Vegan Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms (Almost No-Stir!)
5 from 6 votes

This vegan barley risotto is a nutritious and easy approach to the Italian classic. There’s practically no need to stir the barley as the risotto cooks, which reduces the recipe’s overall time and frees up your hands. Mushrooms and asparagus add texture, color, and springtime energy to an otherwise hearty and earthy whole grain dish!

A round, rimmed white plate holds a vegan barley risotto with mushrooms and bright green asparagus pieces.

Normally when I’m wrapping up a semester, cooking is the only thing I want to do. My home cooking routine invariably goes into autopilot during finals: I rely on a tried-and-true handful of simple recipes to get me through. As soon as my coursework is wrapped up, I dive back into cooking with creativity and relish.

This semester is different. I’m looking forward to more varied meals, for sure,  but my appetite for cooking is at an all-time low. This home stretch of grad school has felt particularly long, and when it’s over in a week I suspect I’ll want nothing more than to read and nap, when I’m not catching up on work. Somehow the thought of being in the kitchen isn’t drawing me in.

Nothing wrong with any of this: I go through peaks and valleys with cooking and my enthusiasm for it, and I know that the kitchen always calls me home sooner or later. In the short-term, I imagine I’ll make a lot of simple food this summer, which will be a relief for me, and maybe for you, too? My impression has been that unfussy recipes are usually very welcome in this space.

What I love about this vegan barley asparagus mushroom risotto is that it’s a stress-free recipe that has the look and flavor of something a little fancy. I made it last Wednesday night, after I turned in what I knew would be the last substantial assignment of my semester.

A round, rimmed white plate holds a vegan barley risotto with mushrooms and bright green asparagus pieces.

I wanted to celebrate with a dish that wasn’t a bowl or a soup + bread combo as usual, but I didn’t want to spend a lot of time at the stove. Regular risotto wasn’t an option, but I knew that a quicker barley risotto could be. And I was feeling inspired by the first crop of asparagus that I’d seen this year at my local farmer’s market.

I used pearl barley for the recipe, which took about 30 minutes to cook. You can use hulled barley instead; just know that it might take 40-45 minutes to become tender.

I loved the combination of chewy mushrooms and bright, tender asparagus, but you could omit the mushroom and add peas, or you could replace the mushrooms with leeks or carrots or another vegetable that you love. I kept the seasoning simple: a splash of white wine to start, lemon, shallots, garlic, and nutritional yeast at the end.

A low, round white bowl holds a whole grain dish with bright green, chopped asparagus spears.
A round, rimmed white plate holds a vegan barley risotto with mushrooms and bright green asparagus pieces.
5 from 6 votes

Vegan Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Mushrooms (Almost No-Stir!)

Author – Gena Hamshaw
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Yields: 4 servings


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 ounces sliced mushrooms of choice, such as shiitake, white button, cremini, or baby bella (150g; about 2 heaping cups)
  • 1 cup dry pearl barley (180g)
  • 1/2 cup white wine (120ml; optional—substitute 1/2 cup vegetable broth)
  • 3 cups vegan chicken-style broth or vegetable broth, divided (720ml)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (plus extra to taste)
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thick ends trimmed off and cut into 1 1/2-inch / 4cm pieces (about 1lb / 450g)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
  • 1-2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • cashew parmesan cheese (optional, for serving)


  • Add the oil to a large, deep, lidded skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, or until the shallots are translucent. Add the garlic and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are tender and reduced in size and have released their juices (about 8-10 minutes).
  • Add the barley to the skillet and stir everything well. Add the white wine (or substitute a 1/2 cup / 120ml of broth). Cook, stirring every now and then, until the wine has been absorbed (3-5 minutes).
  • Add 2 cups / 4480ml of broth and 1/4 teaspoon salt to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cover the skillet. Allow the barley to simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Stir the barley, then add the remaining 1 cup / 240ml broth. Cover the pot and cook for another five minutes. Uncover and fold in the asparagus. Cover and cook for 5-8 more minutes, or until the barley is plump and tender, yet still pleasantly chewy, and the asparagus is tender and bright green.
  • Uncover the risotto. If you'd like it to be a little looser, you can stir in a splash of additional broth at this point. Stir in the nutritional yeast and lemon juice. Taste the risotto and add additional salt and lemon juice to taste, along with black pepper as desired.
  • Serve, topped with cashew parmesan cheese, if you like.
A round, rimmed white plate holds a vegan barley risotto with mushrooms and bright green asparagus pieces.

Sometimes it’s the smallest differences that spell the difference between a recipe that feels doable versus one that feels like a drag.

I loved using shallots here because they cooked faster than onions, and that first, twenty-minute simmer of the barley—which didn’t demand any stove-side babysitting from me—gave me time to throw on sweats, respond to emails, and take care of other end-of-day stuff.

Traditional risotto wouldn’t have been much more complicated, but this recipe was as much as I was in the mood for. It allowed me to satisfy my craving for a “special” meal while honoring my energy level at the same time.

If you give it a try, I hope it’ll feel as doable for you as it did for me. And it’s such a lovely recipe for spring!


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Categories: Recipes, Main Dishes, Side Dishes
Method: One Skillet, Stovetop
Dietary Preferences: Soy Free, Tree Nut Free, Vegan

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Recipe Rating

  1. 5 stars
    This was so fabulously delicious I’m giving it 5 stars; I did add half a tube of goat cheese at the end because I had it and didn’t want it to go bad. My only beef with the recipe: there is no way that any human being on earth has chopped 2 shallots, 3 cloves of garlic, and 2 cups of mushrooms, then trimmed a bunch of asparagus and squeezed a lemon, in FIVE MINUTES, without a professional kitchen, where you’d have a prep cook! Why do so many recipe-creators minimize 20 minutes of prep?? That’s not to mention the Walnut Parm, which is delicious. If “Prep” means that vegetables are already prepped, then it’s not really “prep,” is it?

  2. 5 stars
    This recipe is great!!! I was looking for something to do with barley and came across this. Really easy to make and super delicious. Making it again today

  3. I just found your blog and am excited to try so many recipes! I made this last night for dinner and it turned out great. Amazing how creamy a vegan risotto can be!