This barley risotto features fabulously nutty pearl barley, cooked up risotto style with mushrooms, garlic and Parmesan. A great meatless main or a hearty side.
I am a huge fan of barley for comfort food and it’s a bonus that it’s a particularly healthy choice, full of fibre and great fuel for all the shovelling in my future. Whether it’s in a soup or a salad, or cooked up risotto style, barley is always a great choice.
This dish cooks up the barley risotto-style, with rich beef broth, garlic and mushrooms and a touch of Parmesan. It’s full of flavour and nutty, chewy deliciousness.
Enjoy this as a meatless main, or cook up a batch and enjoy as a side dish with a simple protein. It’s hearty, nutty and delicious, with the goodness of whole grains.
If you’ve shopped for barley, you no doubt found two kinds on the shelf – pot barley and pearl barley. Not sure what the difference is? Read on …
What’s the difference between pot barley and pearl barley?
All barley is husked after harvest, by running through a husking machine. Pot barley (or sometimes called hulled barley) is lightly husked, removing only the inedible outer layer and leaving the bran and germ layer in intact. As such, pot barley is the whole grain version, with the most possible nutrients. Due to the outer layer though, pot barley requires more time to cook. Pot barley is best suited for soups or stews, that will cook for a longer time.
Pearl barley is left for a longer time in the husking machine, to remove the outer bran and germ layers, revealing the inner white or “pearl” coloured barley. Despite the removal of the outer layers, pearl barley is still a nutritious option and a great, high-fibre choice. Without the outer layer, pearl barley takes less time to cook, so it’s perfect for dishes that will cook for a shorter time.
I have made this dish several ways, working with what I’ve had on hand, so I can tell you definitively that it’s worth picking up beef broth, rather than using chicken broth. The depth and flavour of beef broth perfectly complements the nutty barley and the mushrooms in a way that chicken broth can’t compete with. That said, if you would like to make this one vegetarian, simply substitute a nice vegetable broth and maybe consider adding a splash of balsamic vinegar for some flavour depth.
While it is possible to make this dish with pot barley, it won’t cook in the specified time or with the specified amount of broth. You will need to cook longer and keep adding broth until tender, probably another 15 minutes and several cups more of broth.
While this one is cooked risotto-style, you don’t have to hover over it as you would with a rice risotto. Just keep an eye on it, stir a bit and add more broth when the pan gets dry. Otherwise, it will just simmer away on the stove-top.
I love to use a mix of mushrooms, even if it’s just combining button mushrooms and cremini mushrooms. The variety is nice.
I prefer to start with a low or no sodium beef broth and add salt to the dish myself as I cook it. I find it much easier to control the saltiness of the finished dish that way.
Get the Recipe: Barley Risotto with Mushrooms
- 3 Tbsp butter, DIVIDED
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, about 1 standard tray
- 1/4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup pearl barley
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 4 cups beef broth, hot
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Additional fresh thyme leaves
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Heat the beef broth in a saucepan and keep warm.
- In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 Tbsp of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften. Add the mushrooms and thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring regularly until mushrooms are tender and lightly golden, about 5-6 minutes. Add the barley and the remaining 1 Tbsp butter. Cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.
- Add one ladle of the hot beef broth and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice, until nearly all of the broth has been absorbed. *You don't want to boil the mixture too vigorously, but you do want a consistent simmer. Adjust heat to that point. Continue adding broth, one ladle at a time, allowing the it to cook until the liquid is absorbed before adding another ladle. Cook until all the broth is added. Test the barley. You want it to be al dente. If it is not quite there, add another ladle of hot water (or broth, if you have more available) and cook a bit longer. When barley is cooked, stir in grated Parmesan cheese and stir to combine.
- Season dish with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Serve with additional grated Parmesan and garnish with fresh thyme sprigs or fresh thyme leaves.
This recipe was adapted from a Food & Wine version.
Hi! I’m Jennifer, a home cook schooled by trial and error and almost 40 years of getting dinner on the table! I love to share my favourite recipes, both old and new, together with lots of tips and tricks to hopefully help make your home cooking enjoyable, stress free, rewarding and of course, delicious!
Love this recipe. Thank you Jennier! I first made it a couple of weeks ago for a vegetarian friend have have made it twice again since. I topped it with toasted hazelnuts and a drizzle of EVOO. Delicious!
So glad you are enjoying it, KP! It’s one of my favourites :) Thanks so much!
I’ve never tried a barley risotto until this recipe but it was amazing. On par with a standard risotto and I would like to think it is healthier.
So glad you enjoyed it, Jake! Thanks so much :)
This is absolutely a gorgeous recipe, and packed with delicious flavor. Although I’m not sure what I’ve done wrong, as I tried to follow the recipe exactly, but I felt like I had to keep adding a lot of water at the end after my beef stock was gone.
Perhaps I didn’t have the right pot ?Also, should I keep the lid on while cooking?
Hi Monica and glad you enjoyed it :) Did you use pearl barley? Was it a fresh bag or older? And no, you cook it with the lid off, risotto style. As with risotto, you just want a gentle simmer and stirring regularly.
I did indeed use fresh Pearl Barley. I’m wondering if I’m guilty of stirring it too much?
Also, yesterday I used regular beef broth, and it was definitely too salty, as you had mentioned in your notes about using low sodium broth; today I’m giving it a whirl again with unsalted beef broth!
I’m also just curious if it freezes well or not because of the mushrooms?
Yes, it may be an over-stirring thing. I don’t usually stir my regular rice risotto any more than necessary (less to start and more as it gets drier) and I probably stir this barley version even less, as it is less sticky than rice. That said, like rice risotto, if the barley isn’t cooked, adding more broth/liquid is just what needs to be done, no matter how much extra that is. I think it’s just a variation of how much the barley is soaking up and maybe how much liquid the mushrooms are giving off. Will vary from kitchen to kitchen, I think.
As for freezing, I haven’t frozen it myself, but I feel like it might freeze not too badly.
Was a very nice dish I liked the bite and made a pleasant change to be using beef stock will definitely make it again
So glad you enjoyed it, Lindsay :) Thanks so much!
I used steel cut oats instead of barley and it was amazing. Will make again
so glad to hear, Anna :) Thanks so much!
I used sage instead of thyme, and shitake mushrooms. Was glorious.
Sounds lovely Doron :) So glad you enjoyed it. Thanks!