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Eric Akis: Lamb and barley pairing makes a hearty, healthy Sunday dinner

If you’ve every enjoyed a bowl of Scotch broth, you’ll know that lamb and barley work well together, key ingredients traditionally featured in that hearty soup.
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Succulent Braised Lamb Shanks with Barley Risotto Tender, saucy, full-of-flavour lamb shanks served with nutritious barley risotto.

If you’ve every enjoyed a bowl of Scotch broth, you’ll know that lamb and barley work well together, key ingredients traditionally featured in that hearty soup. The two can also share the stage on a dinner plate, as showcased in today’s recipes.

For the lamb, I used lamb shanks, which are cut from the lower, shin portion of the leg. After searing them, I set them in a casserole and braised them in a tomatoey sauce, flavoured with such things as rosemary, garlic, brown sugar, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika and balsamic vinegar — bold tasting ingredients that gave the lamb a very splendid taste. Doing that also made the meat succulently tender.

About 40 minutes before the lamb was ready, with all my ingredients cut and measured, I began making the dish I would serve with it: barley risotto. It’s a type of risotto where nutritious barley replaces the rice normally used to make it. Barley is high in fibre and contains many vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, iron, calcium and potassium.

To prepare the risotto, I cooked some barley with leeks, carrot and garlic in olive oil, and then added some stock and a bit of water. The liquid was brought to a very slow simmer, and the barley was cooked about 30 minutes, until the liquid had almost evaporated and the barley was tender. Salt, pepper, parsley and parmesan cheese were then mixed in, creating a comforting dish to serve alongside the lamb shanks.

In grocery stores, you’ll see bags of pearl and pot barley for sale. Both pearl and pot barley are put through a machine that bounces the barley around a grinding wheel that removes the outer inedible hull and polishes the kernel, a process called pearling.

Pot barley is pearled for a shorter period and, unlike pearl barley, has most of the barley bran still intact. Because of that bran, it takes a bit longer to cook than pearl barley and has a more toothsome texture, why it works well in a risotto-style preparation.

With regard to the lamb shanks, you’ll find them sold fresh or frozen at many butcher shops and grocery stores. If you’re interested in buying Vancouver Island lamb, to locate farms that sell it, go to the Island Farm Fresh website, islandfarmfresh.com, click on menu and search “lamb.” If you contact the farm, they can tell where you can purchase it, whether its right at the farm or a local food store.

The lamb shank and barley risotto recipes serve two, but both could be doubled if you were having a meal with a couple other friends or family members.

Succulent Braised Lamb Shanks with Barley Risotto

Lamb shanks, braised until very tender in a flavourful sauce, served with toothsome barley risotto. If desired, you could also serve the lamb with a green vegetable, such as sautéed zucchini, or steamed green beans.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: two to two and half hours

Makes: two servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 lamb shanks

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine (see Eric’s options)

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary, or pinch or 2 dried

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

• Barley Risotto (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Heat oil in a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper, set in the skillet and sear well on all sides. Set the seared shanks in an eight-inch square or similar sized casserole.

Place diced tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, paprika, vinegar and garlic in a bowl and mix well to combine. Pour this mixture over the lamb. Cover and bake the lamb for two to two and half hours, or until the meat is very tender. Skim any fat from the surface of the sauce surrounding the lamb. Set a lamb shank on each of two plates, top with the sauce, sprinkle with parsley, and serve with the barley risotto.

Eric’s options: If you don’t want to use wine, replace with beef or chicken stock.

Barley Risotto

In this dish, nutritious barley replaces the rice normally used when making risotto. It’s a comforting mixture flavoured with parmesan cheese that you can serve alongside the braised lamb shanks

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: about 35 minutes

Makes: two servings

1 Tbsp olive oil

1/2 cup pot barley

1/3 cup finely diced leek (white and pale green parts only)

1/3 cup finely diced carrot

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 1⁄2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup water

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, or to taste

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a small to medium pot set over medium heat (my pot was six-inches wide). Add the barley, leeks and carrots and cook and stir until vegetables soften, about four minutes. Mix in the garlic and cook 30 seconds more. Add the stock and water and bring to a slow, gently bubbling simmer (don’t rapidly simmer or the liquid will evaporate too quickly). Adjust the heat as needed to maintain that simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the barley is tender and almost all the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 minutes. (Add a little more stock if the liquid evaporates before the barley is cooked.) Stir in the parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper, and serve.

eakis@timescolonist.com

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.