You couldn’t get a more Wintery dish than this. Barley and Brown Lentils with Mushrooms and Crispy Fried Onions. And today is quite warm! What am I thinking? Haha, still, it is great comfort food.
For this dish I have used horse gram lentils, a favourite lentil from India, but you can use any brown or dark lentil. The recipe, one of Ottolenghi’s, specifies pot barley and you should use that if it is available. Here it has gone out of fashion in recent times and I could not find any for love or money. So I used pearl barley – almost as good in my opinion. Pot barley is the love of the UK, where it is readily available.
As mentioned, this is a recipe from Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. Note that we always feel free to use whatever is in our garden, pantry, fridge or kitchen bench in his dishes. For this one, the barley is the only substitute we have made. However if you wish to see his original recipe check his books or his Guardian column.
What is Pot Barley
Whole (as opposed to rolled or ground) barley comes three ways: as a whole grain, as pot barley or as pearl barley. The difference between them is the degree to which their tough outer shell has been removed. Pot, or Scotch, barley has its outer casing hulled. Pearl barley also has it removed, and is then polished clean. The hull is left on for whole grain, which gives it an inherent nuttiness and bite that allows it to stand more alone in a dish.
Pot barley takes longer to cook than pearl, but an overnight soak in water will speed things along. It’s a robust grain that, if overcooked, won’t collapse but will become more tender. It’s wonderfully versatile, too: try it instead of pasta, rice, couscous or bulgur wheat next time you reach for those cupboard staples.
This dish is very versatile – have it with a green salad in Summer or some roast veg in Winter. I am be happy to have this by itself as a light lunch or supper.
Browse all of our Barley dishes and all of our Mushroom recipes. Our Ottolenghi dishes from Plenty More are here. We have written about our experiences cooking through this book. Or explore our Early Autumn recipes.
Barley and Lentils with Mushrooms and Fried Onion
20g dried porcini
120g pot barley or use pearl barley or black barley, covered with cold water and soaked overnight
2 medium onions
170g brown lentils
2 Tblspn plain flour
About 600ml sunflower oil
2 Tblspn olive oil
1.5 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground allspice
1 tspn ground cinnamon
3 large flat mushrooms eg portobello or large swiss brown, sliced into 1cm strips
Zest of 1 lemon, peeled into long, thin strips
0.5 tspn caster sugar
sea salt and black pepper
1 Tblspn dried mint
1 Tblspn lemon juice
10g dill, roughly chopped
10g parsley, roughly chopped
60g sour cream (optional)
Put the porcini in a bowl, cover with 400ml boiling water and leave to stand for an hour. Once cool, lift out the mushrooms and strain the liquid through a sieve lined with a J-cloth to remove any grit, then return the mushrooms to the liquid.
Drain and rinse the pot barley, then put it in a large saucepan with the lentils. Pour on cold water to come 5cm above the barley and lentils, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook for 15 to 20 minutes at a rolling simmer, until the lentils and barley are cooked but hold their shape. Drain, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool down.
Peel and halve one onion, and cut it into thin slices lengthways. Put in a small bowl, add the flour and toss gently. Pour the sunflower oil in a medium saucepan so that it comes 2cm up the sides. Put the pan on a high heat and, once the oil is hot, add half the sliced onion and fry for three to four minutes, until golden-brown. With a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with kitchen towel, and repeat with the rest of the sliced onion. Set aside to cool.
Peel and halve the second onion and cut each half into 2cm-wide wedges. Put a large sauté pan on a high heat, add the olive oil, then fry the onion wedges for five minutes, stirring frequently, until charred and soft. Stir in the ground spices, cook for 30 seconds, then add the portobello mushrooms, lemon strips, 0.5 tspn each of sugar and a little sea salt. Fry for three minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mushrooms start to soften and gain some colour. Add the porcini and all their soaking liquid, then boil rapidly for 5 minutes, until only about 6 tablespoons of liquid are left in the pan. Turn the heat to low, add the lentils and barley to the pot, as well as the dried mint, a little sea salt and a generous grind of black pepper. Stir, cook for a minute more, then remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, dill, parsley and crisp fried onion.
Transfer to a large platter or individual plates, and serve warm – I like mine topped with a big spoonful of sour cream.