a quick stir and remove to a mixing bowl large enough to hold everything
Add some more olive oil to the pan, when hot add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt, stir well
Cook for about 10 minutes – you want the water to come out of the mushrooms and evaporate. This will allow the mushrooms to develop flavor as they also caramelize in the pan. It’s important they get that caramelization – that’s when you know it’s ready!
Add the mushrooms to the caramelized onions and stir
Fluff the barley with a fork, add to the onion and mushroom mixture – stir
Taste, season and taste again
Serve with spicy grilled shrimp or chicken
As always – enjoy!

Variations – Add some chili flake to the hot oil before adding the mushrooms – caramelize as per above
Add some peas or edamame to the barley
Add some grilled corn (off the cob) to the barley
Add any combination of sautéed vegetables to the barley
And of course – add some bacon to it, and saute the mushrooms in a little of the “bacon extract” – you read it here first! Sounds so much better for you than bacon fat!