It may not look or feel *quite* like spring yet here in New England, but I’m not letting that stop me from getting into spring mode. Spring is here! The snow is almost gone! It’s April tomorrow! I can see the ground again! I missed you, ground. Hip hip, hooray!
And this Barley Risotto with Asparagus, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious way to welcome in the spring. It’s a healthy and satisfying vegetarian (vegan-optional) meal that’s full of bright spring flavors. And, with a super awesome secret trick that cuts the cooking time of the barley in HALF, it’s ready in only 30 minutes, which makes it perfect for an easy weeknight dinner.
BARLEY RISOTTO. Why haven’t I thought of this before? Unlike traditional risotto, which is made with white arborio rice, barley risotto is made with 100% whole grain pearl barley. (Which, by the way, is ridiculously inexpensive, so this meal is also great on a budget). Really, you can make risotto out of any grain you want- brown rice, farro, quinoa… even oats! Who knew?
If you’ve never had risotto before, you are in for a treat. Risotto is a traditional Italian dish that’s made by cooking rice (or, in this case, barley) slowly and gradually in broth. When you begin cooking the rice (usually with a mixture of onions and garlic, and sometimes wine), you add just one cup of broth and allow the liquid to be absorbed, stirring occasionally, before adding more broth. You repeat this process until the rice is cooked and the broth is gone, making sure to keep stirring occasionally throughout the process. The result is a super creamy texture that will knock your socks off. And even though the frequent stirring can be a bit tedious, it is very easy to make, and VERY worth it.
BUT WAIT! Doesn’t barley take like, an hour to cook?
The short answer to this is yes. When cooking barley right out of the bag, it takes about 50 minutes for it to cook fully. But not with this handy dandy trick that cuts the cooking time of barley in half!
Before you cook the barley, soak it in water overnight. Or, at a minimum, for 12 hours. Yup, just like presoaking dried beans. The barley will absorb some of the water, plump up, and soften. Now, it will take only 15-20 minutes to cook in water, and 20-25 minutes to cook in this risotto.
For this recipe, make a basic barley risotto by sauteing onions and garlic in butter and olive oil, adding presoaked barley, and adding broth gradually as described above. On the last cupful of broth, add the asparagus as well; the liquid will help cook the asparagus. Stir in some salt and pepper, lemon zest, fresh chopped basil, and parmesan cheese, and you are done!
Want some other great whole-grain risotto recipes? Try one of these:
- Brown Rice Risotto with Mushrooms and Fresh Oregano from Cookie and Kate
- Farro Risotto with Squash and Kale from Alexandra’s Kitchen
- Eggplant Parmesan Quinoa Risotto from Coffee & Quinoa
- Whole Grain Pumpkin Parmesan Risotto from The Gracious Pantry
- Oat Risotto with Peas and Pecorino from Food & Wine Magazine
Hope you enjoy this easy and healthy spring recipe!
Barley Risotto with Asparagus, Basil, and Lemon
- 1 cup pearl barley soaked overnight
- 4 cups chicken stock/broth or vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb. asparagus washed, trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup fresh basil chopped, plus more for garnish
- zest of one lemon plus wedges for serving
- 1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- Drain and rinse the soaked barley; set aside.
- Heat chicken broth (4 cups) in a medium pot until hot.
- Melt oil (2 tablespoons) and butter (2 tablespoons) in another, large pot over medium heat.
- Add onion; sauté until tender (about 5 minutes).
- Add garlic to the onion; sauté for one minute, or until fragrant.
- Add the barley to the garlic and onion; stir to coat.
- Add one cup (or ladleful) of the broth to the barley mixture and stir. Allow the liquid to be absorbed, stirring occasionally. Once the liquid has been absorbed, add another ladleful and repeat the process.
- When you add the last ladleful of broth, add the asparagus to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes, until asparagus turns bright green and is crisp-tender.
- Once the last liquid has been absorbed, turn off the heat and stir in the basil, lemon zest, and parmesan cheese.
- Serve hot with extra basil, cheese, and lemon slices.
- Soaking the barley overnight will reduce cooking time by half. Just cover 1 cup of barley with water in a bowl or container, and refrigerate overnight or until you are ready to cook (at least 12 hours is desirable).
- For a vegan version, make sure to use vegetable broth and omit the parmesan cheese.
- Traditional parmesan cheese may not be suitable for a strict vegetarian diet because it contains animal rennet. Look for a suitable vegetarian substitute, such as a parmesan made with plant rennet.
- The provided nutrition information does not include any added sodium from seasoning to taste, any optional ingredients, and it does not take brands into account. Feel free to calculate it yourself using this calculator or by adding the recipe to Yummly.