Back in spring, I read lots of food blogs and recipes featuring spring’s star, asparagus.  (Given the relationship I was having with food at the time, I’m surprised I could stomach reading these, let alone build up this kind of craving for something healthy)  The trend this year seemed to be risotto, and I drooled over several varieties that went unrealized during the season.  Then, spring was over, I started eating again, and everyone online was talking about strawberries, blueberries and peaches.  Missed that one.

Or maybe not.  The beauty of living on a tropical island is there are never any vegetables in season, since we have no season.  Asparagus (from somewhere) is available all the time.  Sorry to you this is a bit late, and now you have to endure seasons without it (maybe asparagus is just coming in season in Alaska?), but I can tell you it was worth waiting for.  One common thread I saw among the risottos was using asparagus steaming water for the liquid to amp up the flavor, so I incorporated that here.  I use barley instead of the typical arborio rice for a couple reasons.  One, apparently arborio is illegal* here, so its not available.  Two, using barley takes that very annoying step of constant stirring out of making risotto, making it very momma-friendly, and very summer-friendly; just pop by every 5-8 min and add another scoop of broth.  You can use this method for any kind of risotto, although the whole grain-ness of barley pairs best with strong veggie flavors.  Maybe carrot/chard?  Or mushroom/leek?

Asparagus-Mushroom Barley Risotto

  • 1/2 lb asparagus
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, chopped small
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley**
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • salt & pepper
  1. Snap asparagus stalks at their lowest breaking point.  Add the bottoms and all the water to a medium sized pot.  Put the tender tops in a steamer basket on top of the stalks/water, don’t worry if they submerge a bit.  Simmer over high heat until tops are cooked but still crunchy, just a couple minutes.  Remove steamer basket and cool tops until you can chop into bite-sized pieces.  Keep asparagus water and stalks covered and standing by, turning on the heat occasionally to keep very warm (but not boiling).
  2. Heat butter and oil in a smaller saucepan.  Add mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes until completely softened.  Add barley and swirl for a good minute.  Turn the heat to medium-low.
  3. Add a ladle of the asparagus water to the pot, stir to combine.  Allow to cook about 5 minutes, until mostly absorbed.  Add another ladle, stir, wait 5 minutes.  Repeat for about an hour, until barley has opened its outer shell and softens.  It will still have a good amount of chew, but will be chewable.  If you run out of asparagus water, start using plain hot water.  Risotto should be pretty loose at this point, like a stew.
  4. Stir in the steamed, cut asparagus tops.  While stirring constantly, sprinkle in cheese.  Taste to adjust seasoning.
*Apparently, rice is a controlled commodity in Malaysia and importing Italian arborio is not OK, as a friend found out when she tried to smuggle in a couple pounds in her suitcase from England.  Somehow, you can get imported Japanese and Thai rice, though.
**There are a couple different kinds of barley, which one you use will affect the cooking time wildly.  I got the one from the organic store that still had the outer bran attached.  It took a really long time to cook.  I know in the states you can get the more “instant” one that will take only about 20 minutes.