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Whole grain Barley mushroom risotto (“Barlotto”)

Traditional risotto uses Arborio rice, but this barley variation offers a nuttier flavor and chewier texture. Barley provides additional fiber and nutrients, making this dish not only delicious but also health-conscious. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms complement the barley perfectly, creating a hearty, comforting dish that's sure to impress.

Table of Contents

Risotto is an Italian dish made from Arborio rice, a starchy, short-grain rice that is able to absorb a lot of liquid. The dish is known for its creamy consistency, which is achieved by stirring hot liquid (usually chicken or vegetable broth) into the rice a little at a time, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more.

I wanted to see if I could substitute a whole grain for the rice, as I’m always looking for new ways to incorporate different grains into my diet, and good news, Barley is a popular option. It even has its own name, “Barlotto,” which is hilarious, a combination of “Barley” and “risotto.”

Barley is high in fiber, particularly beta-glucan fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol. It also contains various nutrients and minerals, making it a healthy alternative.

For this recipe I’m opting for Pearled Barley over Whole Barley. Both pearled and whole barley come from the same barley grain, but they do differ. They reasons why I ended up choosing pearled is the texture, as it won’t be as chewy, making it a better fit for a risotto. But you can use whole Barley, it will just be less like a risotto and more like a chewy creamy side.

FeaturePearled BarleyWhole Barley (Hulled or Barley Groats)
ProcessingHull and bran removedOnly hull removed
Nutritional ValueLower in fiber, vitamins, and mineralsHigher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals
Cooking Time25-40 minutes45-60+ minutes
TextureSofter, less chewyChewier, more substantial
UsesSoups, stews, pilafs, risotto substituteHearty salads, some soups and stews
Glycemic IndexGenerally higherGenerally lower
Learn more about all the different types of Barley here: A complete guide to sourcing, types, and cooking Barley.

This meal was a total hit with my family, especially my daughter who is notoriously picky. She didn’t pick up that there were mushrooms in this (I made sure to chop them up pretty good, although you could opt to just slice them instead) and when paired with a grilled steak and side salad, it gave us a warm and cream meal that was still protein packed.

A hearty but very much kid-friendly side dish, Barley risotto takes a little under an hour to cook. I usually pair it with a meat that has a similar time so I can tend to the risotto while the main dish is cooking.


  • Pearled Barley: Pearled means it has the hull and bran removed. Although it’s not as nutritious, it is similar to the Arborio rice traditionally used for risotto
  • Chicken broth: You can also use vegetable broth or beef broth
  • Butter: You can also substitute it with olive oil, but the butter adds a rich flavor to this dish
  • Small onion: Make sure you dice it up fairly small as it’s meant to add flavor, not necessarily be noticeable in the final dish
  • Garlic cloves: I used bottled this time as I had it in my fridge, but fresh is better
  • Fresh mushrooms: Pick something like cremini, shiitake, or button. I used Bella mushrooms
  • Dry white wine: Optional, but it definitely adds a nice depth of flavor
  • Grated Parmesan cheese: It helps to thicken the sauce
  • Cream: It also helps to thicken the sauce
  • Fresh parsley: Although I used dried
  • Lemon juice: Just a squeeze is all you need
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Pearled Barley is Barley with it’s hull and bran removed, making it faster to cook and must less “chewier”–although it does lose some of its nutritional value over hulled (whole) Barley.

What can Barley risotto be paired with?

Barley risotto, with its rich, creamy texture and nutty flavor, can serve as a versatile base for various meal ideas.Here are some ideas:

  1. Barley Risotto with Grilled Chicken: Top barley risotto with slices of grilled chicken breast, a sprinkle of fresh herbs like basil or parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice for a balanced, protein-rich meal
  2. Seafood Barley Risotto: Incorporate shrimp, scallops, or mussels into your barley risotto for a seafood twist. Add some saffron or white wine for extra flavor.
  3. Mushroom and Spinach Barley Risotto: Make a vegetarian version by adding sautéed spinach. Finish with a dusting of Parmesan or nutritional yeast.
  4. Barley Risotto Steak Bowl: Serve a scoop of barley risotto alongside a medium-rare steak with a side of steamed vegetables like asparagus or green beans for a hearty meal.
  5. Barley Risotto and Roast Vegetables: Pair barley risotto with a medley of roast vegetables such as carrots, zucchini, and bell peppers. Add a touch of balsamic glaze for extra flavor.

Frequently asked questions

Is Pearled Barley different than whole grain Barley?

Yes, Pearled Barley and Whole Grain Barley are different, primarily in their processing and nutritional content. Pearled Barley has had both its outer hull and bran layers removed, making it less nutritious but quicker to cook. On the other hand, whole grain Barley, also known as Hulled Barley or Barley Groats, has only the inedible outer hull removed, preserving its bran layer and thus retaining more fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The differences in processing also result in variations in cooking time, texture, and glycemic index between the two types of Barley.

How long does “Barlotto” take to cook?

Barley risotto usually takes longer to cook than traditional risotto, often requiring 40-50 minutes of simmering. The exact time can depend on the brand and age of the barley, so it’s a good idea to taste for doneness as you go.

Do I need to soak the Barley first?

Soaking is generally not required for pearled barley in risotto recipes. However, if you wish to shorten the cooking time slightly, you can soak it for a couple of hours or overnight. Keep in mind that this will also change the texture of the finished dish.

How do I store leftover Barley risotto?

Leftover barley risotto can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat on the stove with a little additional broth or water to restore its creamy texture.

Whole grain Barley mushroom risotto recipe

Traditional risotto uses Arborio rice, but this barley variation offers a nuttier flavor and chewier texture. Barley provides additional fiber and nutrients, making this dish not only delicious but also health-conscious. The earthy flavors of the mushrooms complement the barley perfectly, creating a hearty, comforting dish that's sure to impress.
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 4


  • 2 Pots
  • 1 Strainer


  • 1 cup Pearled barley
  • 4 cups Chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 2 tbsp Butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 Small onion
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 8 oz Fresh mushrooms (like cremini, shiitake, or button)
  • 2 oz Dry white wine (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp Fresh parsley (or dried, just use less)
  • Juice from one lemon (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Prepare the broth

  • In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat. Keep it simmering so that it's ready to be added to the barley as you cook.

Sauté base ingredients

  • In a large, deep skillet or pot, heat the olive oil or butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, sautéing until translucent (about 2-3 minutes). Add the minced garlic and sauté for another minute.
  • Add the sliced mushrooms to the skillet, and cook until they release their moisture and begin to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Note that you can slice your mushrooms. I opted to chop them to hide them better from my kids!

Add Barley

  • Rinse your Barley well to ensure all the dust and dirt is removed. Make sure there are no rocks or any other impurities in your grains also.
  • Stir in the barley, ensuring it’s well-coated with the oil or butter and it begins to toast lightly (about 2 minutes).

Deglaze with wine

  • Pour in the white wine (if using) and allow it to reduce by half, which should take around 2-3 minutes.

Begin the risotto process

  • Start by ladling in the simmering broth, one cup at a time, to the barley mixture. 
  • Stir regularly, allowing the barley to absorb most of the liquid before adding the next cup. Continue this process until the barley is tender and has a creamy consistency, which can take 40-50 minutes.

Finish and serve

  • Once the barley is cooked and has achieved a risotto-like texture, stir in the grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.
  • Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve immediately, garnishing with additional Parmesan or parsley if desired.
Keyword Barley
Paired with a New York strip steak, this mushroom risotto made from Pearled Barley really shines. Add a side salad and you’ve got a great meal.