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. 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.
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!
I’ll be back on Friday to share another easy recipe—there’s some inactive baking time, but otherwise it comes together in a snap. It’s from my friend Ali’s new cookbook, and it’s perfect for summer get-togethers. Till then, be well.