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Asparagus Barley Risotto

This Vegan Asparagus Barley Risotto is a comforting dinner recipe that’s topped with bright and fresh spring produce! Made with whole grain pearl barley, it’s a unique take on a traditional dish and easily customized. 

overhead shot of asparagus barley risotto and a wooden table

What is pearl barley risotto and how do you make it?

Pearl barley risotto is a starchy, creamy, and comforting dinner where barley grains take the place of more traditional carnaroli or arborio rice. White Arborio is a common choice for risotto dishes as is short-grain. When cooking traditional risotto this way, liquid must be added in very small portions to build the proper creamy texture for the final dish. When using barley, we can skip this step. I actually prefer the slight chew of barley, and it has some wonderful health benefits.

Looking for more rice recipes? Try Golden Crispy Saffron Rice (Tachin) or Vegan Rice Pudding next!

Follow these basic steps to make asparagus barley risotto:

  1. Strain the rice with liquids, collecting them in a bowl to use for cooking.
  2. Toast the rice grains and add some of the starchy liquid, to cook over low heat.
  3. Cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Prepare your topping in a separate skillet by sautéing sliced asparagus with peas.
  5. After 30 minutes of cook time for the risotto, remove the lid and add in the rest of your reserved liquid, some salt, and almond milk. Continue cooking with the lid off for 5 minutes or so, until a creamy consistency is reached.  Add mashed white beans and vegan parmesan.
  6. To serve, ladle barley risotto onto hot plates and top with asparagus mixture and fresh herbs.

spoonful of vegan risotto next to microgreens

Can you freeze pearl barley risotto? How do you reheat it?

Yes, this dish can be frozen and made ahead! It is important to note that when cooling it will reabsorb some of its liquid and this will need to be added back in before serving.

To reheat from frozen, let risotto thaw and add up to 1 cup of unsweetened plain almond milk. Stir to combine and heat on the stovetop or in the microwave.

How to Add Protein to Vegan Risotto

Adding mashed white beans will greatly increase the amount of protein and “staying power” of this recipe. White kidney beans (Cannellini) have a very creamy texture that translates well to a dish like risotto. You can either cook your own beans or use canned; this recipe requires one full can or 1 and 1/2 cups cooked beans. I would image you could easily substitute another kind of creamy white bean, like Butter beans, Gigante, Navy, or Great Northern.

overhead shot of asparagus barley risotto and a wooden table with two glasses of water

How to Cook Asparagus for Risotto

Asparagus makes a great topping for risotto as it add a nice textural and color contrast. The easiest way to cook this asparagus is to slice it into 1-inch pieces and sauté in olive oil over medium heat, until bright green and slightly softened (while adding salt to season). This process will take 5-8 minutes, depending on how thick your asparagus stalks are (thinner stalks are better here). Off heat, I like to add some lemon juice and zest for brightness.

How to Roast Asparagus in the Oven

To roast asparagus, toss with a bit of olive oil and salt and roast in an even layer on a baking sheet for 10 minutes in a 400 degree F oven.

What goes well with asparagus barley risotto?

I consider this asparagus barley risotto a meal, given the combination or complex carbs, protein, and fat. It would pair well with a kale salad and a glass of white wine. It would also work well as a main course for a holiday dinner.

close up of barley risotto topped with asparagus and peas on a white plate

I hope you enjoy this vegan risotto recipe! Please let me know in the comments or on Instagram if you give it a try!

For more recipe with peas, try this Vegan Alfredo with Coconut Bacon or this Crispy Orzo with Peas and Garlic Butter.

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close up of barley risotto topped with asparagus and peas on a white plate

Asparagus Barley Risotto


  • Author: Emily
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan

Description

This Vegan Asparagus Barley Risotto is a comforting dinner recipe that’s topped with bright and fresh spring produce! Made with whole grain pearl barley, it’s a unique take on a traditional dish and easily customized.


Ingredients

Scale

For risotto:

  • 1.5 cups pearl barley (or barley-grain mix, as featured in these photos)
  • 4 cups broth or water
  • 1 cup white wine (or more water/broth)
  • 5 TBS olive oil or butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 1 bunch asparagus, washed and chopped into one inch pieces
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 TBS lemon juice and 1 TBS lemon zest (optional)
  • Sea salt (used throughout)*
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened plain almond milk
  • 1.5 cups (1 can) white kidney beans
  • 1/4 cup vegan parmesan

For topping:

  • Micro greens, snap peas, and fresh parsley to garnish

Instructions

  1. Set a fine mesh strainer on top of a large bowl. Add barley to strainer and rise with 4 cups water/broth and 1 cup wine (or more water). Press to drain, capturing all liquids in the large bowl. This helps to preserve all starches in the barley, as we will use this liquid for cooking. Set bowl of liquid aside.
  2. Heat 4 TBS olive oil or butter to medium in a large diameter pan or stock pot (the more surface area for the bottom of the pot, the better). Add drained barley, stir, and toast for 5 minutes, until nutty. Turn the heat to low and add garlic and shallots. Sauté for five minutes, stirring to prevent burning the garlic. Add 3/4 of the reserved liquid from your large bowl (be careful, as it may sputter). Stir.
  3. Cover your pot with a lid and let barley cook for 25-30 minutes. Exact cook times may vary depending on the pot you use, so I recommend checking a grain of barley around the 25 minute mark. It should have a subtle chew but not be crunchy. If your liquid is not absorbed, turn the heat up slightly as needed.
  4. While risotto is cooking, prepare your topping. Heat remaining 1 TBS oil in a large skillet or pot over medium. Add asparagus and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir to combine and let sauté for 5 minutes, until bright green and tender. Add in peas to reheat. Remove from burner and add lemon juice and zest. Set aside.
  5. When nearly all of your liquid is absorbed in the risotto (mine took 30 minutes), remove the lid and add in the rest of your reserved liquid, 1 tsp salt, and almond milk. Continue cooking with the lid off for 5 minutes or so, until a creamy consistency is reached.  While this is cooking, pour white beans onto a plate and mash with a fork. Turn off heat on stove and add white beans to risotto, along with vegan parmesan. Stir to combine and taste, if it seems flat add a few more pinches of salt.
  6. To serve, ladle barley risotto onto hot plates (warmed in the microwave). Top with asparagus mixture, fresh parsley, micro greens, and sliced snap peas if desired. Risotto will keep in the fridge for up to five days, but will dry out while chilling. If you plan to make this ahead and reheat, add a few TBS of almond milk to add replace lost moisture.

Notes

I use Morton Coarse Sea Salt because I have easy access to it. If you are using Diamond Crystal Kosher salt, I recommend using more than the amounts listed here. If you are using Morton Kosher salt, I recommend using slightly less to start out with, as the shape of these salt grains can taste “saltier” on your palate.

  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: One sixth of recipe
  • Calories: 383 calories
  • Sugar: 4.9 grams
  • Sodium: 459 milligrams
  • Fat: 13.4 grams
  • Saturated Fat: 1.8 grams
  • Unsaturated Fat: 11.6 grams
  • Trans Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 56.9 grams
  • Fiber: 13.4 grams
  • Protein: 11.7 grams
  • Cholesterol: 0 milligrams

Keywords: risotto, rice, creamy, white beans, comfort food, asparagus, spring, peas

Pin this Creamy Asparagus Barley Risotto

This Vegan Asparagus Barley Risotto is a comforting dinner recipe that's topped with bright and fresh spring produce! Made with whole grain pearl barley, it's a unique take on a traditional dish and easily customized. 

Portrait of Emily, founder of Garlic Head

About the Author

Hi, I'm Emily! Garlic Head is a plant-based recipe website for all eaters who want to easily, affordably, and sustainably incorporate more vegetables into their diets. My recipes focus on entertaining-style cuisine, perfect for celebrating all of life's little moments! Meet me here.

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Comments

  1. Sarah says

    I made this yesterday and we very much enjoyed it – what a wonderful recipe to take advantage of the spring produce available.

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