My failed cookbook challenge and a meat free Monday recipe – Mushrooms and Pearl Barley with Macadamia Bread Sauce

The books I have bought in the last 6 months
The books I have bought in the last 6 months

I have a confession to make. In April this year I set myself the challenge of not buying a new cookbook until I had cooked a recipe from five of my current cookbooks. It was going quite well for a few months and I also discovered the huge cookbook collection at the library next to my work, so I could borrow and look through as many cookbooks as I wanted, without buying them.

Then a couple of things happened. First, I went to France in June, and told myself a couple of very small regional cookbooks in French didn’t count as they were “souvenirs”. But that was only the beginning.

Then I went to the Perth Good Food and Wine Show in July, and I just couldn’t resist the chance to meet the cooks/chefs there and get a book personally signed (I owned some that I could get signed, but there were a few I didn’t have). Plus there were a few books on sale at the show (I mean, $10.00 instead of $50.00! What would you do?). And you never know what might happen, a few words with Maggie Beer about music/singing while she was signing my book (thanks Mum) and the next thing you know, she is calling up “Sarah who sings” to cook with her on-stage an hour later, and sending me home with a big box of her products!

Thanks Maggie!
Thanks Maggie!

I bought a few books over the next few months (always on sale), and then came the Margaret River Gourmet Escape a couple of weeks ago, where there was the opportunity to meet more incredibly inspiring and creative chefs, including Heston Blumenthal (who’s book I actually won in a competition a few months back, or I would have been buying one of his books too – you should have seen how excited I was when I found out I’d won a cookbook! Then actually getting it signed by Heston!!!).

So I have to admit that I failed my challenge completely. But I do now have another eleven signed cookbooks in my collection, more inspiration and hundreds of new recipes to try, as well as the memories of meeting these amazing Australian and international cooks and chefs that inspire me.

But moving on, it is time to try again. I think I have bought enough cookbooks to last me quite a while, so let’s see if I can cook through five of them before I even think about buying another cookbook. I can do this. After all, it’s almost Christmas and it doesn’t count if it’s a present…right?

So back to cooking. This is the recipe that convinced me to buy The Blue Ducks cookbook. By 5pm on the Saturday at the Gourmet Escape, I was starting to fade after a day in the sun, but looking through this book again (which was the last book signing of the day), I gave in and bought it. This recipe for Mushrooms and Pearl Barley with Macadamia Bread Sauce just jumped out at me and I had to try it. I have since found the recipe is on the SBS website here. But having discovered other recipes in the book I also want to try, I have no regrets.

I’m not sure about the bread sauce, I found it a bit too heavy and if I was to make it again, I would thin it down even more. But I liked using pearl barley instead of rice or couscous for a change, it was very filling and had a nice nutty flavour. I think I’ll try using it more in salads for work lunches.

pearl barley and mushrooms

Mushrooms and Pearl Barley with Macadamia Bread Sauce

 Serves 6 as an entrée/side or 2 to 3 as a main course


  • 200g pearl barley (rinse well before cooking)
  • Water
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon flat-leaf (Italian) parsley – chopped
  • 600g mixed mushrooms (such as oyster -sliced, enoki – trim the end to separate & swiss brown – sliced) – unfortunately my enoki mushrooms were not very good, so I could only use a few
  • 1 french shallot –chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive or grapeseed oil (to cook the mushrooms)
  • Zest of lemon and parsley or baby herbs, to serve

Macadamia Bread Sauce (note – I only used half of the amount listed below)

  • 300g sourdough bread – roughly chopped (note, I didn’t have sour dough so I used a crusty white bread)
  • 200ml water
  • 40ml olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 garlic clove – crushed
  • 10 macadamia nuts


  1. To make the bread sauce, combine the ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you find it is too thick, add some more oil and water. I also halved the ingredients listed above and found it made enough for 4 servings.
  2. To cook the pearl barley, fill a medium sized saucepan to about 2/3rds full with water (you want at least double the amount of water to barley) and season with salt. Bring the water to the boil then add the barley. Simmer (uncovered) for 30 minutes. If the water level starts to drop too much, add some more boiled water (from the kettle).
  3. After 30 minutes drain the barley then return to the pan and mix in the olive oil (50ml), parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Just before the barley has finished cooking, cook the mushrooms and shallots in a tablespoon of oil in a large, hot frypan for 3-5 minutes until golden (add the enoki mushrooms at the end as they will cook quicker). Season to taste.
  5. To serve, divide the barley and mushrooms between the serving plates and add a spoon or two of the bread sauce. Top with lemon zest and extra herbs.

Recipe adapted from The Blue Ducks by Mark Labrooy & Darren Robertson

pearl barley and mushrooms 2

Book recipe number – 5

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