I hope the Spanish will forgive me for bastardising their national dish, the proud paella, by preparing it with barley (I have dubbed this “Barlella”). I do this to reduce the blood-sugar disrupting impact of traditional rice-based paella. Most kinds of rice have glycemic index (GI) rankings in the 60′s, whereas the GI of barley is 22. High-GI carbohydrates can disrupt our blood-sugar balance, leaving us feeling tired, craving sweets or starch and, in the long run, causing us to gain weight. Unlike rice, barley is virtually impossible to overcook; the grains remain firm and chewy even after prolonged simmering.
In Spain there are many different versions of paella, so feel free to put in whatever you like. I like to combine meats and seafood, as here, but if you prefer you can go purely ‘surf’ (mussels, shrimps, squid, firm-cooking fish) or ‘turf’ (chorizo, chicken, rabbit), and throw in any vegetables you fancy (green beans, artichoke bottoms, zucchini, asparagus, carrots or cubed celery all work well). Vegetarian versions are possible too, using chickpeas and firm tofu to replace meat or fish; add dried and/or fresh mushrooms and seaweed flakes for added ‘umami ‘ flavour. (Serves 6.)
3 tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 large peppers (any combination of red, yellow, green), coarsely chopped
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
100 g frozen peas
200 g hulled barley, soaked in water overnight and drained
200 g squid, cleaned and sliced
200 g mild chorizo, sliced
3 chicken thigh portions, halved at the joint
2 bay leaves
large pinch of thyme (fresh or dried)
pinch of red pepper flakes or paprika powder
2 generous pinches saffron
600 ml chicken stock
18 unpeeled, cooked shrimps
1 lemon cut into 6 wedges
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
In a paella pan or very large frying pan, fry the chicken portions in the olive oil on medium heat, turning occasionally until golden – about 5 minutes on each side. Set aside. Cook onions and garlic in the oil for 5 minutes, then add chopped peppers, tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme and pepper flakes or paprika and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Return chicken portions to the vegetables, adding squid and chorizo and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, stirring continually. Stir in barley. Combine saffron with chicken stock and pour over the pan’s contents. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to lowest setting. Cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. Place shrimps on top of the paella and cook a further 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with lemon wedges and serve immediately.