Barley Risotto with Red Russian Kale

Lately we’ve been watching Mind of a Chef on Netflix and getting cooking ideas from chefs David Chang and Sean Brock. Sean Brock’s cookbook Heritage was recently released, and while I didn’t own it at the time (I do now, thanks to Tom for the Christmas gift!), I noticed this recipe from the cookbook for Farotto with Acorn Squash and Red Russian Kale via Serious Eats, and thought it looked doable.

Barley Risotto with Red Russian Kale, served with cod


We got some lovely red Russian kale from Rambling Roots Farm at the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market, but I forgot to pick up acorn squash. Taking a look at the recipe, once I realized the squash was to be pureed, I decided to substitute the squash part of the recipe with some of our already-made smoky yam soup, which would be of somewhat similar flavor and consistency, and would save about an hour of cooking. I also was not satisfied with the farro options at nearby stores, so decided to substitute barley, since I had a bunch of it at home that needed to be used up. We also used store-bought organic vegetable broth rather than making our own.

Since altogether we made quite a few variations, I thought it was worth writing up. While I have no doubt that the original recipe is amazing, I thought this was a good example of how one can be creative with altering a recipe and still get delicious results.

Our version used the following ingredients:

1/2 a bunch of red Russian kale, chopped

3/4 cup barley

2 tbsp butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 cloves chopped garlic

1/4 cup dry white wine (we used Orvieto)

3 cups vegetable broth (we used store-bought, but ideally make from scratch with Chef Brock’s recipe)

1/2 cup smoky yam soup (homemade or store-bought squash soup would also work)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

I melted the butter in a saucepan, then cooked the onions at medium heat until they were soft, about 4 minutes. I added the garlic and cooked for about another minute, then added the wine and cooked a few minutes until the wine had reduced substantially. Next, I added the barley, and stirred until it was coated. At this point, I lowered the heat and started adding vegetable broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until it was incorporated, then adding another 1/2 cup, etc., for about an hour, until the barley was plump and creamy. Once the barley was done, I removed it from the heat. I heated up the soup and added 1/2 cup to the barley, then added the kale and stirred until it was wilted. Finally, I returned the risotto to medium heat and added the cheese, stirring until the cheese was melted and the risotto was fully heated.

The final version was hearty and delicious, and really tasted like Autumn as the original recipe says. I’m sure everyone has an opinion about which parts of the original should not be altered – for the chef, perhaps it is the Anson Mills farro; for the Serious Eats recipe tester, it was the fennel-rich broth. For me, it is the red Russian kale that makes this recipe; red Russian kale is soft and sweet, unlike other types of kale that are thick and crunchy or leathery in texture. Another type of kale would not wilt as easily in this recipe, hence altering the texture, nor would it offer the same unique flavor as red Russian kale. The addition of some kind of squash or yam, whether it’s in soup form as I used it, or roasted and pureed as in the original, is also key to this recipe’s flavor, offering a bit of sweetness and essence of Autumn, and contributing to the silky texture.

Needless to say, it was also great as leftovers. We heated it up the next morning for breakfast and topped it with eggs, since that’s what we do.