not quite barley risotto

The original intention was a low rice / high veggie ratio risotto to fit into our new low carb guidelines, but ani vetoed the rice before starting her sorely needed after-work nap. Okay, bob thinks to himself, why not try bulgur as a substitute for the arborio, a pretty white (= refined and therefore perhaps less desirable nutritionally) rice, and after all, one often sees barley "risotto" in food mags, and big bulgur looks like pearl barley, but it is healthier (we think). Sure enough there was an untouched (but also unmarked) plastic bag of the pearl barley look-alike in the pantry, so the experiment was set. Except it turned out to be whole wheat kernels instead as determined by our middle eastern grain expert after bob woke her up to eat the completely prepared dinner he'd whipped up during her sleep time. Whole wheat kernels don't seem to have their own distinct short name, but are apparently closely related to bulgur but less processed (no cracking), hence better? They are used in making the very tasty Armenian porridge-like slop called herriseh, one of our earlier recipes from the post Y2K year where the distinction between uncooked "shelled wheat" and cooked "cracked wheat" (=bulgur) had already been recorded and forgotten by bob.

It turned out pretty tasty with the shelled wheat, which ani noted were still "al dente", an observation bob missed in his enthusiasm, perhaps resulting from trying to fake the cooking time from bulgur recipes which already has a head start from pre-cooking. We'll try something similar again with bulgur. Pearl barley would also be an acceptable substitute. We've gotta do something since the recent reduction on risotto production in our daily cuisine has left a big hole, and bulgur can certainly be expanded out of its narrow range of pilaf recipes in traditional Armenian cooking to fill the gap.

We'd picked up a bag each of baby spinach and baby arugula the day before, and some white mushrooms and roasted red peppers to add to the mix of a colorful dish. We ultimately decided to do the spinach as a side dish, quickly wilted in a pot with a bit of water and then sautéed with olive oil and a half clove of garlic, while tossing in a cup or so of the arugula into the "risotto" towards the end. For protein, a couple of thin flat John Dory fish filets fresh from the local farmer's market, salt and peppered, then a few minutes for each side on a grill pan, with a bit of lemon squeezed over the second side. The three dishes came together quickly for a tasty nutritious home-cooked meal, totally from scratch. With minimal packaging to contribute to America's burgeoning landfills. What more can you ask?

This recipe was done for a two person big/little portion division (bob/ani), one helping, no leftovers. Doubling the ingredients, except perhaps the olive oil, would be a more natural recipe size.


basic grain starter
2 T olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 c shelled wheat, cracked wheat = bulgur large cut, or pearl barley (for which the recipe name must then be modified)
salt and pepper to taste
1.5 c boiling water (use a teapot) plus 1 t veggie broth paste
mushroom prep
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
4 medium white mushrooms, brushed and chopped
flavor and color additives
1/4–1/2 one roasted red pepper, diced
1 c (roughly) of (prewashed) baby arugula
Middle Eastern red pepper powder to taste, or substitute hot paprika, or paprika plus a dash of cayenne.


  1. This is a standard risotto exercise, except with appropriately varied cooking time (longer for shelled wheat, perhaps shorter for barley) for the rice substitute. Start some water boiling in a teapot.
  2. Sauté the onion in olive oil until softened in a flat bottomed nonstick pot.
  3. Stir in the "not rice" and let it absorb the oil and onion flavor for a minute.
  4. Combine boiling water plus concentrated veggie broth together in a glass measuring thing and pour into the pot.
  5. Meanwhile having pre-prepped the mushrooms quickly, sauté them for a few minutes until they look right (judgment call) and toss them in with the quickly diced roasted red pepper and red pepper powder of your choice.
  6. Let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes (30 for the shelled wheat, 20 or less for the others).
  7. Do the al dente test, but make sure the kernels are not chewy. No problem cooking these past some magic moment. It's not pasta.


  1. Feel free to be creative in changing the ingredient lineup. The main idea is to use a more complex carb in place of the traditional arborio.
  2. Illustrations available.
nqbrsto.htm: 18-aug-2006 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]