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Heart Health Series: Barley Risotto

I didn’t go anywhere this Canada Day.  My dad had a heart attack.  Don’t worry, he lives to tell the tale, and is in great spirits.  Actually, my mom told me that he was joking around with the paramedics in the ambulance, and at one point during our first visit to him at the hospital, he hopped off the bed and did a little jig, decked out in his hospital gown.

For those of you who may have the pleasure of knowing my father, he is known for his energy and vitality.  His motto is ‘grab the bull by the horns’.  He’s a busy, go-getting, digging, building, mad-inventor kind of guy, and his heart is full of love for everybody he meets. My mom makes sure they have a great diet, full of vegetables, and they live a pretty peaceful life out in the country.  So, we were all surprised to get a call that he was in the hospital for a heart attack.

Facing my dad’s near mortality, it opened up a lot of questions for me.  Why did he get a heart attack, when he has such a seemingly healthy lifestyle? Is heart-health just a random throw of the die?  How much does genetics play?   … and then I started thinking…I’m a food blogger.  Wait, I eat out, delicious, oil, butter filled morsels of deliciousness all the time.  Might being a food blogger be dangerous to my health?!!

While, I’m not one to get fanatic, especially where taste is concerned, I like to think I live like the French, enjoy everything in moderation, and special treats, are just that, once in a while pleasures, not to be eaten all the time; like croissants and fois gras, and I guess that goes for fries, chips, pizza, burgers, and the not-so-occasional frozen pizza with spinach on top.

I actually used to be kind of a health nut, but somewhere between having kids and a long commute to work to a desk job I fell off the wagon.  I fell hard actually.   We started eating chicken fingers out of a box just to stop the kids from crying when we got home.  It’s tough being a working family; daycare, bills, stress.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to health problems and heart attack my dad is informing me.  I’m not sure if I am genetically prone to getting a heart attack, and I definitely don’t know if I will get one or not in the future, but for the sake of my health, it’s worth looking into some healthier lifestyle options than the way we’ve been going.

I have decided to write a little series on the subject and share some heart-healthy food I’ve been cooking recently, in the spirit of sharing food with friends.

So this is my first time at this, here it goes.

Barley Risotto


2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup of white wine
1 L of sodium reduced soup broth – chicken, vegetable, homemade, your choice
3/4 cup of barley
1/4 grated parmesan cheese

Optional additions:  Fresh peas, baby shrimp, finely chopped roasted red peppers, herbs.  You can try adding flavors you like.   I added fresh peas to mine because they are in season right now.

This recipe is fairly simple. It takes about an hour or less and will fill up 4 people.

I soak the barley for a least a couple of hours.  You can put it in a bowl of water before work.  You don’t have to do this step, but I find it takes less time to cook this way.

Put the stock in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Then lower the heat and simmer.

Mince the shallots and garlic.

Next, melt the butter in a large to medium sized saucepan on about med – high.  When it’s melted and starting to bubble, then add your shallots and garlic, saute until almost translucent. Add the barley and let it mingle with the flavors for a few moments.

Now add the wine and simmer it until half, or more, has been reduced. I think in the photos I put the barley in after the wine.  It still tasted good.

Add 1 cup of the warmed broth.  You may need to adjust the temperature.  You don’t want a rolling boil, but the barest simmer is not hot enough.  Somewhere in between.  A little noise, but not too much is good.

Stir frequently.  This is important.   I usually send my family outside, grab a glass of wine and my book and sit by the stove stirring.  I tell them it is very important that they don’t come in, or it won’t taste right.  It is actually a great opportunity for 30 minutes to yourself with wine and a book.

When the broth is almost completely gone, add 1/2 cup more.  Then continue to stir frequently.

This step will be repeated over and over until the barley is tender, but not mushy.  You’ll want to taste it a lot at the end.  Another fun job for you!  You can also use this time to prep your salad, sides, or the vegetables you want to add to the risotto.

When your stock is starting to get low, and the barley is almost tender, add your peas or other flavors you chose.

When you think the barley is almost ready, you can add 1/2 cup more broth.  When it is almost absorbed completely, maybe 3/4 of the way absorbed add a bit of parmesan cheese.  Save a little for on top.

Look at this cool vintage cheese grater I found at a thrift store. It was made in France.  You can add some more parmesan at the end.  Pea shoots, or sprouts, look nice on top too, but I was out.

TA DA!  Bon Appetit!

For some additional information on heart health, check out this infographic by TheManlyZone  



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