Monday, September 2, 2013

Cauliflower and Kale Barley Risotto

 Risotto is something that I always thought was hard to make - until I learned how to make it. It is not something you can get in a restaurant - at least not the traditional kind because it has to be stirred quite frequently in order to get its telltale  "creaminess".  This creaminess comes from developing the starches when you stir.  Restaurants usually cheat and add cream instead, which adds unnecessary calories and fat.  Even traditional risotto is made with white arborio rice, butter, and parmesan cheese.

This recipe does not use butter and substitutes barley instead of rice for added fibre and nutrients.  There is also an option to use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan cheese, which will significantly cut calories and add great nutrition.  Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of yeast that is a by-product of molasses manufacturing.  If that scares you, the smell is reminiscent of the "cheese" packets that come in a box of KD - something I'm sure we are all familiar with.  Nutritional yeast is also high in protein, vitamin B-12, fibre, and folic acid.  It tastes great, too.

This recipe will serve two as a main course or four as a side.  Total cooking time is 30 - 40 minutes, but don't let that deter you - it's well worth the wait!


2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small head cauliflower
Half a small red onion
1 clove of garlic
2/3 cup of pot barley
1/4 cup of white wine
2 cups or a bit more of low-sodium vegetable stock
4 kale leaves
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast (or 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese)
2 Tbsp fresh dill
salt, pepper

1 baking sheet, 1 small pot, 1 medium pot


1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm the vegetable stock in a small pot.

2. Cut cauliflower into florets.  Place on baking sheet with space between each floret (if you crowd them, they will steam instead of brown).  Drizzle with 1 Tbsp of the olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Turn once and bake for another 10 minutes.

3. Dice onion and, in a medium sized pot, sauté in 1 Tbsp olive oil until translucent but not brown.  While this is happening, mince the garlic.

4. When onions are ready, add the dry pot barley and stir for about 30 seconds so that the barley soaks up the oil.

5. Add the minced garlic and white wine and stir until the wine is almost gone.

6. Add one ladle full of the warm vegetable stock  and stir until the stock is almost gone.  Continue to add ladles of stock one at a time while stirring frequently.  Wait until each ladle full is almost gone before adding the next one.  Don't be afraid to stir vigourously.

7. While the barley is cooking, cut the stems out of the kale and then slice the leaves into ribbons.  Chop the dill.  Keep going back to the stove and stirring the barley and adding more stock.  When the stock is about 2/3 gone, add the kale to the barley pot.

8. During this time, the cauliflower will finish cooking.  Let it cool for a couple of minutes, and then chop it into small bite-sized pieces.

9.  After you have added all the stock to the barley, taste it to see if it is tender (it will take about 25 - 30 minutes to add all the stock).  It will be chewy, but it should be the same consistency throughout.  Don't worry about whether or not it is the right consistency, ask yourself if it is the consistency you want to eat it.  If it is not, cook it some more.  If you need more liquid, just use some warm water.

10. After you add the last bit of liquid, do not let it reduce all the way, the final consistency should be a bit runny.  If you accidentally reduce it too much, no sweat, just add a bit more warm water.

11. Turn off the heat.  Add the nutritional yeast (or parmesan cheese), cauliflower, and dill.  Enjoy!


1. If you are not familiar with kale, don't like kale, or don't want to buy a bunch of it for only four leaves, you can use spinach instead.

2. As stated above, you can use parmesan instead of nutritional yeast, but I would really encourage you to try it.

3. You could use the same amount of arborio rice instead of barley if you want a more traditional risotto.

4. Again, if you are not drinking white wine with your meal and don't want to buy a bottle for just a small amount, you can use vegetable stock instead (although the taste will be slightly different).

5. If you don't have a red onion, you can use a regular white or yellow one.  You could also use shallot instead.

Shopping Tips:

1. The cauliflower in my pictures is purple, obviously.  I get it at the farmers market and like to use it because it has more antioxidants than the white kind, and it is prettier.  The taste is the same.  They also have an orange variety, which tastes the same, but has the added benefit of betacarotene.  The green variety is a hybrid with broccoli, so it shares a few of the same benefits, but it also shares some of the flavour, so it will definitely change the taste of this dish.  If you can only find the white variety, use it!

2. Pot barley is less refined than pearl barley, so it is more nutritious.  Hulled barley is 100% whole grain, but will take twice as long to cook, so it is better for soups and stews.

3. Buy the same kind of wine that you are going to drink with your meal.  Do not buy cooking wine!  I don't drink very often, so I buy a bottle of alcohol-free wine from the grocery store and keep it in the fridge for cooking - it lasts a long time that way.  It also saves me from having to make a special stop at the liquor store.

4. The kale you see in my pictures is flat-leaf kale that I got at the farmers market.  If you buy it at the grocery store, it will probably be curly. You may have a choice of green or purple kale - it doesn't matter what you buy.

5. Nutritional yeast is usually sold in the bulk section of health stores, but you may be able to find it in the organic/health food aisle of your grocery store.  Do not look in the baking section - you will not find it there!


1. If you have leftover risotto, you will have to reheat it on the stove by adding more stock.  If you try to reheat it in the microwave, it will probably end up gummy and gross.

2. With the leftover kale, you can sauté it, add it to soup, or make kale chips - there are tons of recipes online.

3. The nutritional yeast can be saved in an airtight container for a very long time.  It is also very good sprinkled over popcorn...

If you haven't noticed already, this recipe is vegan.  Don't tell anyone, though.  It is so good that they will never notice!

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