Red Beet and Barley Risotto

Turning a classic dish into a superfood

If you seen my first three recipes for energy bites, pumpkin muffins, and brownies, you might think that this is a baking blog. It’s not! Although I love to bake, especially in this time of the year, I also enjoy cooking with healthy ingredients a lot! And today I decided to make a red beet and barley risotto. Risotto is not considered a healthy dish, but I have transformed it into a very healthy version!

Let’s find out how this delicious dish can be improving your health:

  • A Red Beet and Barley Risotto obviously needs red beets. These vegetables have a specific sweet and earthy taste that I love. I enjoy them especially in fall and winter, when I eat more root crops than in the other seasons. And the taste is not the only thing that’s good: Beets are among the healthiest vegetables in modern day diet. They are full of antioxidants and contain fiber, folate, and potassium. They are also rich in boron, which works together with calcium to strengthen the bones. Another great thing about beets is that they contain nitrate, which can enhance physical performance. But in fact, beet juice makes a great sport drink! Always buy red or yellow beets, they are the most nutritious. And because beets get even more nutritious when heated, that’s what we’re going to do in this recipe. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), beets belong to the fire element, having neutral thermic properties, meaning they do not warm or cool the body. TCM uses beets to treat anemia, restlessness, and to detoxify the liver.

If you happen to find beets with their leaves still attached, don’t throw them out! The leaves are actually even healthier than the beets themselves and you can use them to make a (lunch) salad the next day, or prepare them in any way you would prepare spinach.

  • Balsamic vinegar is added to complement the beet’s taste and to add some health benefits: The main active compound, acetic acid, contains strains of probiotic bacteria. These probiotics can improve healthy digestion, gut health, and help reduce gastritis symptoms. They will also help you feel fuller longer. Balsamic vinegar has powerful antioxidants and it is anti-glycemic. It can help avoid blood sugar spikes. Because I don’t want you to spend a fortune on the real balsamic vinegar, wich would be Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, you can buy Aceto Balsamico di Modeno instead. This is the most common kind you will find in most supermarkets, but be sure to buy one of good quality. The more must it contains the better, and please do not buy balsamic vinegar with additives such like caramel. I actually bought mine at Trader Joe’s (gold version), and it is of very good quality! The first ingredient is must, it has no additives, and it has ripened for at least 5 years.
  • Optionally, you can add a little bit of coconut sugar because it helps caramelizing the beets and it has such a rich taste. Coconut sugar is unrefined and contains vitamins and minerals that help your body to break down the sugar. It has low influence at the blood sugar level.
  • Risotto is cooked in stock to give it more taste. In this recipe I used vegetable stock. Because this ingredient can be so diverse, the nutrients depend on what’s in it. You can buy it ready and that is what I did for now. However, it is difficult to find a healthy version and it’s very easy to make your own, so that is what I will be doing soon. In the meantime, pick something from the store that is organic and as natural as possible. To enhance nutrients (and taste), add onion skins to the stock when cooking.

Being half-Italian, I really love risotto. I used to make it with white Arborio rice, but then it always felt so heavy on the stomach. The white Arborio rice makes your blood sugar go up and down, and gives you a not-so-great after dinner dip! That’s why I chose to use barley in this recipe.

  • Barley has a low glycemic index, which is great to prevent that dip and to feel full for longer. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a dense, chewy texture. It is a great substitute for Arborio rice, however, Barley absorbs the stock a little slower so the cooking time will be a little longer. Also, the texture is a little bit chewier. Barley is actually one of the oldest consumed grains in the world. It provides a range of important vitamins and minerals:  fiber, selenium, B vitamins, copper, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium, niacin, manganese, and more. And when compared to many other grains, even other ancient whole-grains, barley is lower in fat and calories, but higher in fiber and a selection of trace minerals. Barley can also benefit blood sugar level management. If you can find it, use hulled barley to gain all of the health benefits. Otherwise you can use pearled barley, which is better available but has husk, bran and germ removed so it lacks some of the nutrition benefits.
  • Onions have been around forever, and they have many health benefits. They contain quercetin, which is antiviral and antibacterial. Perfect for the fall and winter! The more pungent the onion, the more health benefits. Also, smaller onions are healthier than bigger ones. Don’t choose onions with the word Sweet in their name: they have too much sugar that you don’t need and less nutrition than pungent varieties. No matter how pungent the onions are; If you cook them they will become mild and sweet.
  • Although I love to bake with butter, mostly I prefer sauteing in ghee because it has a higher smoke point. A pan on the stove can get quite hot in a small amount of time, and while regular butter begins to brown and smoke pretty fast in a pan, ghee does not because the flammable milk solids have been removed. Ghee is clarified butter that’s been cooked slowly until the liquids have dissipated, and the milk solids (which are what make butter burn) have settled in the bottom of the pan. When these are removed, ghee is what’s left. Please note that ghee is only as good as the butter it was made from. Therefore, always use grass-fed and organic ghee.
  • A great risotto needs wine together with the stock. The wine contains acids that will cook the risotto better and faster, and gives more depth to the dish. Adding wine will also provide a unique flavor and smell! Drinking a glass of wine every day is supposed to be very healthy because of all the antioxidants. When you cook it, the water and alcohol will evaporate, leaving the essence that contains of polyphenols and anti-oxidants. Pholyphenols have a role in the prevention of degenerative diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases and cancers.
  • Many people probably avoid cheese when they want to eat healthy, but feta cheese is a nutrient-rich option that adds a lot of flavor. Feta cheese contains probiotics, which help your immune system fight infection and disease. Traditionally, it is made of sheep milk and sometimes mixed with goat milk, but no more than 30%. Sheep and goat cheeses are easier to digest than cheeses from cow’s milk. Make sure you buy organic and pastured feta cheese so you know the animals were fed good food. Also check if the feta was made with sheep milk (with possibly some goat milk) to receive your nutrients from a less common source.
  • Finally, if you want to make the risotto even creamier you can add some grated parmesan cheese at the end. Parmesan contains protein, calcium, and vitamin A. If you are in for trying something new while increasing the nutritional values, try adding nutritional yeast instead. Or make a mix to combine the good old taste of Parmesan with the health benefits of nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast contains the vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and folate, which is good for metabolism, nerve system, and energy. It has a cheesy flavor so I think this is a great addition to your diet, and it doesn’t even contain any fat!

 

And that’s it! I bet you can’t wait to go and make this Red Beet and Barley Risotto right now! It is so delicious yet so healthy, combining the best of both worlds. Added bonus: it’s easy to make. Enjoy!

Red Beet and Barley Risotto
Red Beet and Barley Risotto
red beet and barley risotto
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Red Beet and Barley Risotto

Course Dinner
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 2 people

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Beets
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar Aceto Balsamico di Modeno
  • 1 tsp coconut sugar optional
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1 small onion
  • 2 tsp ghee
  • ½ cup of wine whatever is open
  • ¼ cup Feta cheese
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese Option: replace with 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tbsp Olive oil add to taste to dress
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. If you have the time, you can start with roasting the beets in the oven. Oven roasting beets enhances their sweet nature even more. And if you have more, go ahead and roast them now so you can use them in a salad tomorrow. To save some time, make the beets ahead, steam them, or the last option is to buy them precooked.
  2. Preheat the oven at 400 F.
  3. Wash the beets and dab dry with a dark towel
  4. Put every beet on a square of aluminum foil and drizzle one tbsp olive oil over each beet.
  5. Close the aluminum foil sheets and put in the oven on a baking tray for an hour.
  6. When the beets are in the oven, mince the onion.
  7. In a small saucepan, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Reduce heat and keep warm.
  8. Sautee the onion until softened and translucent.
  9. Add barley and cook for 3 more minutes. Make sure that every piece of barley is covered in ghee.
  10. Add wine, cook and stir until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.
  11. Add heated stock, max ½ cup at a time, stirring regularly and allowing the liquid to absorb between additions. The regular stirring helps the risotto become more creamy.
  12. Cook until barley is tender (about 30 minutes).
  13. Take beets out of the oven.
  14. Use a toothpick to check if the beets are done, they should be tender.

  15. Carefully place the aluminum packages on a cool surface and let cool. After a few minutes you can carefully open the packages and continue to let them cool.
  16. When cooled, peel the beets and roughly chop them. Your fingers and cutting board will get red, but that will wipe off quite easily.
  17. Put the chopped beets in a pan and add 2 tbs balsamic vinegar and optionally one tsp of coconut sugar. Keep stirring until the balsamic vinegar has been absorbed.

  18. When the barley is done, add Parmesan and/or nutritional yeast (I like the combo best) and stir.
  19. Put barley on a plate, add beets, add crumbled feta.

  20. Add some olive oil and fresh ground black pepper to taste.

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