Making a Healthy, Hearty, Whole Grain Risotto in YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen!

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Risotto is a hearty, belly-warming dish that’s traditionally made with just a few simple ingredients: short grain Arborio rice, flavorful stock, pungent onions, wine, creamy butter and Parmesan cheese. While traditional risotto is delicious, it’s not terribly nutritious; after all, it’s essentially a dish made with a lot of white rice and butter! Fortunately, you can turn a basic risotto recipe into something comforting, delicious, warming AND good for you by replacing the white rice with whole grains, reducing the butter a bit (or using olive oil), and adding an extra helping of vegetables to the pot to make a delicious whole grain risotto. Once you learn how to make a basic risotto, there are an endless number of options for creating your own healthy comfort food at home!

A variety of whole grains can be used to make risotto, including farro (an ancient variety of wheat), brown rice, buckwheat, quinoa, and even whole or steel cut oats. However, for a whole grain dish that most closely resembles the creamy texture of traditional risotto, barley can’t be beat! The chewy texture of barley is similar to Arborio rice and, as barley cooks, it releases starch into the pan, which helps create a creamy sauce like that found in traditional risotto. Check out how easy it is to make a hearty batch of mushroom-barley risotto in this recent video from YRMC’s Your Healthy Kitchen!

Recipe for Creamy Mushroom Barley Risotto

Barley is an economical, nutrient-packed whole grain. Each tender seed contains a good amount of magnesium and B vitamins, plus more fiber than any other grain. Barley is a great choice for people with diabetes, as it may improve blood sugar control throughout the day. In fact, research shows that people who eat barley with dinner tend to have better blood sugar readings in the morning, even after eating breakfast!

The fiber in barley also lowers cholesterol and is included in the FDA’s list of foods that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The fiber in barley is similar to the fiber in oats, and when included in a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol, barley has been shown to reduce total and LDL cholesterol by up to 13%.

There are many other ways to enjoy barley. Throw a handful into a pot of homemade soup, or try this easy Your Healthy Kitchen Mediterranean Barley Salad! Barley is delicious in a cold dish because, unlike other grains, it maintains a chewy, moist texture when chilled. You can also substitute rolled barley flakes for rolled oats in the morning – it’s a great way to start your day and, if you have diabetes, you’ll likely have better blood sugar readings after breakfast and, possibly, throughout the day!

For more healthy meal ideas, recipes and lots of videos, please visit us at You can also follow me on Facebook at YRMC’s Your healthy Kitchen, where I share what I am making in my own kitchen, plus information on community food- and garden-related events, and other fun and fascinating links to food and healthy living.