Lemon Barley Risotto

Is there anything as indulgent as a healthy serving of fresh risotto? Comforting Italian food meets fine-dining, at least according to today’s restaurant scene.

You tend to see luxurious ingredients in risotto — truffles, asiago, white asparagus, lobster, saffron… oh sorry, are you drooling? Should I stop?

But we’re forgetting that risotto is made from one of the plainest things in the world… RICE…..And a few other things like broth, onion, white wine and lemon are also the ideal party guests.

I’ve been trying to use better ingredients for healthier alternatives for the month, so finding a grain that would stand up to the cooking method of risotto had to be one that was as sturdy and had a long cook time like regular arborio rice. Well friends, I’ve been eyeing the bag of pot barley in my pantry for god knows how long and it struck me — I can try making barley risotto!


  • 2 cups of pot barley — pearl barley will also work, but will have less cook time
  • 6-7 cups of vegetable broth
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 white onion, diced or 1 shallot finely diced
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 4 tbsp of butter
  • fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp of lemon zest and
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan, + more for garnish

First start by placing a saucepan on your back burner, heated at low, for your veggie broth. Allow the broth to come to a slight simmer and keep it on your back burner as you will need it throughout the cooking process.

Next, heat the olive oil and 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan at medium heat. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and sauté until onions are translucent. Add the pot barley directly to the pan and cook for 4 minutes. This will bring out a nutty quality from the barley as you sauté it — the best quality that grains provide.

Next, add the dry white wine and allow the alcohol to cook off until there’s a small amount of liquid remaining in the pan. Once at that point, begin to add 1 ladle worth of broth at a time and allow the barley to slowly cook within the broth, stirring every so often. Since pot barley needs more time to cook than regular arborio rice (which is the grain normally used in risotto), l covered the pan with a lid while I was waiting for the liquid to absorb each round.

[TIP] With this recipe, it is not so much about hitting time checkpoints, as it is important to watch for visual cues. Only add broth when the pan starts to look dry OR when you make a line in the pot barley with your wooden spoon, it slowly retracts back and you can see no broth remaining.

Continue adding the broth one ladle at a time until you have about 2 cups left. At this point, check to see how cooked your pot barley is by tasting it. If it is still very crunchy, then it probably will need another cup or two cups of broth to continue cooking through.

However, if you think it is about a minute to 2 minutes away from al dente texture, then it’s time to add the freshly chopped rosemary, lemon juice, and lemon zest and stir into the barley. Add your second last cup of broth. You’ll smell a lovely fresh aroma of lemon mixed in with an earthiness that the rosemary brings to the dish — it is heavenly.

Continue cooking the barley as usual until you are out of broth. Once the last cup has been absorbed into the barley risotto, take it off the heat and melt in the last 2 tbsp of butter, 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan and season with salt and pepper to your taste. Your end product should be a beautiful glossy risotto.

Serve immediately and topped with fresh nutty parmesan — it DESERVES the good stuff.

Peace and good eats guys,

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