Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spicy Barley and Rice with Chicken

After looking through the past six new recipes we prepared this week, we tapped the Strawberry-Almond Cream Tart, those Spinach and Feta-Stuffed Calzones and that Basic Strawberry Fruit Leather as our favorites.

Now, here I go again... making a dish that was intended to be a side and bulking the ingredients up, stretching it into a main! Which actually didn't turn out to be tough at all to do with this Spicy Barley and Rice with Chicken.

To give the base a jump start, we softened onions in a bit of olive oil just before adding a couple cloves of minced garlic. To give the barley a toasty edge, ramping up its natural nuttiness, we stirred the dry grain into the pot and let it work with the heat to give each piece a golden tone. For enough liquid to cook the barley, we used a combination of water and broth - you could use completely broth if you like, but splitting the two is a great compromise, especially since we go through broth like crazy!

The proportion of the liquid to barley may seem a bit much at first, but that's because the recipe also calls for tossing in a bit of brown rice, lending a heartier nature to this dish. For a bit of spice, minced chipotle pepper was added, with a touch of the accompanied adobo sauce to overlap the smoky aspect. Since we were using brown rice and pearled barley, rather than quick-cooking you might find at your market, be prepared for a good forty to forty-five minute down time to soften up those hard grains. The pot is almost ready when the barley is tender and almost all of the liquid had been absorbed, but not all of it as this will sit off-heat for a few extra minutes to warm through the addition of a few cups of shredded cooked chicken breast. And because our thyme plants are actually doing well in our herb box on the deck, we tossed a few of the tiny leaves in to permeate through. If you opt for using dried thyme instead, go ahead and toss it into the pot when you add the liquids.

Just before serving, we brought color and freshness into the mix with hand torn spinach (which, sadly, was the last from the garden as it has gotten way too warm out lately!), along with toasted walnuts for an omega-3 boost and textural crunch. Not too spicy as is, you could intensify that by a bit more chipotle, or as we did, by seasoning the with chicken breasts with spicy blend before cooking it. We also quite liked how even though most of the liquid was absorbed, there was enough leftover that worked with the starch in the barley to not necessarily make a sauce, but coat this healthy dish in a shiny glaze that kept the grains moist without being wet or gloppy.

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