When I first heard of a risotto made with pearl barley, my eyebrows were raised. But this has become one of my favourite easy vegan dinners, because it’s so darn tasty.
Don’t expect the texture to be the same as that of an arborio (i.e. ‘a boring old’ – har har) rice risotto… it’s very different, yet so satisfying! Barley has a grainy texture and a slight “chewyness” (in a good way) even when fully cooked. However it produces a nice nutty flavour that you don’t get from rice.
Nutritionally, pearl barley is higher in dietary fibre than rice, but unlike rice it does contain a little gluten. If you’re gluten intolerant or Ceoliac, you can definitely substitute brown rice for the barley in this recipe.
To Soak or Not to Soak the Barley?
There seems to be some conflicting ideas out there as to whether or not pearl barley should be soaked in water prior to cooking. I’ve made this a few times and tried soaking it for 4 hours prior, and then not at all. I honestly could not tell the difference. So I say, save the water and get straight to it!
The first couple of times I made this I used red onion rather than leek. You know when there’s just something missing but you can’t put your finger on it? In this instance, it was the leek. When I swapped the red onion for the leek it was a game changer. I took one mouthful, raised my fork in victory and declared that it was finally “blog-worthy”! The leek definitely adds an incredible flavour that plain old onion tends to leave you wishing for.
Use a good quality organic, vegan white wine. There’ll be plenty leftover for you to sneak a glass while you’re cooking.
A Word About Crispy Sage…
Not gonna lie, I was never really much into sage as a herb. That was until I discovered that it actually transforms into the most divine herb in the WORLD when it’s lightly fried! I used half coconut oil (as it has a high smoke point) mixed with half vegan butter to give the sage a nice buttery flavour.
The trick to getting the sage perfectly crispy, is to to remove it from the oil the very second it starts to crisp up. Gently poke the leaves with your tongs and as soon as they start to hold their shape, it’s time. Heat goes off, then scoop them out as gently and fast as possible with a slotted spoon and on to some paper towel to drain.
You can get away with the leaves being lightly browned, but as soon as they turn dark brown it’s not going to be good. And this can happen very, very quickly once they start to crisp so just keep that in mind.
The addition of the coconut cream at the end is sooooo worth it. Unlike rice, pearl barley doesn’t release starch during the cooking process, which is what makes “real” risotto nice and creamy. A little splash of coconut cream to this risotto takes the edge off the texture of the barley and gives the dish a nice consistency. Again, if you’re not a fan of coconut cream you can substitute for 1 cup of your favourite plant milk instead.
Hope you love this – don’t forget to let me know in the comments!
Rich, nutty and totally plant based
- 500 grams pearl barley
- 500 grams field mushrooms sliced
- 20 grams dried porcini mushrooms
- 1 large leek finely sliced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 750 ml hot vegetable stock
- 1 heaped tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 2 heaped tbsp fresh chopped sage leaves
- 25-30 extra whole sage leaves for serving
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tbsp vegan butter
- 250 ml white wine (vegan-friendly)
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup coconut cream
- 1/3 cup nutritional yeast
- salt & pepper to taste
Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl with enough hot water to just cover them for 15 minutes.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegan butter in a large saucepan or wok over medium heat. Add leek and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook a further 1-2 minutes.
Add the barley, white wine, balsamic vinegar & fresh herbs and stir to combine.
Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock and bring to a gentle simmer, then add the sliced field mushrooms and porcini mushrooms (including the water they were soaked in).
Add the remainder of the vegetable stock 1 cup at a time, stirring until the liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup. This should take around 40 minutes.
When all the stock has been used and the barley is cooked (should be firm but not crunchy), add the coconut cream, nutritional yeast and salt & pepper to taste.
To crisp the sage, add the other tablespoon of vegan butter plus the coconut oil to a small frypan over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sage leaves and cook for a minute or so, until they only just begin to crisp. Gently remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a piece of paper towel.
Sprinkle the sage with a touch of fine sea salt (optional) and then arrange it on top of the risotto to serve. Voila!