This simple baked asparagus pearled barley risotto helps save on time in the kitchen, and the resulting risotto is higher in fibre, more filling and more nutritious than the classic risotto. Using seasonal asparagus is a great way to celebrate this high prebiotic vegetable. One serving of this dish provides 15 grams of fibre – more than half of our daily requirement!
Learning different ways to make familiar things can help keep our brains sharp. NPR posted an article titled “Learning A New Skill Works Best To Keep Your Brain Sharp.” While the rest of us are busy buying into expensive supplements and “superfoods” to increase brain power, these seniors took up new skills to prevent dementia and the results of the study were impressive – significant memory gains after 3 months! This asparagus pearled barley risotto is a new way to prepare a traditional favourite – and turns out it is higher in fibre!
Why I Love It
Barley Is High In Beta-Glucans
Barley is one of our best sources of the soluble fibre beta-glucans which have been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol levels. Oats are also high in this heart-protective fibre (see High Protein Steel Cut Oats with Peanut Butter).
A High Fibre Risotto
When barley is substituted for arborio rice, the fibre content increases to 15 grams per serving! This turns a mostly refined carbohydrate-based dish into a better choice for those looking to manage blood sugar levels, feel fuller for longer or feed their friendly gut bacteria.
Asparagus Is A Prebiotic Food
Asparagus is a good source of inulin, a special type of fibre that acts as a prebiotic in our digestive tracts and feeds the beneficial bacteria. See my post How To Improve Gut Health Naturally – Prebiotics, Probiotics & Fermented Foods for more information on the benefits of prebiotics. Also check out this Asparagus Crustless Quiche with Cottage Cheese for another favourite asparagus-inspired recipe.
It Is Easy To Make
Traditional risotto requires a lengthy amount of time spent at the stovetop. I love the ease of baked barley risotto – you can just put everything in a pan and let it bake. For a simple stovetop method see this Chanterelle Barley Risotto with Kale.
What Is Hulled Barley?
Hulled barley is the ‘whole-grain’ version of barley where only the outer husk or hull has been removed. Hulled barley takes longer to cook, and the resulting barley has more of a ‘chewy’ texture.
Can You Use Hulled Barley In This Risotto?
Hulled barley will not give you the smooth texture which we are looking for in a replacement for arborio rice. You can use hulled barley, but it will be less of a ‘risotto’.
Pot Versus Pearled Barley
Pot barley is the more processed form of hulled barley and has been pearled for a short amount of time leaving much of the barley bran intact. Pearled barley takes things one step further which is an extra round of polishing.
Can You Use Pot Barley In This Risotto?
Yes, you can. You can use pot barley and pearled barley interchangeably in most barley dishes. Pot barley will have a slightly firmer texture than pearled barley.
Is All Barley Healthy?
Regardless of which type you choose, barley is always a healthy option. Whole grain or “hulled”, pot and pearl barley all fall under the Health Canada approved claim that links the consumption of three grams of barley beta-glucan per day to reduced cholesterol levels.
“125 ml (1/2 cup) of cooked pearled barley supplies 60% of the daily amount* of the fibre shown to help lower cholesterol.” – Health Canada
*The “daily amount” referred to in the primary statement is 3 grams of barley beta-glucan which is the lowest observed effective daily dose for lowering cholesterol.
Making A Creamy Barley Risotto
Now that we understand the difference between the three types of barley, the best barley to use to make a creamy barley risotto is the pearled barley. This barley has undergone the most amount of processing so it will break down the nicest in this risotto, creating a delicious creamy risotto. If you want an even creamier risotto, don’t skimp out on the parmesan cheese, and toss in 1 tablespoon of butter before topping with asparagus and returning to the oven.
Is Barley Gluten-Free?
No barley is not gluten-free. Barley along with rye and wheat all contain the protein gluten and are not suitable for anyone that has celiac disease or is gluten-intolerant.
Making A Vegan Barley Risotto
To make this risotto vegan you can replace the parmesan cheese with nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast is also high in glutamates, which offers that savoury ‘fifth-taste’.
Making A Spinach Barley Risotto
Asparagus season is short, so if you are coming across this recipe but can’t find asparagus in the grocery store then you can substitute with spinach which is generally available for most of the year. Cook the spinach with the onion and garlic and add it to the cooked barley along with the parmesan cheese and lemon zest. Return it to the oven for 5 minutes.
Making A Butternut Squash Barley Risotto
In the autumn, try adding roasted butternut squash in place of asparagus. Cube your squash into 1-inch cubes, and roast it in oil for 20-30 minutes. Fold the roasted squash into the risotto before serving
Making A Mushroom Barley Risotto
When I originally posted this recipe, I used a combination of mushrooms and asparagus. I love the celebration of one single seasonal vegetable so I opted to remove the mushrooms from this dish. I have made a separate seasonal Chanterelle mushrooms barley risotto here – Chanterelle Barley Risotto with Kale.
Can I Use Pot Barley For This Risotto?
Yes, you can, but it would just need about 10 minutes longer to cook and about 1 extra cup of vegetable stock. The resulting risotto will be slightly less creamy.
Can I Make This Barley Risotto On The Stove Top?
You certainly can! I have shared a stovetop barley risotto recipe here Chanterelle Barley Risotto with Kale. To make this recipe on the stovetop, cook the onion and garlic in a large frying pan and then add the barley and stock. Cook the asparagus in a separate frying pan and top the cooked barley with the pan-fried asparagus.
More Seasonal Spring Recipes?
These are some of my favourite springtime recipes:
- Lebanese Wild Fennel Pesto Recipe
- Simple Vegetable Crustless Quiche with Feta
- Asparagus Crustless Quiche with Cottage Cheese
More High Beta-Glucan Fibre Recipes?
These recipes contain the special fibre that can help manage cholesterol levels:
- Seedy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
- Tahini Coconut No-Bake Energy Balls with Hemp
- High Protein Steel Cut Oats with Peanut Butter
Baked Asparagus Pearled Barley Risotto
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 1/2 cups barley pearled
- 4 cups vegetable stock organic
- 17-20 spears fresh asparagus
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese finely grated (plus more for serving)
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 1/3 cup hazelnuts chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 425°F.
- Add the 4 cups of vegetable stock, 1 1/2 cups of barley and 1/4 teaspoon of salt to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it has come to a boil, remove from heat and add the boiled barley and stock to a 12 x 12 baking pan. Cover with tin foil and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
- While the barley is baking prepare the asparagus by trimming off the woody ends - about 1 to 2 inches. You also want to make sure the asparagus is going to fit into your baking pan, so trim more if needed.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and trimmed asparagus and cook for a further 3 minutes. Set aside.
- When the barley is finished baking, remove it from the oven. Taste it for doneness, making sure it is tender, and for seasoning, adding more salt as needed. Sprinkle over half of the lemon zest and half of the grated parmesan cheese and gently mix in. From the frying pan with the cooked asparagus and onion, move the asparagus over to one side with a large spoon and scoop the onions into the barley, mixing them in. Next place the asparagus on top of the barley, laying them in a neat row.
- Return the barley with asparagus into the oven and bake uncovered for a further 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and top with the rest of the parmesan cheese, lemon zest, and the juice from half the lemon and the chopped hazelnuts if using.