Pearled Barley Risotto with Fresh Asparagus and Mushrooms

Asparagus Barley Risotto Recipe

Learning to cook can be a daunting task.

Last week, 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, the seniors in this study took up new skills. From grandpas taking up quilting to grannies taking up digital photography and Photoshop, the participants were motivated to prevent dementia and the results of the study were impressive.

Asparagus Barley Risotto Recipe

“Barley contains beta-glucans which has been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels. Barley is generally available in pearled, hulled and flaked form and can be added to soups, baking and salads.”

In the study published in the Journal of Psychological Science, memory tests were performed after 3 months and compared to control groups, and guess what – there were significant memory gains in the new skills group! And better yet, the increase in memory was maintained a year later.

Learning to make risotto can be a daunting task. If you have never done it before, get ready to lay down some new neuro-pathways. If you have, then this barley-twist will help to add some nutrition to an otherwise not-so-nutritious dish. For this recipe I used pearled barley to closer resemble Arborio rice. Pearled barley is slightly more refined than pot barley and therefore has less fibre. Pot barley would also work for this recipe, it would just need about 10 minutes longer to cook and about 1 extra cup of vegetable stock.

I love using asparagus when it is in season, but any other seasonal vegetable would do. Try adding roasted squash in autumn. Cube your squash and roast it in oil for 20-30 minutes, then fold into the risotto before serving adding some baby spinach for an added nutrition boost. This dish can also be made vegan by substituting the parmesan cheese for nutritional yeast. For another variation using seasonal Chanterelle mushrooms see Chanterelle Barley Risotto with Kale.

Pearled Barley Risotto with Fresh Asparagus and Mushrooms

Here is a healthier twist on the classic risotto. Barley is higher in fibre and more nutrient dense than traditional Aborio rice. Use seasonal vegetables and subsitute nutritional yeast for parmesan cheese for a vegan option.

Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4
Calories 190 kcal


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 cup barley pearled
  • 4 cups vegetable stock organic
  • 3 cups water
  • 450 g fresh asparagus trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cups brown mushrooms sliced
  • 1 cup basil leaves thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese finely grated
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts optional


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced onion and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the barley and cook for a few minutes to lightly toast and enhance the flavour, stirring regularly. 

  2. Add 2 cups of the stock to the barley and continue to cook over medium heat. Once the stock is almost evaporated add 1 more cup of stock. Continue to cook the barley mixture down. Once again, once almost all the liquid has evaporated add the last cup of stock. Continue this process, but now adding the water in place of stock.

  3. Once you have added 4 cups of stock and 2 cups of water the barley mixture should be nice and tender. Once the liquid has almost evaporated add the asparagus and mushroom with the last cup of water. Simmer until the liquid is almost evaporated. 

  4. Remove from heat and add parmesan cheese, pine nuts (if using) and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Recipe Notes

Make it Vegan: Use 2 tbsp of nutritional yeast in place of parmesan cheese.
Make it Gluten Free: Use brown rice in place of barley.
Make it Seasonal:In winter try it with roasted squash in place of asparagus, or chanterelle mushrooms in the fall.

Nutrition Information for Pearled Barley Risotto with Fresh Asparagus and Mushrooms

Calories 190 cal
Fat 7g
Saturated Fat 2g
Carbohydrate 23g
Fibre 4.3g
Protein 12g
Sodium 174mg
Calcium 120mg
Iron 3.8mg

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