Meatless Monday: Barley stew with leeks, mushrooms and greens

What I know about barley can be summed up in a soup bowl, usually with a thick beef broth and some hunks of top round. What I did not know is that it is a grass native to Egypt and, according to the Purdue University School of Agriculture, it is the fourth-most important grain grown in the United States.

It is also one of the cheapest grains you can buy; a 16-ounce bag of Goya-brand pearled barley is $1.19 at Wegmans. The cup I used for this recipe came from a bag I bought last winter and keep in an airtight container. I probably should throw it out, but there’s still about a third of a bag left and I would hate to waste it.

I wanted to go a little bit outside of the comfort zone, what with soups and casseroles dominating my Meatless Monday landscape. If cooked correctly, the leeks in this recipe will caramelize nicely before adding the liquid and bring a nice sweet flavor to the dish.

WHAT WORKED: The time. From prep to plate, it took 70 minutes. For a stew, that’s pretty darn good.

WHAT DIDN’T: Salt. This recipe did not call for enough of it and I added just a little too much. This dish would be good right in the middle.

WHAT DID THE WIFE SAY: “This looks good. What is it?,” followed by mumbles as she ate.

WILL IT MAKE ANOTHER APPEARANCE: Very likely once I figure out the salt thing.

Barley stew with leeks, mushrooms and greens
Adapted from Bon Appetit

1 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped leeks (about 2 small stalks; white and pale green parts only)
1/4-lb. sliced crimini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1 cup pearl barley
4 cups vegetable broth
8 oz. kale, trimmed, center stalks removed, leaves coarsely chopped

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add leeks; sprinkle with salt and pepper and sauté until leeks begin to soften, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, garlic, and rosemary; increase heat to medium-high and sauté until mushrooms soften and begin to brown, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes with juice; stir 1 minute.

Add barley and 4 cups broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until barley is almost tender, about 20 minutes. Add kale; stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Cover and simmer until kale and barley are tender, adding more broth by 1/4 cupfuls as needed for desired stew consistency, about 10 minutes.

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