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Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Thyme

Barley RisottoSome people never think of using barley as anything other than a soup ingredient, but truly it’s one of those whole grains we all should be eating more of. Over the last few years I’ve been using it more, and I’ve happily discovered I love barley! This recipe was adapted from The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook where they recommended serving it with beef tenderloin. However, I’d gladly dish up some of this on my plate for a Thanksgiving side dish, so I’m adding this recipe to my list of Thanksgiving Recipes. Check that list if you want to see some other Thanksgiving options for the South Beach Diet. And if barley for Thanksgiving is something that just wouldn’t fly at your house, then try this recipe for another dinner where you want an earthy side dish that’s full of flavor.

I was happy that I had fresh thyme leaves, but I think dried thyme would also be fine in this.

I chopped my mushrooms rather small, going for pieces that would be roughly the size of the barley when the dish was finished.

Onions and celery are sauteed for a few minutes, then mushrooms, carrots, and thyme are added and cooked until they’re soft and the liquid from the mushrooms has evaporated.

Then barley is added, along with a bay leaf and 1 cup of boiling stock. Cook, stirring occasionally until most of the stock is absorbed, then add more in half-cups until barley is soft and all the liquid is absorbed.

Interesting note about the recipe: The original recipe made 16 servings, so I cut the amount of barley in half, but realized halfway into making it that I still had to use the same amount of stock to get the barley cooked properly. If you wanted leftovers, you could probably use more barley and still get a delicious result. Be careful about using low-sodium chicken broth or stock, or use part water as I recommend or your finished dish will be too salty.

Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Thyme
(Makes 8 half-cup servings. Recipe adapted from The South Beach Diet Parties and Holidays Cookbook

6 cups low-sodium chicken stock (or use 4 cups stock and 2 cups water)
1 tsp. Better than Bouillon Mushroom Base (optional but recommended)
1 1/2 T olive oil (or a little less, depending on your pan)
1/2 cup finely diced celery
1/2 large onion, finely diced
3/4 lb. mushrooms, finely diced (I used brown Baby Bella mushrooms)
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 T fresh thyme leaves, washed and chopped (or use 1 tsp. dried thyme)
fresh ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cups barley
1 bay leaf
2-3 T chopped parsley to garnish (optional)


Put chicken stock (plus mushroom base if using) in sauce pan and bring to a gentle boil then turn heat to very low and keep hot.

In medium-sized heavy pot, heat 1 T olive oil, then add onion and celery and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrots, and thyme and cook about 10 minutes more, or until mushrooms have released liquid and it has evaporated.

Add barley, bay leaf, and 1 cup simmer stock. Increase heat to medium high and simmer, stirring every few minutes, and waiting for liquid to be absorbed into barley. As most of the liquid is absorbed, keep adding more stock and stirring, until all the liquid is absorbed and barley is softened.

I found it took not quite 10 minutes for the first cup of stock to be absorbed, and 3-4 minutes for each half cup, for a total cooking time of about 40-50 minutes once you start adding the stock. This time may vary depending on the exact temperature of your burner and how hot the stock is. Taste some of the barley to be sure it’s done. Serve hot, with fresh parsley sprinkled on if desired.

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South Beach Suggestions:

This barley risotto would be a lovely side dish for phase 2 or 3 of the South Beach Diet. According to the book, this can be kept in the refrigerator for several days and then reheated by adding a small amount of stock and baking it in a covered dish for about 20 minutes at 350F.

More Barley Risotto to Try:
(Recipes from other blogs may not always be South Beach Diet friendly; check ingredients.)
Barley Risotto with Pesto from A Wee Bit of Cooking
Barley Risotto with Chanterelles from Iron Stef
Mushroom Barley Risotto from Cooking with Amy
Pea Barley Risotto from Closet Cooking
Drunken Barley Risotto from Cooking From A to Z
(Find more Barley Risotto Recipes using Food Blog Search.)

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27 comments on “Barley Risotto with Mushrooms and Thyme”

  1. I started making this sure I had barley in the cabinet. I pulled out bulgar, and found no barley. Quickly changing gears, I cooked the bulgar and added it to the sautéed vegetables. I thought it tasted quite good.

  2. Anonymous, brilliant idea to use some orange zest for a burst of flavor. Glad you liked it.

  3. I am insulin resistant and am also on two types of hypertension prescriptions. I watch carefully what I eat, particularly sodium content and high “sugar” contents. Because I made this recipe with homemade chicken stock with no salt, it seemed, as it was cooking, a touch bland. At the end, I got the idea to top it with, not just the parsley, but with some grated orange zest.

    DELIGHTFUL! It brightened up the flavor remarkably.

    Thanks for my first foray into barley as a side dish, not just an addition to soup!

  4. Anonymous, that is so nice to hear. Thanks for taking time to let me know you’re enjoying the recipes, and Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

  5. Kalyn, thank you so much for compiling these South Beach Thanksgiving recipes. I am a diabetic and I basically follow a strict South Beach diet, which really limits my Thanksgiving options, as you might imagine. The cauliflower “mashed potatoes” and sugar-free pumpkin pie cheesecake are going to make this Thanksgiving feel almost, well, normal, which is all I’ve wanted since my diagnosis. Thanks again. Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. I just tried risotto with steel cut oats 🙂 this barley and mushroom combo is definately a winner!

  7. Barley works well in risottos and I’ll take mushrooms with mine any time!

  8. That looks fantastic- I love the low glycemic recipes!

  9. I love barley, too. I like to make a barley casserole with leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. Only thing is, I have a strong reaction in my digestive tract!

    I do love it though. Thanks for the recipe.

  10. Add me to the barley lovers! This is actually something I would make for myself and take for lunches. A lot of your veg/grain/healthy stuff is though.

    And thank you for the tips about the amount of stock, etc. Appreciate it.

  11. I really enjoy barley. Great idea to use it for risotto!!

  12. I love barley and I finally tried it in a wonderful risotto recently.

    This looks delish and it’s healthy to boot!

  13. I’ve seen recipes using barley in a similar manner, and I’ve always wondered if they were good. Now, that it has your seal of approval, I’ll have to give it a try!

  14. Brilliant idea. I’m always on the look out for easy recipes and ways to cook more healthy. I think you hit the nail on the head on both accounts. Thanks.

  15. This sounds great! I have some barley left over from – you guessed it – making soup! I’ll have to try this next time I buy mushrooms.

  16. I am currently on a HUGE risotto kick. I just made roasted red pepper and black olive risotto. This is going to be next on my list, thanks for posting!

  17. I am sold! Rissotos can’t get healthier than this.:-)
    And it looks delicious.
    Hi Kalyn, I am new on the blogosphere. Making friends….so thot I’d leave a comment.

  18. Excellent recipe, Kalyn. I think I’ll make this for tonight. I noticed that there’s no wine among ingredients; I’ll double the barley effect and use beer.

  19. I am a big fan of barley and risotto is probably my favorite thing in the world to make! And this dish definitely looks like a great, healthy Thanksgiving alternative.


  20. I’m so happy other good cooks like this too; I think it’s my new favorite side dish. Fun to hear that it’s popular in many places around the world too.

  21. These are the exact ingredients I use to make mushroom-barley soup, which is one of my all-time favorites for winter. Interesting how the same ingredients, and a different method, yield a different but equally wonderful dish.

  22. Oh my YES! Barley is a most wonderful grain. I’m liking this dish very much but with my recent love of sage and my thyme look looking the most lovely these days, I’ll try it with sage.

  23. You are right, Kalyn, barley is a good idea for risotto, we often use it in Italy. And now it’s quite easy to prepare ’cause it doesn’t need to be softned in water anymore.
    Nice recipe!

  24. Must explore barley more! I’ve only had this (you’re right!) in a soup 🙂 This looks delicious!

  25. Kalyn, I love barley, and we use it a lot here in Estonia – in soups, in sauerkraut stews, in potato mash etc. Your ‘risotto’ sounds delicious!
    PS Love the new chestnut banner – very seasonal!

  26. I love barley! Adding it to risotto is an excellent idea.

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