i love cooking different kinds of grains because to me, it is about experiencing different textures and flavours. i also love the process of watching how liquid transforms the grains swelling their slim shapes. rice lengthens and fluffs up but something like barley or farrow or israeli cous cous expand through the centre of their bellies, shortening and growing roundish in shape. i especially love farrow and spelt and wheat-berries. cous-cous and bulghur are common favourites and i often make them as a side to chick pea stew or roast chicken. so when i saw hugh-fearnley whittingstall's pearl barley pilaf with mushrooms and dill i knew i had to make it.
fearnley-whittingstall describes his recipe as a pilaf with the texture of a risotto. i was a bit confused about that description partly because pearl barley is quite a robust grain. it doesn't soften the way rice does and it most certainly isn't starchy which is the element that brings together the fats and the stock in risotto to give a lovely creamy texture. so here are my notes of the making of the barley pilaf with mushrooms and dill.
it takes about an hour or so to get the pilaf cooked and it is a lot more forgiving than a risotto purely because it needs less attending too. barley takes its good time to give way to tenderness and i personally found that it was easier to cook it by including all of the stock, bringing it to a rolling boil and then letting it simmer. this was because i realised after half an hour through cooking that it would just save me trouble. i would also make sure to follow the advice on having a mixture of fresh and cultivated mushrooms. i unfortunately had to make do without the porcini as i had none but i can see how the porcini broth would add a stronger flavour. i would also reduce the creme fraiche as the pilaf itself is quite rich with the mushrooms and the butter. but that i suppose is a personal preference.
i loved making it as much as o and i loved eating it. this is serious winter comfort food. it is very hearty, very moreish and very filling. the mushrooms add a meatiness, the creme fraiche a slight sharpness and the dill, aside from adding some brightness also adds texture.
if you likely barley, or would like to try a fusion pilaf made on the lines of a risotto, this is a recipe for you to try out.