Pearl Barley Risotto With Braised Peas

Updated on June 7, 2020
Kathryn Worthington profile image

What is life without good food? Inspired by home cooking and travel, I create easy recipes for the everyday.

Pearl Barley Risotto With Braised Peas
Pearl Barley Risotto With Braised Peas | Source

Pearl barley risotto, otherwise known as orzotto, is a delicious and frugal traditional dish from northern Italy. As opposed to the more famous risotto, this version does not use cheese. I'll admit that at first this does not sound like something to celebrate, but the fresh flavours in this dish more than make up for it. It also makes it a naturally dairy-free and vegan risotto.

I have used my Braised Canned Peas With 'Odds and Ends' as the 'filling' for this vegan pea risotto. The fresh, sweet flavours of the peas complement the nutty taste of the pearl barley wonderfully.

Braised canned peas
Braised canned peas | Source

Why I Love This Recipe

  • It makes the most of an unloved ingredient: tinned peas.
  • Pearl barley is higher in fibre than rice.
  • Pearl barley doesn't fall apart like risotto rice when it is overcooked, so this is a lower maintenance recipe than traditional risotto.
  • It is a great budget recipe. At the time of writing, you can buy a can of peas for as little as 30p in the UK. A packet of pearl barley costs just 50p and provides several servings.
  • It is naturally vegan and dairy-free.
  • It is lower in fat than a traditional risotto.
  • This recipe uses store cupboard ingredients.
  • It is flexible. I serve this as a main, but you can also serve it as a side dish.

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Garlic: You can substitute garlic cloves for garlic paste or garlic powder. If you are using garlic paste, use one teaspoon for every clove in the ingredients list. If garlic powder is what you have, use an eighth of a teaspoon for every clove in your recipe.
  • White wine: You can choose to omit this altogether, but British food blogger Jack Monroe suggests black tea as an alternative. I have tried this myself a couple of times, and I must say, this works very well. If you choose black tea over wine, add an extra tablespoon of lemon juice.
  • Thyme: If you do not have dried thyme in the house, you can swap it for almost any other dried green herb, although I would advise sticking to lighter tasting herbs, such as basil, mint or parsley to compliment the fresh green flavour of the peas.
  • Onion: I would recommend using fresh onion in this recipe, but if you do not have it, you can swap it for one tablespoon of onion powder. Add it in with your garlic.
  • Celery Seeds: In the UK, celery seeds are strangely hard to come by. You can instead swap it for celery salt. I have used 1/4 teaspoon of celery seeds in this recipe, so swap it for around 1/2 teaspoon celery salt. You can, of course, use fresh celery, in which case add around a tablespoon and add with your onions. Or if you hate celery, omit it altogether.
  • Pearl barley: If you can get it, you can swap your pearl barley for pot barley, which has even more fibre than pearl barley. It is considered a healthier option, but it requires a longer cooking time and more stock.
  • Peas: You can substitute peas for other green vegetables, such as green beans or broad beans if that is what you have.

Risotto Cooking Tips

  • Sizzling pan: When you add the wine, your pan should be hot enough that the wine and stock sizzles as it hits the pan.
  • 'Parting the sea': You know your risotto is done when you can part your risotto with a wooden spoon and the liquid remains with your risotto grains.

Cook Time

Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 50 min
Yields: 2 generous portions (or 4 smaller portions)


For the pearl barley risotto:

  • 1 teaspoon oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds / celery salt equivalent
  • 2 teaspoons garlic paste / 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 600 milliletres vegetable stock

For the braised peas:

  • 1 (290 grams / 10.2 oz) tin garden peas in water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 10 grams / 0.4 oz (approximately) scraps of white onion, spring onion, or leek, finely chopped
  • 20 grams / 0.4 oz (approximately) scraps of leafy green such as spinach, lettuce, cabbage, or pak choi, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour or cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

To finish:

  • Pinch salt
  • Pinch pepper
  • Olive oil, for drizzling


  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped onion to the pan and cook until soft and translucent (around 5 minutes).
  3. Add celery seeds (or celery salt) and garlic and stir.
  4. Add the pearl barley and stir, ensuring that all grains are coated in the oil and other ingredients.
  5. Add the wine to the pan.
  6. When your wine has cooked down, add 2 teaspoons of thyme and 1 tablespoon lemon juice and stir.
  7. Add around 200 milliletres of your stock to the pan and allow your barley grains to soak up the stock. Repeat this step until your stock is used up and your barley grains are soft and chewy.
  8. Meanwhile, to make your braised peas, start by adding 1 tablespoon of olive oil to another pan (one that can be covered).
  9. Add the cornflour, stirring continuously to ensure that no lumps form.
  10. Partly open your can of peas so that the liquid can 'escape' but not the peas. Pour out the water from the can into the pan with the oil and flour.
  11. Stir to mix the stock with the flour and oil.
  12. Turn up the heat and add your peas, onion and leafy green scraps, along with a pinch of salt and pepper, herb and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
  13. Cover the pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
  14. Taste and correct your seasoning if necessary.
  15. When your peas and pearl barley risotto are both cooked, combine your peas and their liquid with your risotto.
  16. Taste and adjust your seasoning by adding extra salt, pepper or lemon juice as you see fit.
  17. Serve your risotto onto plates or pasta bowls.
  18. Finish by drizzling each portion with olive oil.


There you have it! Delicious pearl barley risotto with braised peas. Serve it as a main with some white wine or cloudy lemonade and a good slice of crusty bread.

© 2020 Kathryn Worthington


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    • Kathryn Worthington profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathryn Worthington 

      2 months ago from Oxford, UK

      Thank you 4waystoyummy! Pearl barley is delicious and is much easier to handle than risotto rice. I hope that you enjoy the recipe if you try it!

    • profile image


      2 months ago

      This sounds excellent and so well written. I hate to admit I am not very familiar with pearl barley but now I will put it on my shopping list! Thank you!


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