Wednesday, February 11, 2009
The Comfort of Food: Barley Casserole
So often, when an event happens, whether a new birth or a family member is ill, people ask, "What can I do?" In those times, I am often so overwhelmed that I can't even quite determine what I really need. What I have learned is that one of the best gifts is when a friend simply brings over a dish of good food. When all we need to do is to reheat and there aren't any dishes to be done, then we know that in food we are cared for. That makes those make difficult times easier.
Our family friend, Elizabeth is a wonderful cook. Her gift is creating meals that are both savory and comforting. Throughout the past years she has brought us so many delicious dishes. We love her chicken with orzo (it is so flavorful and redolent of cinnamon and sauteed onions. The orzo and tomatoes kept the chicken moist. It reheats in minutes in the microwave.) Her barbecued turkey, her chicken soup and her sauteed vegetables are all delicious. She takes the time to bring us something healthy (it counteracts meal upon meal of take out) and to make sure that we all like the ingredients (she always adds edamame for Raphael). She also takes the time to make it special, whether by adding in flowers or a delicious dessert. And once, she brought us her barley casserole. We all ate multiple helpings. We all felt her care. We appreciated it deeply.
This is the dish that we find ourselves returning to again and again. It is so simple (it really takes minutes to cook, especially if you buy pre-chopped vegetables) that we are now making it for others. My kids love it. It can easily be adapted (by adding shredding chicken, cooked beans), is inexpensive and delicious.
Note: I love the mirepoix or the chopped, raw onion, celery and carrot mixture from Trader Joes. I just saute that before adding it to the barley and tomato sauce. I have also just skipped cooking the mushrooms and added them in raw. I have also made it vegetarian by eliminating the chicken and adding canned (or cooked) chickpeas or cannelini beans.
Tomato Barley Casserole
1 cup large pearl barley
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups tomato sauce
salt and pepper
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
about two cups diced cooked chicken
1/2 cup diced raw carrots.
some oregano, some rosemary, some basil
Brown mushrooms and onion in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until soft and slightly brown. In 3 quart casserole place uncooked barley, broth, tomato sauce, spices, sauteed onions and mushrooms, salt and pepper. Stir well. Bake in 350 degree oven uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring a few times during baking. The barley will absorb liquid and should be tender. Add the chicken during the last 5 minutes of cooking