Sugar Snap Barley “Risotto” (Vegan)

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Risotto swept American diners off their feet in the late ’80s and early ’90s, helped along by chef experts such as Lidia Bastianich and Marcella Hazan, who made it look so easy and so good. But super creamy, calorie-laden versions like Risotto Milanese, made with high-starch short grain white rice and plenty of butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano are a tad rich for today’s tastes. This silky vegan update uses quick-cooking  barley, a high-fiber, high-protein par-boiled whole grain that has a satisfying nutty flavor. As with classic risotto, we make this one with a sofrito of olive oil and onion, toast the barley in the sofrito and then add white wine, vegetable stock and hand-shelled sugar snap peas. For a little textural contrast and crunch, we sprinkle each serving with pea shoots.

Makes 4 servings as a first course; 3 to 4 as a light main dish

Sugar Snap Barley "Risotto" Ingredients

  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (I like to use black-truffle-infused oil or garlic-infused olive oil)
  • 1 large white onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 4 ounces brown clamshell mushrooms, finely chopped (leave the tiniest buttons unchopped) OR 4 ounces crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking (parboiled) barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 lb sugar snap peas, shelled. NOTE: save shells and process through a juicer to make small shots of green juice
  • Optional garnish: if you are okay with a vegetarian version, (rather than vegan) serve with parmesan cheese made with vegetable rennet.


  1. Heat vegetable stock over medium heat until boiling. Reduce heat to very low; cover pot and gently simmer.
  2. In a heavy saute pan over medium heat, saute onion in oil until very soft, but not browned. Add mushrooms and continue sauteeing until mushrooms have released their liquid and are very soft. Stir in quick-cooking (parboiled) barley. Stir occasionally, until barley has absorbed the liquid from the mushrooms and onions and has begun to take on a toasted golden color. About six minutes. Add white wine. Stir until all of the wine has been absorbed.
  3. Using a soup ladle that measures about 1/2 cup, ladle one full ladle of the hot stock into the barley mixture. Stir until absorbed. Repeat until you have about two ladles of stock left. Stir the last of the stock into the risotto. Stir. Turn heat down to very low and cover the pan, cooking for two minutes. Remove lid. Stir again. Add shelled peas. Stir. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover pan and remove from heat. Serve immediately, garnished with pea shoots, and–if vegetarian version is desired rather than vegan version, grated parmesan cheese made with vegetable rennet.

2 thoughts on “Sugar Snap Barley “Risotto” (Vegan)

  1. Looking forward to making this. I do not eat rice of any kind because of high Carb count which causes blood sugar spikes, which I have to watch. This is fabulous.

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