If you see a recipe with barley, do not fret, I have found the perfect substitute: buckwheat. This is a gluten-free and slightly spicier variation of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Barley Risotto from his lovely cook-book Jerusalem. Indulge in this hearty, spicy, slightly sweet, umami dish that is great as a side or even on its own with buttered toast and voilà.
What you’ll need:
200g organic, unroasted buckwheat
90ml olive oil
2 small celery stalks, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pinch dried thyme
1tsp sweet, smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
1 lemon, zest
1/2tsp chilli flakes
4tbsp balsamic vinegar
400g tinned, chopped tomatoes
700ml veg stock (or any other stock – I did half veg-half ham, because well ham stock is simply delicious.)
1 tbsp cumin seeds
300g feta, crumbled into about 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar
Start by marinating the feta:
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan or in the oven for 10 minutes at 180°C until toasty and fragrant. Then roughly crush in a mortar.
Combine the feta with about 80ml of the olive oil, the cumin and the za’atar and leave aside to soak in all the goodness. (You could also add some mint in there for a nice zing – I didn’t have any on hand).
For the risotto:
Rinse the buckwheat in cold water and leave to drain.
Sweat the onion, celery and garlic in the 10ml left of olive oil until soft and fragrant. Season a little as you go, this helps develop the flavour so you’re not left with a final bland dish in which you have to pour half a cup of salt.
When the veg are soft, add the buckwheat, spices, herbs, lemon zest, vinegar, stock, chopped tomatoes and passata. Season well. Stir to combine, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Leave to cook on a low heat for about 1h, stirring occasionally so nothing sticks, until the buckwheat is nice and tender and the liquid is nearly all absorbed. Adjust the seasoning, you might need to add a pinch of sugar if the tomatoes are too acidic, or a touch of vinegar to lift everything up a notch.
Ladle little bowls, top with the fresh and herby feta that’ll melt over the warm risotto, and serve with a good old buttered toast to soak up all the gorgeous sauce.