The thing about risotto is that it can be rather deceptive. A serving might not seem particularly calorific; it doesn't involve anything deep fried, and isn't served swimming in sauce, after all. Yet in a restaurant situation, it's likely that to achieve that silken texture and rich flavour, the chef will have added lashings of butter and cheese in the final stages of the cooking process. This means that the levels of saturated fat and sodium will be high.
Nevertheless, this dish can easily be made more healthy. Swap the traditional white risotto rice for nutty, slightly chewy pearl barley and you're well on your away. Pearl barley is a good source of heart-healthy soluble fibre, calcium and potassium and it contains a number of vitamins and minerals. It also has a low glycemic index (as opposed to white risotto rice) meaning that (among other benefits) when you eat it you stay fuller for longer, and don't experience a peak in blood sugar and insulin levels. In terms of cooking, it isn't as temperamental as risotto rice. This means that while you do still have to keep an eye on it, it doesn't demand that you're chained to the hob the whole time.
The green vegetables add essential vitamins and minerals to the risotto. Spinach is thought of as a "super food" because of its numerous health benefits and salmon is a good fish to incorporate into you're diet; it is high in protein, vitamins and magnesium and is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. In order to reduce calories, this recipe refrains from using butter and uses a small amount of low-fat cream cheese.
Pearl barley risotto with salmon
150g frozen peas
60g baby spinach
80g low-fat cream cheese (we used low-fat labneh)
2 teaspoon olive oil
1 salmon fillet, approximately 175g
3 sprigs thyme
few sprigs of chervil
onion, peeled and finely chopped
120g pearl barley
650 ml hot stock (fish, chicken or vegetable)
Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Add the peas to the water and after three minutes, add the spinach. Cook for a further 30 seconds, then drain well and tip into a blender. Add the cheese and a splash of water, and blend to a purée. Season with salt and black pepper and set aside.
Cut a square of foil about 30cm by 20cm. Drizzle over 1 tsp of olive oil and place the salmon fillet in the centre. Halve the lemon: thinly slice one of the halves and squeeze the juice out of the other. Mix the juice with 25ml of cold water and pour over the salmon. Arrange the lemon slices and herbs on top of the fish, season generously with black pepper and fold the edges of the foil together to seal. Place in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked.
While the salmon is cooking, heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion and sauté over a low heat for four to six minutes. Add the pearl barley to the pan, stir well and pour over approximately 1/3 of the stock. Cook over a medium-high heat for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, and adding more stock to the pan as the liquid is absorbed.
Taste to check that the pearl barley is cooked (it has a naturally chewy texture), then stir in the pea and spinach purée. Unwrap the salmon and flake the fish into pieces. Spoon the risotto into two bowls, top with the salmon and serve.