Asparagus pearl barley risotto

I conjured up this tasty rice dish with ingredients in the fridge and cupboard. It’s tasty and simple to make. Pearl barley is a healthy wholegrain and is a great substitute for risotto rice. It brings earthy, nutty flavours and adds wonderful texture with a bit of bite.

The vibrant, green asparagus has a satisfying crunch with a striking and fresh flavour. The creme fraiche and cheese add a layer of richness, but these ingredients can be left out to make the dish vegan friendly. And the soft cooked mushrooms on top balance out the crunchy textures.

This dish is cooked using the same method as risotto. It’s a great meal to make one evening after work.

Asparagus pearl barley risotto


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • 160g pearl barley
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • 8 asparagus spears
  • 3 closed cup mushrooms
  • A knob of butter
  • 1 dessert spoon of creme fraiche
  • A handful of mature cheddar cheese, grated
  • Plenty of seasoning

Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Serves 2


  1. Pour the oil into a large frying pan and put on a medium heat.
  2. Add the onion and fry for 5 minutes, or until it has softened.
  3. Pour in the pearl barley and mix in well with the onion. Cook for a further 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, cut off the woody ends of the asparagus spears and chop each spear into thirds.
  5. Turn the pan down to a low heat and add a ladleful of stock to the pan, stirring occasionally. When the stock has been absorbed by the barley, add another ladleful and repeat the process.
  6. Put the chopped asparagus into the pan and stir in with the mixture. Add the next ladleful of stock as before, and continue this process until all of the stock has been added. This should take about 30 minutes.
  7. While the risotto is cooking, add the butter to a small pan and put it on a medium heat. Chop the mushrooms into thin slices and add them to the pan. Cook for 7-10 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown. Set aside.
  8. When all of the stock has been absorbed by the barley, give a grain or two a taste. It should be fairly softer, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a splash of water and wait for that to absorb, for a further 5 minutes or so.
  9. When the barley is ready, take the pan off the heat and season well. Mix in the creme fraiche and cheese and serve in large bowls with the mushrooms arranged on top.

Kale and mushroom risotto

Curly kale is the superfood of the moment. It’s everywhere; in all the new salads on the supermarket shelves, and in healthy juice recipes featured in magazines and online.

I’ve bought kale a few times in the past – but only ever to grill it with salt on top – because it tastes just like ‘crispy seaweed’ that you get in Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. It’s delicious (grill on a baking tray for 10 minutes – try it)!

But I wanted to do something different with the widely praised green vegetable this time; to make it the protagonist of a meal, and to cook it more traditionally.

Kale and mushroom risotto

So I conjured up this lovely risotto, inspired by one of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipes. Controversially, I used cider vinegar instead of white wine which would usually be used to cook risotto rice, and I was pleasantly surpised – the dryness of the vinegar worked well with the flavours of the earthy mushrooms and rich cheese.

This satisfying risotto dish incorporates the dark green leaves of curly kale, with the smooth texture and nutty taste of chestnut mushrooms. It’s a wonderfully green and nutritious meal that’s quick enough to make mid-week.


  • 1.5 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 5 squirts of low-fat cooking spray
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme
  • A knob of olive spread
  • 150g curly kale
  • 200g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 550ml vegetable stock
  • 1 mug arborio rice (roughly 200g)
  • 3 tsp cider vinegar (I used Aspall’s)
  • Approx. 50g extra mature cheddar cheese, grated (or another flavoursome hard cheese)
  • Plenty of ground rock salt and black pepper
  • A sprinkle of vegetarian-friendly parmesan

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Serves 2


1. Heat 1 tbsp oil and the olive spread in a large frying pan or wok. Add the onion, garlic and dried thyme and cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Meanwhile, pour the stock into a small saucepan and keep on a low heat.

3. When the onion has softened, add the rice, stirring in with the other ingredients and cook until the grains have started to become transparent. When this is the case, pour in the cider vinegar and stir in with the rice mixture for 10-20 seconds, until the liquid cooks off.

4. Reduce the heat and add a ladleful of stock to the rice. Stir every now and again, and when the rice has absorbed the stock, add another ladleful. Continue this process on a low heat until all of the stock has been used, for 25 minutes or so.

5. Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large frying pan. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook on a medium heat for 5-10 minutes, until they start to let off some liquid. Take them off the heat (but keep the hob on) and put to one side.

6. Place the frying pan back on the hob and squirt in the cooking spray.

7. Rinse the kale in a colander and place it in the frying pan along with 1 tbsp water and some salt. Cook on a low to medium heat for 5-10 minutes, turning the leaves over every now and again so they’re well-covered by the water. When the leaves turn a vibrant green and have softened, they’re ready.

8. Tip three quarters of the kale into a measuring jug and use a hand blender to shred the leaves into fine pieces.

9. Going back to the rice, give it a taste – it should be fairly soft, but with a bit of bite. If it’s not quite ready, add a bit more water. When it’s cooked, there should still be a bit of moisture from the stock left in the pan. Add the grated cheddar and plenty of salt and pepper to taste.

10. Finally, stir the shredded kale in well and give it another taste. Add some further seasoning if needed.

11. Serve the risotto in large bowls, with the remaining whole kale leaves and mushrooms on top. And if, like me, you’re guilty of sprinkling cheese on top of all your food, a cheeky bit of parmesan wouldn’t go amiss.