Thursday, May 5, 2011

Barley with Ramps and Mushrooms

The other day, my sister sent me a text message requesting suggestions for lunch.  Sick of salads and trying to avoid bread, she was at a loss for how she could construct a healthy lunch.  This dish is one of my solutions.  When bored of redundant lunch options, people often forget about healthy grains.  Barley, brown rice, quinoa and the like can all provide the base for interesting, satisfying and balanced lunches.  Healthy meals do not always need to be piled on top of lettuce or squeezed between two pieces of whole wheat bread.  Grains, like the barley in this recipe, are a great medium for a healthy lunch with a twist.  Enjoy this dish during lunch and later in the week as a healthy side at dinner.  If you normally go for chinese at lunch, this should be right up your alley.

This dish is inspired by my current obsession with ramps. Ramps are wild leeks that boast flavors of garlic and onion with a slight sweetness and hint of earthiness. I had no idea what a ramp was until we started serving them at the restaurant where I work (and then noticed them popping up on menus all over the city!) Now, I can't get enough of them.  I order them every time I'm out to eat and I throw them into every dish I can think of.  Along with fiddlehead ferns, stinging nettles and morel mushrooms, ramps must be foraged and are only available during delicate time frames.  Like other components of the food movement, foraging has come to the forefront of trends this spring.  Now, I'm not saying that I'm headed to the hills to find my own food, but I will gladly sweep up whatever I can find at the farmer's market.

What makes this bite better?
Barley is loaded with fiber to keep you fuller longer,  making it an ideal choice for lunch.  Ramps are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, selenium and chromium and crimini mushrooms contain selenium as well.  Selenium is a mineral that has high antioxidant properties and has recently been shown to reduce cancer risk, risk of death due to cancer and risk of heart disease. Also, choosing foods such as ramps supports organic local food initiatives and serve a gentle reminder that there are still some foods we can only enjoy at the mercy of Mother Earth.

Barley with Mushrooms and Ramps
2 cups barley
1/2 pound ramps
1 pound crimini mushrooms (or your choice)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and lightly salt.  Add 2 cups of barley and return to a boil. Once at a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer for about 20 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed.  Remove the lid from the barley and turn off the heat.  Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes and then fluff with a fork.  While the barley is cooking, clean the mushrooms and the ramps.  Heat a pan to medium and drizzle olive oil.  Cook the mushrooms and then add the ramps. Ramps will cook down like a spinach.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the mushrooms and ramps to the barley and toss well.  Add additional olive oil, salt or pepper if necessary.  Serve and enjoy :)