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

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

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 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, such as farro, barley like today’s risotto recipe, or even brown rice.

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

Barley 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!

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.

Barley Risotto with 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.

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, which were incredible, and I opted for more affordable cutie creminis and portabellas.

Not a mushroom fan? Swap any sautéed veggie that makes you happy. My love-vegetable butternut squash would be outrageously tasty. (I’m sorry I just used the phrase “love vegetable.”)

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.

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. Anyone have an apron large enough to cover a ball gown?

Creamy Barley Risotto with Garlic Mushrooms and Spinach. Spend all that time stirring sipping wine and chatting with your special someone!

Creamy Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Spinach

5 from 6 votes
Creamy risotto made with barley instead of traditional Arborio rice, topped with sauteed garlic mushrooms and spinach. It’s high in fiber, low in fat, and tastes absolutely heavenly!

Total: 50 mins

Servings: 4 servings


  • 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 ½ teaspoons kosher salt divided
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper divided
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large fennel bulb, stem and outer leaves removed, cored and diced
  • ½ large yellow onion diced (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 1 cup pearl barley*
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup dry white wine


  • Brush off the mushrooms with a barely damp paper towel. Cut the creminis into thick slices. Remove the stems from the portobella 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, ½ 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 minced garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 15 seconds, watching carefully so that the garlic doesn’t burn. Add the spinach, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ 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 ½ teaspoon salt, and remaining ¼ 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 the spinach and mushrooms. Enjoy immediately.


*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.

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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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  1. I always forget about barley. I don’t know why because I love it. I have to give this a try.

    1. Hi Rosemary! So sorry about that—the link to the barley was broken, but I have it fixed now. It’s one cup. Thanks so much for letting me know!

  2. I think this is my most favorite recipe you’ve posted since reading your blog! Awesome. Would love to eat this at at wedding instead of the overcooked, over-buttered vegetables and slimy chicken you usually get. Stupendous.

  3. OK, totally just pictured you standing in the middle of the reception hall, in your wedding dress, stirring a HUGE vat of risotto, while all of your guests stare at each other and silently mouth “what…is…going…on?”

    I’m with you on loving risottos with alterna-grains. I mean, don’t get me wrong, every once in awhile, a big bowl of arborio hits the spot. But I love barley, farro, and even steel-cut oat risottos, too.

    I’m loving that you took the time to saute the mushrooms and spinach separately, and then used that as a topping for the barley. So many layers of flavor that way! Thanks so much for linking to my coconut lime risotto :)

  4. 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.

  5. I recently started a love -affair with risotto- and this is the first barley version I have come across – fantastic Erin!

  6. Okay, this is gonna sound weird, but I LOVE barley! So I’m super excited about this recipe. Can’t wait to give this a try!

  7. Risotto is so good and I don’t make it often enough. Will have to try it next time with barley.

  8. Aaw, that would have been beautiful to see – I could totally picture you doing that:) Love risotto but have never tried making it with barley. So excited to try that next time, it sounds fabulous!

  9. I am sitting here laughing out loud to myself picturing you, in your wedding dress, stirring a giant vat of risotto. ;) I’ve never tried barley risotto before — must change that soonest with this recipe!

  10. Erin this risotto looks amazing and I’m sure it tastes this way! Yesterday I had something similar at Italian restaurant we went to, but it also came with shrimp. I love your version and will pin and try to make it, since I hardly ever cook risotto at home! Looks pretty easy to make!

  11. B-e-a-u-t-iful! This looks absolutely scrumptious. I’ve never had barley before but I just love risotto. Your photos are so beautiful!

  12. Yes, risotto really does say I love you, doesn’t it! :) Its a go to feed for family dinner at my place. We use a dried mushroom for the stock, makes it pop. So delish. :) Hope you are well Erin. Happy hellos from Aus. x

  13. Yum, this looks great! I never had a risotto with anything but rice, so I am really excited to give this a try. I imagine the texture would be really nice with the cream and mushrooms… yum!

  14. The risotto is so beautiful and love the pictures of the fresh ingredients :) I cannot agree with you more, that risotto is so comforting and full of love! I never tried to use barley to cook this. Thanks for sharing the interesting idea!

  15. This looks so cozy I want to sleep on it! I definitely need to get more creative with my risotto grains too. Using barley is a great idea!

  16. I love risotto and after trying to cook and eat healthier, I stopped having it but now found I can use these other grains! I’ve done barley and it’s so good! Have you tried farro risotto? I fell in love with that but I’m just really partial to farro. Mushrooms just sing in risotto for some reason, doesn’t it? This looks great and wouldn’t it be nice to go to a wedding and have this as an entree?! I’d love it!!

  17. 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?

    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 :-)

  18. Totally lol’d, I’d definitely appreciate this risotto as a wedding guest because usually the food is not so great, and this looks better than great, it looks AAAAMAZING!

  19. I totally agree with you, Erin. Risotto does say “I love you.” Maybe it’s the constant attention and love you must give it for it to come out perfectly. Love this recipe, girl. Pinned!

  20. Oh. My. Goodness. This looks amazing! I love risotto, but typically make it with the vegetables cooked in. I need to try this version soon! And with barley? Yes.

  21. Barley totally got forgotten about with the quinoa craze, and I like it so much better. Now you have me thinking what I would serve at my wedding if I could do it over again…
    Have a great weekend Erin!

  22. It was a cozy winter evening sipping wine in your tiny apartment while you stirred risotto! Thank you that I’m one of the lucky friends to share that memory…and that delicious meal! :)
    I remember I brought a kale quinoa salad so trendy ingredients were well-represented that night. ;)

    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!

  23. I just stalked this recipe after reading your 5 Instant Ways to Be A Better Cook. I have pinned it and must make it soon, especially now that it’s Lent and I need more meatless recipes for Fridays (other than fish, although I love fish). Mushrooms and spinach…. looooove them!!!

  24. Woohoo! Keep ’em coming, Erin! I am looking for  more veg! My bf finally got on the health wagon, but he won’t do the raw. At least not just yet. ;)

    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!

  25. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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!