Barley, one of the oldest cultivars in the world, has been known in Eurasia for about 10,000 years. Its variety of uses should therefore not be surprising. Barley has been used for food and livestock feed and is a key ingredient in the production of various alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages such as beer and whiskey, and serves as a substitute for coffee.
Barley is also the main ingredient of a popular Central and Eastern European dish that bares the Slovenian name ričet. The word ričet is derived from a Styrian German word ritschert, which is probably a combination of two German words: rutschen, (to slip, slide), and rutschig, (slippery). Sometimes ričet is also called ješprenj, which is a Slovenian word for dehulled barley. Hulled barley, on the other hand, is called ječmen in Slovenian.
Ričet is considered a winter dish although fans eat it throughout the year. This “spoon dish” (jed na žlico), however, has not only been characteristic of the rural environment but was also served in the dining rooms of the bourgeoisie.
The dish has also been associated with the mountaineering culture of the Slovenes, popularised by the end of the 19th century; hikers would call themselves ričetarji, after the fact that they would hang out together in mountain huts over plates of ričet.
To put it simple, ričet is a thick soup that consists of dehulled barley (also pot barley), seasonal vegetables and, almost mandatory, some cured pork. It is believed that ričet isn’t worth its name unless “a pig steps in it”.
Although the vegetables used can be adjusted, ričet will be recognisable as such if it contains some orange carrot, some yellow carrot or kohlrabi, some brown beans, green fresh parsley and some potato for colour. For our ričet we used the following ingredients:
Usually people soak barley before cooking it, but if you want your ričet done fast and without much mess you can just use it dry. It should be cooked in about an hour even if not soaked.
Some people will cook the ribs separately, perhaps to extract some salts and flavours before it’s added to ričet. Cured smoked pork is in fact quite strongly flavoured and shouldn’t be used in the same amounts as ordinary meat - just a couple of chunks per serving. Yes, we put a whole rib on the plate for the photoshoot, to make it look good, but it was taken out afterwards and cut into slices before a few went back on the plate.
Barley will also take a lot of water, much more than rice, so prepare to add some liquid while the ingredients cook.
Here’s how we did it.
Chop the onions and stir fry in the olive oil till glassy. Add chopped garlic and stir fry till its aroma rises. Add sliced leek and stir some more. Add pork chops, pot barley and water/stock so that everything is more or less submerged.
At this point you can already add some herbs: lovage, summer savory, celery leaves and bay leaves. Save parsley for the end.
While waiting for the soup to start boiling, dice carrots and other raw vegetables, add them to the soup and cover. Let it simmer till the barley is more or less soft, then add canned beans and passata and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Make sure you wash the beans before adding them.
Take the meat out so that it can be sliced and added to the soup according to everyone’s preferences.
Ričet can be even better the next day. It might thicken up even more by then.