Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto

This Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto is an easy, quick, and slightly different take on classic risotto that is perfect for summer! Tender cooked barley is drenched in a creamy dairy-free avocado sauce bursting with fresh herbs like basil and brightened up with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. This is the perfect fresh and healthy plant-based lunch or dinner and is easily made oil-free! Serve this easy vegan risotto with our lemon pepper tofu cutlets for a perfect main course for the whole family.


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Raise one hand if you love risotto. The creamy texture. The thick, warm broth. The fantastic flavors. Yeah, the first time I had it I fell in love.

Raise another hand if you have no patience to actually MAKE the traditional version of risotto. Me too, friend. Me too. Sure, the first time I had it I fell in love, but the first time I tried to make it…well, let’s just say I needed an easy recipe that would still deliver that comforting meal. That’s why we LOVE this great recipe for Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto as an easy dairy-free risotto alternative.

In our delicious version. barley replaces the starchy, short grain type of rice like Arborio rice, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano traditionally used in a basic risotto recipe. “Risotto rice” is just a short grain rice that gets very starchy as the rice cooks, and that starchiness is what makes for a good risotto. Good news: barley is a great way to get the best results for that perfect risotto feel.

It’s not ACTUAL risotto, we know, but it gives you that creamy risotto, comfort food vibe without all the fuss. All in all, it’s simply a great dish that you are sure to love. Make it once, and I swear you’ll be planning this fresh and tasty plant-based meal every single week!

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Why We Love This Creamy Vegan Risotto:

  • It’s the easiest risotto recipe I’ve ever made, and I’ve tried my fair share of risottos!
  • This dairy free risotto recipe is LOADED with zesty herb-driven flavors in every single bite.
  • Our vegan take on risotto is creamy and comforting but also wildly healthy, especially when compared to traditional risotto!
  • Best part, this recipe is wonderfully versatile. Serve it as a light lunch with a side salad or bulk it up for the main meal at dinner time. See our suggestions below.
Overhead photo of all the ingredients you need to make a quick and easy dairy-free risotto recipe using avocados

Ingredients (+ Ingredient Substitutions) for Quick Vegan Avocado Risotto

You only need 9 plant-based staple ingredients to make this easy vegan avocado risotto.

If you don’t have or can’t tolerate one of the following ingredients, we’ve shared our best substitution tips as well. Remember: Substituting any of the ingredients may lead to a difference in the final product that is not necessarily always a positive one. Let us know in the comments if you try any subs and how they work out for you!

Obviously, you’ll need some pearled barley. You can find quick-cook versions of barley in the grocery stores or just make it ahead of time to make your night-of dinner prep as easy as possible. 

  • If you don’t have barley, you can sub other starchy, short grain types of rice or other large grains like pearled couscous! 
  • Yes, you can even make it with regular old white rice or brown rice in a pinch. 
  • If using one of these, I’d cook it slightly al dente and leave a little of the starchy water. 
  • Lastly, I would totally stay away from softer, smaller grains like quinoa or the small couscous.

For the vegan creamy avocado sauce:

Fresh spinach + basil – Pro Tip: De-stem them and give them a light shred before blending them up completely for a smoother puree. If you don’t have one of these ingredients, feel free to use all of one or the other.

Nutritional yeast – This is a plant-based pantry staple that adds a nutty cheesy flavor to our sauce. It’s not the same thing as the yeast you use to make bread. Go ahead and omit it if you don’t have it. You may want to add a touch of ground mustard instead!

Fresh garlic – You can also use minced garlic from a jar if you don’t have fresh. The equivalent is about one scant tablespoon per large clove.

Sea salt – Any table salt will work. I prefer to use a nice coarse salt for this recipe.

Olive oil – Feel free to omit this if you’re oil-free or don’t have it. You can also use melted refined coconut oil or avocado oil. This just adds a little extra creaminess to our sauce.

Full-fat coconut milk (from the can) – You can use any plain unsweetened non-dairy milk you’d like, but we find full fat coconut milk will give you the creamiest results. To avoid a heavy coconut flavor, make sure the brand of coconut milk you’re buying is completely unsweetened.

Avocados – For the creamiest results, wait to use your avocados until they’re nice and ripe (soft to the touch but not squishy).

Lemon juice – A hefty amount of lemon juice adds a bright flavor, and it also helps keep those avocados green. Lime juice could also be nice!

This Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto is an easy, quick, and vegan take on classic risotto that is perfect for summer! Tender cooked barley is drenched in a creamy dairy-free avocado sauce bursting with fresh herbs like basil and brightened up with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. This is the perfect fresh and healthy plant-based lunch or dinner and is easily made oil-free! Serve this easy vegan risotto with our lemon pepper tofu cutlets for a full meal.

How to Make Dairy-Free Avocado Barley Risotto

If you pre-cook your barley or buy a quick-cook version, this risotto comes together in about 20 minutes. 

Cook time may vary, but the cooking process is super easy. All you have to do is:

  1. Cook the barley according to package directions, drain, and return to the large pot.
  2. Blend the sauce ingredients in your food processor.
  3. Stir the sauce and barley together. Use a large wooden spoon or rubber spatula to combine the two together. 
  4. Heat the risotto mixture on medium-low heat until just heated through. 
  5. Finally, serve immediately with some of our suggestions noted below and enjoy!
  6. Scrape the bottom of the pot and lick the spoon (optional, but recommended).

Whilst the methods in this Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto recipe are far from traditional, I think you’ll find that familiar cozy, luxurious texture was most certainly not spared.  

Overhead photo showing the before and after of blending a creamy avocado pesto sauce in a blender
Two side by side photos showing the proces of pouring then stirring the creamy vegan pesto sauce on the barley to make a quick risotto

How to Serve Dairy Free Risotto

  • Topped with crumbled vegan bacon, like our rice paper bacon!
  • Served with seared soy curls or lemon pepper tofu cutlets.
  • Topped with sauté mushrooms for a creamy vegan mushroom risotto. Crisp, sauteed cremini mushrooms or shiitake mushrooms might be particularly nice in this.
  • Topped with some charred caramelized sliced red onion and sprinkled with some vegan cheese like vegan parmesan cheese, vegan feta, or our dairy free goat cheese substitute.
  • Garnished with chopped herbs like fresh rosemary and basil and a healthy amount of lemon zest and fresh cracked black pepper.
  • Alongside a glass of white wine

How to Store Leftover Vegan Risotto

You can save leftover avocado risotto or any extra sauce in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge. Because avocados tend to oxidize and turn brown after a while, it may help to add an extra squirt of lemon juice to your leftovers before storing.

I do not personally recommend freezing leftover risotto, however if you decide to try it let us know!

This Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto is an easy, quick, and vegan take on classic risotto that is perfect for summer! Tender cooked barley is drenched in a creamy dairy-free avocado sauce bursting with fresh herbs like basil and brightened up with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. This is the perfect fresh and healthy plant-based lunch or dinner and is easily made oil-free! Serve this easy vegan risotto with our lemon pepper tofu cutlets for a full meal.

More Vegan Avocado Recipes

I really think you’ll enjoy this non-risotto risotto recipe, and I hope you can make it for yourself and maybe the someone(s) you love very soon. 

When you do make this vegan risotto recipe, we would LOVE to hear about it. Rate the recipe and leave a comment below or tag your photos @theplantpowercouple on Instagram. 

Seeing your photos and hearing how you’re using our recipes in your own kitchen makes us smile every. single. time. 🙂

Overhead photo of a rount white plate topped with creamy avocado pesto risotto topped with a twisted lemon wedge

Easy Vegan Avocado Barley Risotto

Brittany Roche
This Avocado Pesto Barley Risotto is an easy, quick, and vegan take on classic risotto that is perfect for summer! Tender cooked barley is drenched in a creamy dairy-free avocado sauce bursting with fresh herbs like basil and brightened up with a healthy squeeze of lemon juice. This is the perfect fresh and healthy plant-based lunch or dinner and is easily made oil-free! Serve this easy vegan risotto with our lemon pepper tofu cutlets for a full meal.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Additional Time 5 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Comfort Food
Cuisine Vegan
Calories 435 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup uncooked pearled barley or 3 cups leftover cooked barley

For the sauce:

  • 2 small ripe avocados
  • 2 cups fresh spinach destemmed and packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves packed
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk from a can, unsweetened
  • 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp olive oil optional
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Instructions
 

  • Prep the barley: Cook your barley according to the instructions on the package. When done, drain it and add it back to the pot.
  • Make the sauce: Add all the sauce ingredients to your food processor and blend until smooth. Feel free to add more coconut milk or water if you feel the sauce is too thick.
  • Combine: Pour the gorgeous sauce over your drained barley and use a large wooden spoon to combine the two. Heat the risotto on medium-low heat until just heated through. 
  • Serve topped with some fresh herbs and enjoy immediately!

Notes

  • Feel free to sub your favorite unflavored / unsweetened non-dairy milk for the coconut milk if desired. This will create a lighter sauce.
  • Also, to make this recipe oil-free, simply remove the 2 tsp of olive oil. However, for the creamiest results, I would be sure to use coconut milk rather than other non-dairy milks.
  • To bring this together faster (great weeknight option!), you can pre-cook your barley or buy a quick-cook barley. Pearled couscous would also work, but I wouldn’t use smaller / softer grains like the small couscous or quinoa.
  • You can save leftover sauce in an air-tight container for up to 3 days. Because avocados tend to oxidize and turn brown after a while, it may help to add an extra squirt of lemon juice to your leftovers before storing them in the fridge.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 435kcalCarbohydrates: 52gProtein: 10gFat: 23gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 18gSodium: 613mgFiber: 16gSugar: 1g
Keyword avocado risotto, barley risotto, barley risotto vegan, creamy avocado risotto, dairy free risotto recipe, risotto avocado, vegan barley risotto, vegan pesto risotto
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6 Comments

  1. So good! Even my picky vegetable adverse 6 year old ate this AND said it was good! I added a batch of your lemon pepper baked tofu. Mmmmmm.

    5 stars

  2. Oh, yay! So happy to hear everyone liked it! Children are always the most honest and most welcome critics! That's a great addition of the lemon pepper cutlet with this! Thank you so much, Amy!
  3. I love all your recipes and can't wait to try this! Your vegan parm I use every day, could eat it with a spoon! Question: I want to make the sauce ahead of time for a gathering in 2 days. Will the avocado stay fresh? Should I add the avocado last minute? Thanks.

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