Home » Recipe Review: Spinach & Pearl Barley Risotto

Recipe Review: Spinach & Pearl Barley Risotto

Submitted by Amy Sercel MS RD CD

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes


1 Tbsp vegetable oil

2 small red onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup pearl barley

3 1/3 cups vegetable stock

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

7 oz fresh spinach or 4 cooked beets

2 oz coriander

1 Tbsp lemon juice

1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed


  1. Add oil, onions, and garlic to a large sauté pan and cook over medium heat until onions have softened.  Add all of the pearl barley and stir around the pan for about a minute, or until the barley starts to become translucent.  Add the stock one ladle-full at a time, stirring until the barley absorbs the stock before adding another, until about 1 ½ cups of stock remain.
  2. Pour the remaining stock into the pan, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and allow the barley to cook for 15 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
  3. While the barley cooks, put the spinach or cooked beets into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  If no blender is available, chop spinach or beets finely.
  4. When the barley is cooked and the liquid has been absorbed, add the puree along with the halved cherry tomatoes, garbanzo beans, lemon zest, and coriander.
  5. Serve warm.

Yield: 6 Servings

Nutrient Facts:

275 calories, 10 g protein, 51 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 10 g fiber

92 mg calcium, 633 mg potassium, 584 mg sodium, 4 mg iron, 83 mg magnesium

169 mcg vitamin A, 20 mg vitamin C, 1 mg vitamin E, 162 mcg vitamin K, 145 mcg folate

This risotto was quick, flavorful, and satisfying.  I made a few changes to the original recipe and was very happy with the result.  The original recipe says to roast the tomatoes in the oven while the barley cooks, but I wanted to make the meal a little simpler.  Cutting the tomatoes in half and adding them directly to the risotto allowed them to cook a little and also helped the flavor of the tomatoes blend with the rest of the dish.  This was a great way to still include cooked tomatoes without having to worry about them burning in the oven while I concentrated on the barley.

I also modified the recipe by adding garbanzo beans.  Usually a risotto might be served as a side dish to accompany chicken or fish, but I wanted to make this a one-pot meal.  Using garbanzo beans increased the risotto’s protein and fiber content.  It also added a little depth to the meal’s flavor, and the softer texture of the beans complemented the chewiness of the barley.  These changes ultimately streamlined my cooking process because I didn’t have to turn on my oven or make a side dish to serve as a protein source.

The last modification I made was to chop the spinach by hand and add it earlier in the cooking process since I didn’t have the means to puree it.  This didn’t appear to change the texture or flavor of the dish, but I believe it did change the color.  Cooking the spinach for longer made it come out a duller green, and the color might have been brighter and more interesting if I had pureed the spinach and added it after the barley was cooked instead.  If you plan to serve the dish to children who would be excited by a brightly colored meal, I would recommend adding the spinach at the end so the color stays vibrant.

Although I had never cooked with barley before making this dish, it is definitely going to become a staple in my kitchen.  People have been depending on barley for a long time.  In 1324, the King of England declared an inch to be equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.”1 Barley is similar to rice because it is a small, hard grain that has to be cooked in water or broth before you can eat it, but whole grain barley (also known as hulled barley) has more protein and fiber than brown rice.  Hulled barley has also been shown to help with blood sugar control because it is high in the soluble fiber beta-glucan.  Unfortunately, pearl barley is not a whole grain.  You could easily substitute hulled barley to get more fiber out of this meal, but you might end up cooking it for 15-20 minutes longer.   In the grocery store, you can find barley either in the bulk section or in the rice aisle.

Overall, this was a wonderful dinner.  It was a great way for me to learn how to cook barley, and I will be enjoying the leftovers for a few days!

Recipe Source: http://www.honestlyhealthyfood.com/blogs/honestly-healthy-food/17968997-spinach-pearl-barley-risotto


  1.  Barley – February Grain of the Month | The Whole Grains Council. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/easy-ways-enjoy-whole-grains/grain-month-calendar/barley-%E2%80%93-february-grain-month. Accessed January 13, 2017.

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