Risotto is a creamy, scrumptious dish typically made with a special variety of rice called arborio. But you can make it with barley too. The basic template is to slowly pour hot liquid over the grain, stirring the mixture on the stovetop while the rice (or barley) absorbs the liquid and softens. The liquid can be any type of broth, on its own or combined with wine, and add-ins range from a single ingredient to complicated combinations.
This version is simple to prepare and healthy, with many variations depending on which vegetables and what type of broth you use. From start to finish, the dish takes just over half an hour to put on the table. With a salad and fruit, it makes a great vegetarian dinner (vegan if you leave out the cheese at the end), but it can also be adapted for meat-lovers by substituting chicken or beef broth as the liquid. Barley risotto is also a delicious and substantial side dish – with roasted vegetables or squash for vegetarians or with chicken or sliced meat for “meatatarians” as my son used to call us.
Barley comes in several varieties. Almost all barley available in stores is hulled (also called “dehulled”), which means the tough outer shell is removed. Most barley is also pearled, which takes some or all of the outer bran layer off of the grain. The whiter the color of pearled barley, the more bran layer has been removed. In any event, the fiber is distributed throughout the grain kernel, so even very white pearled barley still has some nutritious fiber in it. I prefer lightly pearled barley, with more fiber and a light brown color. Pearled barley takes much less time to cook than barley that is not pearled. Pearled barley is considered a whole grain, but quick pearled barley, barley flakes and barley grits are not.
I’m always hesitant to give serving sizes, as what works as a main course for me is often not even a side dish for my husband. In this case, leftovers will reheat well, and are especially appetizing when topped with additional freshly grated cheese.
This recipe is also a great way to use whatever broth and vegetables are on hand. I used up frozen cubes of vegetable broth (saved from a previous dinner when I didn’t use the whole container of broth), bits and pieces of salad vegetables, with about ¼ of an onion. Next time, for additional color, I may add in ¼ cup of frozen peas toward the end of cooking the barley.
Vegetarian Barley Risotto
Servings – 1½ cups cooked risotto (enough for 2 modest main course servings or 2 side-dish size servings. Cost – $3
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup pearled barley, rinsed and dried on a towel
- ½ cup finely chopped “hard” vegetables such as carrots, celery, sweet peppers, and onion
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1-2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
- Cutting board
- Measuring cups for solids
- Measuring spoon
- Large spoon
- Medium-sized pot
- Microwave-safe measuring cup for liquids or measuring cup, small pot and ladle
- Cut the vegetables into small diced pieces (smaller than your pinky nail.)
- Heat the olive oil in the pan and then cook the vegetables for about 3 minutes under medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are softened but not browned. Add the barley and cook the mixture for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Meanwhile, heat the liquid until quite hot, but not boiling. I microwaved my vegetable broth for about 3-4 minutes on high. If you have finished cooking the barley and vegetables but the broth is not yet hot, turn off the vegetables until the broth is ready
- Slowly add the hot broth to the vegetables and barley, about ¼ cup at a time, stirring frequently until most is absorbed before adding the next batch. The barley expands as it cooks. (Frequent stirring keeps the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot.) In all, it should take approximately 20 minutes for the barley to soften and fully absorb the broth.
- Once the risotto is done, taste it before adding salt and pepper to taste. (How much you add depends on the salt and seasonings in your broth.) Just before serving, top the dish with ½ tablespoon of butter and 1-2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese.