barley risotto with marinated feta

lazy sundays have turned into something like an institution around here… i could blame the weather, for sure, but then again that would be too simple. but i promise when the sun is out i will think of some outdoorsy things to do! until then, friends, i’m happy i got my nails done (fingers and toes), and currently some freekeh (stories later) is cooking on the stove. life could be worse.
this genius barley risotto with marinated feta is yet another ottolenghi invention (from his latest cookbook ‘jerusalem’). it’s strangely italian, but the feta and spices give it a nice middle eastern twist, too.
barley risotto with marinated feta
2 cups barley
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 parsley root finely diced
1 can tomatoes, diced
1 glass passata (tomato sauce)
1 onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. ground cumin
1 pinch hot paprika
1 tbsp. sweet chili flakes
1 bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme, leaves picked
1 lemon, zest and a bit of the juice
3 cups water + vegetable stock
3 tbsp. olive oil
for the marinated feta and herbed oil:
200 g (1 cup) feta, crumbled
1 tbsp. black cumin
1/2 cup oregano, leaves
1/2 cup basil, leaves
1 garlic clove
4 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. fleur de sel (not too much, as the feta is already pretty salty on its own)
for the barley risotto, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. fry the onion, garlic, paprika, chili flakes and cumin for a few minutes. add the barley, celery stalk and parsley root and sweat for a while. add the canned tomatoes, passata, bay leaf, thyme and lemon zest. add some water and stock, too, but not all of it at the beginning, you can always add more later. leave to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, so that the barley won’t stick to the bottom. cook until the barley is tender but still has some bite, adding broth when necessary. season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. 
in the meantime, marinate the feta: toast the black cumin in a skillet without oil for a minute. blend the oregano, basil and garlic with the olive oil in a food processor. season with salt. pour the herbed oil over the feta, turn to coat everything and leave to marinate at room temperature.
to assemble, ladle the risotto onto a plate, add a tablespoonful of the feta and drizzle with some of the marinade / herb oil. 
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