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Barley Risotto with Vegetables

Published by Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD on Jan 10, 2019

The word ‘risotto’ may sound like a fancy restaurant term but this Italian based dish is a great comfort food and can easily be made at home. Just so you know risotto comes from the Italian word “riso” which means rice. Of course, this recipe is using barley in place of rice but will be cooked and prepared the same as if you were using rice. Risottos are cooked in a broth and then can be mixed with all kinds of meat, vegetables, and spices. All of the ingredients are simmered until you get a creamy savory consistency.  And it’s the creamy consistency, almost porridge-like, that’s key to a great risotto.

I’ll admit, when I made this recipe, it does take a little time and care when cooking but anyone can do it.  In fact, why not recruit other family members to use their muscle in stirring!  That’s because the technique for making a great risotto involves stirring small amounts of hot stock or broth into the rice or barley (whichever is used) a little at a time, allowing the liquid to be absorbed as you go. While the rice or barley cooks, it releases its starch, which is essential to giving the risotto a rich, creamy consistency.

Yes, this step is slightly time-consuming, but for those of you who really love to cook, making risotto is a great way to slow down and unwind after a long day. Put on some good music, pour a glass of wine and before you know it, your risotto has been stirred to perfection!

As mentioned earlier, risotto’s can be made with several different ingredients. No matter what you choose, risotto is a classic side dish full of nutrition and bursting with flavor making them a perfect addition to any entrée.

This particular recipe has several nutrient-rich foods such as red bell pepper, mushrooms, spinach, barley, olive oil, and onions. I highly recommend using a fat-free, low-sodium broth not only to reduce the fat and sodium content, but to keep your risotto from tasting ‘too salty’ camouflaging the other delicious flavors from the rest of the ingredients.

So, be prepared to be blown away by the rich, mouthwatering flavors this risotto provides and the anti-oxidant, anti-inflammation ingredients nourishing your body.

Photo taken by Cheryl Mussatto

Barley Risotto with Vegetables – serves 6, serving size – ½ cup

Nutrition per serving: Calories – 70; Total Fat – 3 grams; Saturated Fat – 1 gram; Protein – 3 grams; Carbohydrates – 7 grams; Cholesterol – 5 milligrams;  Dietary Fiber – 2 grams; and Sodium – 340 milligrams


4 ½ cup fat-free, reduced sodium vegetable or chicken broth

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 small onion, diced

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

¾ cup uncooked pearl barley

1 large red bell pepper, diced

2 cups packed baby spinach with stems removed

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Bring broth to a boil in medium saucepan. Reduce heat to how to keep broth hot.
  2. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, cook and stir for 4 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms to oil and onions and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add barley, cook for 1 minute. Add ¼ cup broth to mixture in saucepan, cooking and stirring for about 2 minutes or until broth is almost all absorbed.
  5. For the next 10-15 minutes, keep adding ¼ cup of broth at a time, stirring constantly until broth is almost absorbed before adding the next.
  6. Add and stir in red peppers.
  7. Continue adding broth, ¼ cup at a time until barley is tender (about 30 minutes total).
  8. Stir in spinach; cook and stir 1 minute or just until spinach is wilted.
  9. Stir in cheese and black pepper. Serve warm.
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Cheryl Mussatto, MS, RD, LD

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from the University of Kansas and a bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and Institutional Management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for Cotton O’Neil Clinics in Topeka and Osage City; an adjunct professor for Allen Community College, Burlingame, KS where she teaches Basic Nutrition; and is a freelance writer and blog contributor for Dr. David Samadi, Urologic Oncologist Expert and World Renowned Robotic Surgeon in New York City. Cheryl is also the author of The Nourished Brain, The Latest Science on Food’s Power for Protecting the Brain from Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook, both available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback editions.

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