Barley and Mushroom Casserole

Saturday, June 17, 2006
Usually I make this in the late fall with a bright piece of squash roasted alongside. Stirring these ingredients together in June felt very unseasonal, but some comfort food was needed to offset this week's cool and drizzly weather.

Cooked barley is satisfying and sustaining with an appealing chewy texture; dried mushrooms are more economical than fresh, easier to store, and give you a bonus of mushroom flavoured soaking liquid when you reconstitute them. I used shiitakes but any strongly flavoured dried mushroom would work. You could also use fresh, though the bland white ones will make a dish with less character. You need a cup of barley, an onion, four to five reconstituted chopped mushrooms, and four cups of cooking liquid that could be chicken stock, beef stock, or the mushroom soaking liquid mixed with more water. Mince and saute the onion gently til softened, then add to a casserole with the mushrooms and liquid. Taste at this point for salt - because I soak mushrooms in salt water to keep them longer, I didn't need to add any. Cook in 350 degree oven until the barley is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. (You could also leave it in the slow cooker on low all day.) Pearled barley, with the outer layer removed, cooks much faster than pot barley but has less nutrition.

This recipe makes a lot - it would fill up three to four people or make a side dish for six to eight. The leftovers will probably need more liquid added when warmed up because the barley will continue to absorb it.