Asparagus and broccoli barley risotto

Barley is one of those grains that often hangs out at the back of the kitchen cupboard collecting dust. It’s a great grain to have on hand, but what exactly do you do with it……?

There’s a lot of history to the use of barley; it’s one of the most ancient cultivated grains in the world with evidence of its use over 8000 years ago. Hopefully, that’s not how long it’s been stuck in your cupboard for! Barley was grown as food for humans and animals, plus used for making alcohol; a barley wine recipe from 2800 BCE has been found. And of course, barley water has been used as a medicinal drink for hundreds of years.

But how ‘healthy’ is barley. It is a gluten-containing grain, so if you are gluten free, I’m afraid it’s off your list. It does contain a range of minerals like magnesium and selenium. It also has a good dollop of B3. But the key thing is the fibre. Barley contains a mix of soluble and insoluble fibre, including a type called beta-glucan.

Beta-glucan is a polysaccharide, a long, complex carbohydrate found in oats and barley as well as mushrooms. There’s been a lot of interest in it’s beneficial effects particularly on lowering LDL cholesterol, anti-cancer effects and generally supporting the immune system, which is never a bad thing! Of course, lots of the research delves into to trying to find compounds to extract and use as medicine, but all of these beneficial compounds found in foods work as a team, so it’s always good to just get them directly from the food on your plate.

image by Joshua Newton via Unsplash

I use barley in various dishes including soups, stews and porridge. It also works as a tasty alternative to rice for risotto, giving a slightly nutty flavour and firmer texture. This recipe includes my favourite seasonal vegetables – asparagus and broccoli. If you can still find some purple sprouting, then go for that, but otherwise long-stem or calabrese are both fab. And if you are reading this and neither asparagus or broccoli are in season, then sub for which ever veggies are as the base recipe is the same.

If you are gluten free, then barley may well not be for you (particularly if you have an allergy or intolerance), so just sub with arborio or even red rice – both are still excellent.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. If you make it, do let me know how you get on. And if you’re on instagram, please tag me in a post – you can find me @thesensitivefoodie.

Asparagus and broccoli barley risotto

A super tasty alternative to rice-based risotto, full of fabulous fibre and healthful nutrients.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Servings 4 small portions


  • 1 medium onion, red or white diced
  • 2 medium sticks of celery trimmed and diced
  • 1 small head of broccoli stem and florets separated. Stems finely chopped, florets roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic grated
  • 8 long asparagus stems tips and stems separated. Stems chopped
  • 8 cherry tomatoes halved
  • 1 heaped teaspoon dried thyme
  • 200 grams barley well rinsed
  • 150 ml vegan white wine optional
  • 600 ml vegetable stock plus 150ml extra if wine not used
  • 1/2 lemon grated rind and juice
  • 120 grams peas defrosted if frozen
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped to garnish (optional)


  • Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the base of a medium-sized pan. Add the chopped onion and celery with a pinch of salt. Sauté for 5 minutes on a medium heat, adding more water so the veggies don't stick.
  • Add the broccoli stems and garlic to the pan and sauté for 2 more minutes before adding the cherry tomatoes and chopped asparagus stems. Cook for 3 minutes then stir in the dried herbs, grated lemon rind and barley. Stir well and cook for 1 minute.
  • Pour in the wine (if using) or 150ml of veg stock and allow it to bubble away for a couple of minutes before pouring in enough stock to cover the barley. Simmer for 15 minutes adding more stock as needed.
  • Add the chopped broccoli florets to the pan and more stock and continue to cook for another 10 minutes or until the barley starts to soften.
  • Add the peas and remaining stock to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes before finally adding the asparagus tips. Leave these on the top of the mix to lightly steam for a few minutes whilst the remaining stock is pretty much absorbed.
  • Season with salt and pepper and add a little lemon juice. Turn off the heat and leave to rest for a couple of minutes. Serve with a garnish of parsley and a little extra virgin olive oil or cold-pressed flaxseed oil if desired.
Keyword easy dinner, easy vegan, OMS friendly, plant-based diet, rissoto

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