This post is in partnership with Bob’s Red Mill.
Risotto is a go-to recipe on this site and in my kitchen. Something is comforting about a big dish of creamy grains loaded with vegetables on top. This vegan version uses a simple cashew cream for added flavor in the risotto and a rich squash topping, with help from the North African condiment, chermoula.
There’s nothing quite like Arborio rice for risotto. The creamy texture the starch from the rice provides is excellent. Whole grains can’t quite compare, but I like to crack the grain in the blender to mimic a bit of the starch. During the winter months, I crack the grains a little extra, making this risotto really creamy. This starts to blur the line between porridge and risotto, but I still call it risotto because of the cooking method.
I have a rotation of a few grains I use for risotto, but barley is usually one I reach for most. The grain is hearty but doesn’t have a strong flavor, making it perfect to soak up flavors from the risotto additions. Bob’s pearl barley is great for risotto because the pearl creates a natural starch addition. Of course, I like to help it along by cracking it.
There is a myriad of squash options for the topping on this barley risotto. I used red kabocha squash, but you could easily use butternut, Delicata, or a non-squash option, sweet potatoes. I’d steer clear of using acorn squash or Delicata. The acorn squash doesn’t hold texture as well.
If you’re unfamiliar with chermoula, it’s an herb-based condiment from North African countries traditionally used with fish. The version I’m using for this recipe, a red version, is kicked up a notch with ground chiles’ help. As mentioned in the recipe notes, I use the recipe from Eden Grinshpan’s cookbook, Eating Out Loud.
¾ cup Bob’s Red Mill Barley
4–5 cups vegetable broth
½ medium yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
⅓ cup cashew cream (see note)
1 teaspoon nut yeast
1 small garlic clove
1 teaspoon miso
½ teaspoon light vinegar
¾ pound butternut or kabocha squash (peeled and cubbed)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup red chermoula (see note)
Fresh parsley leaves, for serving
- Prep the items you will need for the base of the risotto. Blitz the barley in a blender for a couple of seconds, just to breakdown some of the grains. Heat the vegetable broth in a pot and let sit. Finally, mince the onion.
- Heat a large skillet or braised over medium heat. Add the olive oil to the heated pan and follow with the minced onion and salt. Cook until the onions are tender; about 10 minutes. Add in the barley, stirring to coat, then add a few ladles of the hot broth.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the barley, occasionally stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add a few more ladles of the broth and continue in this pattern until the risotto is cooked, 45 minutes or so.
- While the risotto cooks, prep the cashew cream and squash. Combine the cashew cream with the nutritional yeast, minced garlic, miso, and vinegar; set aside.
- For the squash, heat a skillet with a lid over medium-hit heat. Add the olive oil followed by the squash. Keep the heat on high and cook the squash, stirring only a couple of times, until the squash has a good color on some of the pieces. Once that happens, turn off the heat, add the chermoula, stir, and cover. Let rest while the risotto continues to cook. The squash will continue to cook and become tender.
- Once the barley is tender and most liquid has been absorbed, stir in the cashew cream. Taste and adjust the salt level as needed. Top with the squash and fresh parsley.
Chermoula: I like the red chermoula recipe from Eden Grinhpan’s cookbook, Eating Out Loud. You can find a version of her recipe here (but it’s missing preserved lemon, which the book’s recipe calls for one whole preserved lemon rinsed. You can also use lemon juice/zest).
Cashew Cream Base: I keep the base easy: soak ¼ cup cashews in hot water for about an hour. Drain and place in a blender along with ¼ cup of fresh hot water (or hot broth). Puree until smooth and use as directed.