Barley risotto with chicken and vegetables

After the perfect winter warmer on those cold, rainy evenings?

This recipe is comfort food at its best and a healthier take on the traditional Italian risotto, substituting aborio rice with a more nutritious option, barley (lower GI and a rich source of soluble fibre). Barley is a great alternative, with a lovely nutty and wholesome flavour that complements the hint of pumpkin.

Prep time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Serves: 4


  • Spray of canola/olive oil
  • 1 red/brown onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (or 2 tsp of garlic paste)
  • 1 tbl fresh basil or basil & oregano (can use dry herbs)
  • 1 cup of pearl barley, rinsed & soaked
  • 2 cup vegetable stock (salt reduced)
  • 300-400g chicken breast, fat removed and diced**
  • 200g grated pumpkin
  • 1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup of zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 200g baby spinach leaves
  • 2 tsp sunflower seeds
  • 1 tbs grated parmesan (or crumbled low fat fetta)


  1. Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan over low-medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring for 3 minutes or until onion has softened.
  2. Add barley and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes until well coated in mixture.
  3. Add stock to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cook for 15+ minutes (depends on stove heat), stirring occasionally, or until liquid is almost completely absorbed.
  4. While barley mixture is simmering, heat oil in a separate pan add chicken and allow to cook through. Set chicken aside.
  5. Add mushrooms, pumpkin and zucchini to the barley mixture and cook for 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in peas and spinach and cook for 2 minutes.
  7. Stir through sunflower seeds
  8. Serve and sprinkle with parmesan (or fetta) and garnish with basil or parsley

Dietitian Tips:

  • Tip 1: Soaking barley makes the grain easier to digest and decreases the cooking time. Soak in a bowl of water at room temperature for 6-12 hours. Drain, rinse well in a sieve under running water.
  • Tip 2: You can add larger quantities of the vegetables in the recipe and increase/change the variety to suit your taste preferences. Some additions I recommend are capsicum, tomatoes (or sun-dried tomatoes), carrots, broccoli… the list goes on. Add the vegetables you enjoy or what is available in the fridge.
  • Tip 3: For a vegetarian option you can substitute the chicken for tofu or legumes/lentils (butter beans, cannellini beans, chick peas, brown lentils). If you use canned beans/lentils just add them in at the same time as the peas and spinach. The chicken can also be substituted for fish or a lean red meat.

By Rebecca Hall
Bupa, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Rebecca is an Accredited Practising Dietitian working for Bupa, managing The COACH Program – a program that is focused on assisting members reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Rebecca enjoys experimenting with cooking new recipes inspired by cuisines from all over the world and putting her own healthy spin on them. She is a frequent traveller who loves to experience new cultures and the food they have to offer. Rebecca is also a keen long distance runner who enjoys swimming and cycling when she feels her running legs need a break!

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice. Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information, except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health.