If I could do my wedding all over again, I’d drop the chicken in favor of steaming bowls of creamy Barley Risotto with mushrooms and spinach. I’d also want to cook it myself, right there in the dining area, for all 150 of our guests. This is probably why most reception venues have a set menu.

Creamy Barley Risotto with Garlic Mushrooms and Spinach

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I realize that cooking barley risotto at your own wedding presents a few logistical concerns. My dress would undoubtedly get in the way, serving everyone at the same time would be tricky, and the pot would be so large, I’d pass out before I finished stirring.

Despite the challenges, I can’t help but fall for the idea of making risotto for everyone I cherish most, because to me—perhaps more than any other dish—risotto says, “I love you” and “We are good enough friends that I can cook in front you while consuming conspicuous amounts of wine.” One splash for the risotto. Three sips for me. Four sips for you. Forever and ever amen.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Spinach

5 Star Review

“This might be the best thing I’ve ever made! I never leave comments, but this one deserved it.”

— Tara —

Undeniably comforting, yet refreshingly simple, I consider risotto the meal equivalent of giving someone a giant hug. It’s a cheesy analogy, but I sincerely believe it’s true.

Risotto is one of my favorite dishes to make on chilly evenings, and—despite singing the praises of make-ahead party meals like this Sweet Potato Goat Cheese Quiche earlier this week—I break the rules for risotto, which is best made and served immediately.

Some of my favorite dinner memories are being gathered in my tiny Madison kitchen with a few close friends, all of us stationed near the risotto pot (making Beet Risotto) and polishing off a bottle of wine before the risotto even hit the table.

As often as I make risotto, rarely do I use classic Arborio rice…or any kind of white rice at all. At the risk of scandalizing my Italian in-laws, I prefer to use whole grains (as in this Farro Risotto) like today’s barley risotto recipe.

Not only are whole grains richer in fiber, protein, and nutrients, they also make a killer creamy and complexly flavored risotto.

Barley Risotto

How to Make Barley Risotto

The inspiration for this barley risotto with mushrooms and spinach came from a beautiful creamy barley bowl I had at a local restaurant in Madison. It was filled with complex layers of flavor from fennel, white wine, onions, and one of my more recent loves, mushrooms.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the barley bowl since, so I decided to recreate it via today’s barley risotto with mushrooms and spinach.


The Ingredients

  • Barley. A healthy, whole-grain twist to traditional Arborio rice that’s packed with fiber, folate, and iron.

Types of Barley for Risotto

A quick barley run-down: there are two common types of barley: hulled and pearl.

  • Hulled barley retains the outer bran layer, while pearl barley has the bran layer mostly removed.
  • Although hulled barley is higher in fiber, it takes much, much longer to cook and can be more difficult to find.
  • Pearl barley still offers a good amount of fiber and nutrients, is easily available, and doesn’t add any extra time to the risotto’s cook time. Victory!
  • Mushrooms. You can use any mushroom you enjoy, with the exception of white button mushrooms, which don’t have enough flavor to carry the dish. The restaurant used oyster mushrooms, which were incredible, and I opted for more affordable cutie creminis and portabellas.

Substitution Tip!

Not a mushroom fan? Swap any sautéed veggie that makes you happy. My love-vegetable butternut squash would be outrageously tasty (as in this Slow Cooker Risotto with Butternut Squash).

  • Spinach. The final component of the barley risotto is a bed of garlicky sautéed spinach. You can certainly stir the different components together, but I love the look of the different layers, as well as the sensation of plowing my fork deep into the middle of my bowl to ensure that I grab a little taste of each.
  • Fennel. Adds a layer of complex flavor PLUS an extra serving of healthy veggies.
  • Garlic + Onion. For a little zip and BIG garlic flavor.
  • White Wine. For flavor and a splash of fancy.
Barley Risotto with Mushrooms

The Directions

  1. Clean and slice the mushrooms.
  2. Bring the stock to a low simmer in a medium pot.
  3. Saute the mushrooms with garlic until tender. Set aside.
  4. Add the mushroom’s leftover liquid into warm stock.
  5. Wilt the spinach with the 3 cloves of garlic. Set aside.
  6. Saute the fennel and onions in melted butter and olive oil, then add the barley.
  7. Lightly toast the barely then add the herbs, remaining garlic, salt, and pepper.
  8. Add the wine. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
  9. Gradually add the warm stock to the barley, stirring and simmering absorbed, before the next addition.
  10. Repeat until all of the stock is used and the barley is creamy but maintains a bit of chew.
  11. Spoon barley into bowls, top with spinach and mushrooms. ENJOY!
Barley Risotto with Mushrooms, Spinach and Fennel

I might have missed serving barley risotto with mushrooms and spinach at our reception, but I’m pretty sure my wedding dress is still stowed safely in my grandmother’s attic.

Does anyone have an apron large enough to cover a ball gown?

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Make This Barley Risotto Recipe with Arborio Rice?

I have not made this particular recipe with arborio rice so it would be an experiment. If you try this swap, I would prepare as directed, adjusting the stock and cooking time according to your package of rice.

Is Barley Risotto Vegan?

Not quite. As it is written, this barley risotto is not vegan. However, you can swap the butter for your favorite vegan butter and be sure to opt for vegetable stock over chicken stock.

Is Barley Risotto Gluten Free?

No. Barley is not gluten free. Therefore it should be avoided if you are sensitive to gluten or are trying to limit it in your diet.

What To Serve With

  • Salmon Cakes Recipe – The BEST Salmon Patty recipe! This easy recipe uses canned salmon with bright lemon juice and spices, so they taste flavorful and fresh.
  • Fried Chicken BreastThis air fryer fried chicken breast recipe without flour is ultra crispy thanks to whole wheat breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, and little oil.
  • Roasted CarrotsDelicious honey roasted carrots! These sweet and savory flavors make this a go-to recipe for carrots and a tasty, healthy side.
Creamy Barley Risotto with Garlic Mushrooms and Spinach. Spend all that time stirring sipping wine and chatting with your special someone!

Barley Risotto

5 from 7 votes
Risotto made with barley instead of Arborio rice, topped with mushrooms and spinach. Barley risotto is just as creamy as traditional but better for you!

Total: 50 mins

Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 16 ounces cremini baby bella mushrooms
  • 6 ounces portabella mushroom caps
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 5 cloves garlic minced, divided
  • 16 ounces fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper divided
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large fennel bulb stem and outer leaves removed, cored, and diced
  • 1/2 large yellow onion diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup pearl barley*
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Instructions
 

  • Brush off the mushrooms with a barely damp paper towel. Cut the creminis into thick slices. Remove the stems from the portobello caps, cut the caps into thick slices and halve. In a medium pot, heat the stock to just below a simmer.
  • In a wide, deep pot such as a Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high. Add the mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 clove minced garlic and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, soft, and give up their liquid. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl and set aside, then pour the mushroom’s leftover liquid into the saucepan along with the chicken stock.
  • Reduce heat to low and add another 1 tablespoon olive oil to the Dutch oven. Wait a minute to ensure the temperature of the pot decreases (this will prevent the garlic from burning). Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 15 seconds, watching carefully so that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the spinach, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, stirring to combine. Cover the pot and let steam for 2 minutes, then uncover, increase the heat to high, and stir for another minute, just until the spinach wilts. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a bowl and set aside. Discard any excess liquid that has cooked out of the spinach.
  • Reduce heat to medium. Add butter and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and heat until the butter melts. Add the sliced fennel and chopped onion and cook stirring often, until the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir to coat with the butter and olive oil. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, then add the dried thyme, bay leaf, remaining garlic clove, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook 1 additional minute. Add the wine. Stir and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Add 2 full ladles of the stock to the barley. Stir and simmer over medium heat until the stock is absorbed, 5 to 10 minutes. Constant stirring isn’t necessary, but do watch the pot and stir often. Continue adding the stock, 2 ladlefuls at a time, until it is all absorbed and the barley is creamy, but maintains a bit of chew, 25 to 30 minutes total.
  • To serve: Ladle the barley into bowls, then top with spinach and mushrooms. Enjoy immediately.

Notes

  • *Pearl barley is barley with the hull removed and is widely available in most grocery stores.
  • **Alternative method to save time (but increase dishes): Saute the mushrooms, then the garlic in a second pot, while the barley is cooking in the first. This multitasking will result in a faster dinner, but one extra dish to wash.

Nutrition

Serving: 1(of 4)Calories: 526kcalCarbohydrates: 82gProtein: 19gFat: 16gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 8mgPotassium: 2128mgFiber: 21gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 20066IUVitamin C: 60mgCalcium: 243mgIron: 8mg

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Erin Clarke

Hi, I'm Erin Clarke, and I'm fearlessly dedicated to making healthy food that's affordable, easy-to-make, and best of all DELISH. I'm the author and recipe developer here at wellplated.com and of The Well Plated Cookbook. I adore both sweets and veggies, and I am on a mission to save you time and dishes. WELCOME!

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32 Comments

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  1. Awesome we adore barley. Hope to adapt for us tonight. We have a Kosher kitchen and can not make with home made chicken soup tonight! Also have not made chicken soup yet this season. We feast on home made chicken soup for most of the winter, spring & autumn. Thank you so very much for this treasure.

  2. I made this dish last night for dinner. My husband and I thought that we had arrived in heaven. I did not have any garlic or fennel and it was still divine. Erin thank you very very much for this scrumptious delight. guess what we are finishing up tonight with our dinner?5 stars

    1. Hi Susan, I’m so, so happy that you and your husband enjoyed this! I hope the leftovers were just as wonderful. Thanks so much for trying it and for letting me know how it turned out for you :-)

    1. I LOVE truffle oil on my risotto Sharon, and I think it would be fabulous with this recipe. Just drizzle a little on at the end, and you will have the most wonderful dinner!

    1. Hi Kathy! I’ve never tried this with hulled barley, but I think that you could. Just be aware that a) It will take longer to cook and b) You might want to add part stock/part water or use unsalted stock (you might also need extra water/stock). Since the stock will be reducing as the barley cooks longer, you run the risk of the risotto becoming to salty. I hope that helps, and if you do try the recipe, I’d love to hear how it turns out for you!

  3. I made this recipe last week and it was excellent! Because I cooked the mushrooms and spinach before the risotto was done they were cold so I ended up mixing them together with the risotto to warm them up. It is a delicious recipe and great alternative to traditional risotto. Love your creative recipes!5 stars

    1. Thank you so much, Marie! I’m happy to hear you enjoyed this recipe! I really appreciate your kind words. :)

    1. Hi Diane, I don’t follow a keto diet, so I can’t say for certain if this recipe would meet the requirements. As for carbs and cholesterol, if you’d like to calculate nutrition information, I recommend using MyFitnessPal.com or another similar site! This recipe was created before I started adding nutrition info in 2016, and unfortunately it’s too time consuming to go back and add it previous recipes. I hope MyFitnessPal can be a helpful resource for you!

  4. This is AMAZING!!! We had left over Prime Rib from Christmas and I wanted to do something rich and savory with it; this recipe was IT!! I mixed the left over prime rib with the mushroom, used beef broth vs chicken, and then mixed it all together. My hubby doesn’t like spinach, so I had it with mine-delicious! Thanks for the recipe! 5 stars

    1. Hi Michelle, I think it would! You could store it in an airtight container in the fridge and reheat gently in the microwave with an additional splash of broth if needed.

  5. Great looking reciepe Erin trying it tomorrow. Please email me your reciepe for Butternut squash I’d like to try it as a rissoto Barley. In my instapot. Thank you. Larry

    1. Hi Larry, thanks so much for your kind comment! Can you clarify which butternut squash recipe you’d like me to send? I’ll be happy to send you the recipe link!

    1. Hi Caroline! Unfortunately, I don’t have a version using Arborio rice. I hope you enjoy this variation if you try it!

    2. Caroline, just sub the Arborio rice for the barley. Just watchthe cooking time, because it would be 5 – 10 minutes less, using the rice, and in this case, you’d need to stir constantly. Shoukd work just fine!

  6. I have not made this particular recipe, YET, but I agree with you: Barley risotto rocks! I first had it in Tuscany, but it was served on a bed of spinach and topped with Parmesan shavings. My young kids tasted it then, and we ended up ordering two extra plates. I just finished devouring a barley risotto with charred caramelized Brussels sprouts. Can’t wait to cook your recipe with the fennel. Happy cooking!