Mezze & Dolce

Light Mediterranean Meals Paired with Ample Dessert

Mezze: Tomato Barley “Risotto” with Armenian Cheese

Good final

I know – risotto isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think “light, Mediterranean meals.”  But before you accuse me of breaking the rules, let me explain!  This tangy risotto from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem (the obsession continues…) replaces the traditional Arborio rice with chewy, nutritious barley.  The sauce is loaded with tomatoes and herbs, not rich, creamy cheese.  And, you can easily eat this dish in small amounts as an accompaniment to other mezze, rather than as a main meal.  Have I made my case?

Besides its vibrant but smooth flavors, this recipe also allows me to introduce you to a favorite ingredient – Armenian string cheese.  I used this cheese to replace the suggested feta, because I love its (saltier) resemblance to fresh mozzarella.  It is often sold as a braid with nigella seeds weaved throughout (you can learn more about nigella here).  Since my braid was seedless, I tossed the cheese in a little bit of olive oil, nigella, and caraway from home.  The addition of this special cheese adds a little indulgence to the risotto without weighing it down.

This is an easy one-pot meal – you can throw everything in, let it simmer, and stir every once in a while.  –jaime

Ingredients

1 cup pearl barley

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

6 tablespoons olive oil

2 small celery stalks, diced

2 small shallots, diced

4 cloves garlic, diced

4 thyme sprigs

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (I used regular paprika, and it still tasted good)

1 bay leaf

4 strips lemon peel (you can just use a regular peeler for this)

1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

14 ounce can of chopped tomatoes

3 cups stock (chicken or veggie)

1 1/4 cups passata or canned tomato puree

Salt

6 ounces Armenian string cheese (if you can’t find this, you can use feta tossed with oil and caraway)

1 tablespoon nigella and/or caraway seeds (if the cheese doesn’t already have nigella weaved throughout)

2 tablespoons oregano leaves

 

Directions

1.  Rinse barley in cold water.

2.  Melt butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a very large frying pan (large enough to hold all of the other ingredients expanded).  Saute celery, shallots, and garlic over low heat until soft.

3.  Add barley through salt.  You can leave the thyme leaves on and just throw the sprigs in.

4.  Bring ingredients to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes, stirring frequently and scraping barley off the bottom.  The risotto is done when the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.  Adjust seasoning to your preferences.

5.  Cube string cheese.  If the cheese does not already contain seeds, toss the cheese in a little bit of olive oil and either caraway or nigella seeds (both taste delicious).

6.  Place risotto in bowls, top with cheese, and sprinkle generously with oregano.  Serve!

Better cheese

Good with spoon

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4 comments on “Mezze: Tomato Barley “Risotto” with Armenian Cheese

  1. Beth (OMG! Yummy)
    March 23, 2013

    That Armenian string cheese looks great! Where would I find it? Mediterranean specialty food store?

    • mezzeanddolce
      March 24, 2013

      Yup – most Middle Eastern stores have it. It’s also a great alternative to fresh mozzarella for a cheese plate or to serve with bread.

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This entry was posted on February 5, 2013 by in Grains, Mezze and tagged , , , , , .

About Jacque & Jaime

Jaime and Jacque are two gals who discovered a mutual passion for Mediterranean flavors and ingredients and never turned back. They started Mezze & Dolce to share this love, their recipes, and their inspirations with the world. Follow them at www.mezzeanddolce.com.

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