Roasted Vegetable and Barley Risotto and Healthy Days

Right now it seems the health conscious are going gluten-free or dairy-free or vegan or all-three.  But being health conscious is not a new thing.  I grew up in the 70’s and the health fads of that era were alive and kicking.

Roasted Vegetable and Barley ‘Risotto’

We had a neighbour, Mrs V,  who had a son who had married a woman who was a thing called a vegetarian.  ‘What is that Mrs V?’

‘It means she doesn’t eat meat’.

‘What does she eat then?’

‘Fruits and vegetables’.

‘What does she cook if she’s having a roast?’

‘She doesn’t cook roast dinners’.

‘Why doesn’t she eat meat?’

‘She doesn’t like to eat animals.’

‘Does she eat fish?’


‘Why does she eat fish and not meat?’

‘Well, we’re not sure’.

‘What do her children eat?’

‘Well, they’re not vegetarian but a true vegetarian doesn’t like to cook with meat so she doesn’t cook meat for them.’  I was struggling.  Struggling to understand the concept of being presented with a meal with no meat on the plate.  I imagined a big gap on the plate where the meat should have been.

And it got worse.  A few years later we were told she wasn’t eating anything from any animal so she’d cut out fish and dairy and eggs too.  We couldn’t understand it.  And adults under hushed tones were calling her, ‘alternate’.  As well as the narrowed diet, she’d taken up an Eastern thing called yoga and she would sit on a mat and meditate.  My sister and I didn’t say anything but we thought the woman was barking mad.

Present day health food

My parents were not extremists but that isn’t to say they weren’t health conscious.  We were not allowed white sugar on our cereal, it had to be raw.  ‘White sugar is too refined’, we were told.  And my father used to tell us that instead of having raw sugar on our cereal we would probably prefer it with a generous sprinkling of wheatgerm.  If you haven’t tried it, wheatgerm is like sawdust.  But in the 70’s wheatgerm was being touted as a ‘super-food’.

And when my mother would cook French toast (which was only on special occasions) my father would tell us that it would be much more delicious with a light seasoning of salt and pepper instead of a smothering of maple syrup.  We didn’t agree.

If we were hungry after dinner we weren’t offered a selection of chocolates, we were given an apple.  ‘It will fill you up and clean your teeth’, my mother would say.

If we were thirsty there was ‘plenty of water in the tap’.  Cordial was allowed on special occasions as long as it wasn’t the highly coloured red and green varieties and as long as it had been adequately diluted.

But nothing else was off-limits.  And we were healthy.

Here’s a recipe for the health conscious of this era.  It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan and delicious.

Roasted Vegetables

Roasted Vegetable and Caramelised Garlic Barley Risotto

Serves:  4

Degree of Difficulty:  2/5

Cost:  If rice is cheap, barley is cheaper.  This vegetarian meal is very inexpensive.

  • 2 onions
  • 12 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch baby beetroot, cut into wedges
  • 250g peeled butternut pumpkin, chopped
  • 2 springs each of thyme and rosemary
  • 1/3 cup (80ml) EVOO
  • 350g pearl barley
  • 100ml white wine
  • 1ltr (4 cups) vegetable stock
  • 25g grated parmesan, plus extra to serve (omit the cheese if wanting to make this dairy-free)
  • 2 tbs chopped basil, plus leaves to serve

Preheat the oven to 200C.  Peel and finely chop 1 garlic clove and 1 onion.  Set aside.

Cut the remaining onion into thin wedges and place in a large roasting pan with the carrot, beetroot, pumpkin, herbs and remaining garlic.  Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Add 2 tbs oil, stir to coat and roast, stirring a couple of times, for 45-50 minutes until the vegetables are cooked.  Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes.

Heat the remaining 2 tbs oil in a saucepan over medium heat and cook the chopped onion and garlic with a little salt and pepper for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add the barley and stir for 1 minutes to coat the grains.  Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, then add the stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer gently, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until the barley is al dente and the liquid is absorbed.

Stir in the roasted vegetables, cheese and chopped basil.  Season to taste and serve with extra cheese and basil leaves.

This recipe is from the August issue of Delicious Magazine.

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  1. claire @ live and love to eat says:

    This looks delicious – I think I’m more health conscious as an adult because my family was not at ALL while I was growing up. 🙂

  2. Those vegies look delicious and perfect for this winter weather!

  3. Not only good roasting veggies, eating healthy can be as simple as what your parents did.

  4. Green Dragonette says:

    Hi Charlie,

    I really must give barley another go. Last time I cooked
    with it at the River Cottage Cookery school I found it very stodgy…

    BTW-true parmesan cheese is not vegetarian as it contains calf’s
    rennet. Not too sure about Australia but the vegetarian form of the cheese here
    in the UK is not allowed by EU law to call itself parmesan…

    And dare I say it, most wine is not suitable for true
    vegetarians as it contains animal products as part of the wine making process

    But your post was great!!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Hi, I buy parmesan without the rennet and usually the parmesan I buy is imported from Italy so I’m sure it’s rennet free. But, next time I’m at the deli I’ll ask. Thanks for letting me know xx

  5. Oh my goodness your parents sound like mine! Mum would have been proud of this vegetarian dish though, along with her roast lamb!

  6. Amy @ Elephant Eats says:

    Mmm, love the idea of a barley risotto! Haha, it’s so funny how times have changed. Now vegetarians are rampant!

  7. Sweet Posy Dreams says:

    I remember wheat germ! Sprinkled on yogurt was quite the healthy, far-out thing. Recently, I have been hearing a lot from my son about the Paleo diet. I just keep on with my basic mantra — moderation in all things.

  8. My parents sound awful next to yours! We ate healthy food but they didn’t stop my siblings and I from consuming huge amounts of soda and chocolates while watching telly.
    I sound like your parents however and am constantly after my children to eat better. but they are teens now and do what they want *sigh*

    I love barley and it’s lovely chewiness. This dish sounds perfect.

    I have to say, I did go gluten free for about a year for my joints and though it was the hardest thing for me to not eat bread and pasta, I lost a lot of weight and it’s the only diet that has ever worked for me.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      A friend of mine went gluten free and within six months she’s lost 5kg without even trying. Best diet ever she said! xx

  9. Minnesota Prairie Roots says:

    So…we ate whatever was raised or grown on the farm. I suppose that was healthy because our food was not pumped full of antibiotics or covered with pesticides.

  10. My parents were of the granola culture…no sodas, boxed cookies, etc…all the stuff I longed to have in our home. But that’s what inspired me to become a baker…I had to have a few sweet treats 🙂 I love the way you write….

  11. I adore barley ‘risotto’ Charlie, and this recipe looks wonderful with all the colours and textures. My Mom had a couple of Indian girlfriends who were vegetarian. She convinced them to trade meals once in a while (don’t know what she would have cooked for them, but we definitely got the good end of the deal, the curries were incredible!).

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Hi Eva, that must have been wonderful to grow up enjoying those amazing curries. Your mother obviously knew how to strike a good deal! xx

  12. Neetu_Ubi says:

    I was health conscious all my life but had to leave gluten 5 years ago. In the beginning sometime my family had to eat gluten free out of compulsion but now they love it. I wonder why people leave gluten its after all protein (they should leave carbs not gluten, its in as simple things as soy sauce) and your body need it. Everything in moderation is a good idea to begin with.

    I am a parent of a 17 year old girl and tell her to put some healthy stuff in her plate if she wants to eat some unhealthy.

    Heard it about your blog from Maureen and wanted to have a look and she was right your blog is interesting to read and hotly spiced.
    The dish you have posted is great and my daughter who is not gluten free will love to have if I serve it with gluten free Brazilian buns.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Thanks for visiting Neetu and thanks for your compliments regarding my blog. One of my readers has just told me there are traces of gluten in barley but I guess if you’re very concerned you could serve this with quinoa or rice instead xx

  13. A_Boleyn says:

    My parents were farmers in the former Yugoslavia who raised various animals for food. A meat and potatoes diet, with more potatoes than meat as it had to feed a lot of people, lots of hard work in the out of doors and their parents lived to their late 90s barring farm accidents. My brother and I grew up in Canada with a lot of leisure time and ended up overweight with environmental allergies and do a lot of complaining about our various aches and pains. Not that I would WANT to have the life of a farmer in Canada either for a lot of reasons.

    A very colourful and healthy dish to enjoy occasionally though I had to check the number of cloves of garlic used a couple of times. 🙂

  14. Victoria at Flavors of the Sun says:

    Oh, Charlie, you have described my husband to a tee. He is vegetarian and getting stricter with age. I am clearly not. And while I don’t eat much meat, I like it in all its forms. I also love vegetables, so that part is not a problem. If everyone is on the same page in a family, it is easier. We are not. Sigh…And he really doesn’t cook, except for oatmeal with quinoa, peeling a mango, and scooping out yogurt.

    Love the idea of a barley risotto, but haven’t yet made one. Being a lover of a good risotto, I always figured why not just make it, in spite of the labor involved. This recipe may be the one to kick me over the edge. Looks wonderful.

  15. Jed Gray (sportsglutton) says:

    You know what the risotto would be great with….meat!! 🙂 Seriously looks delish Charlie.

  16. Charlie, your post was excellent, not only for the terrific recipe, but for pointing out the skepticism (and sometimes outright hysteria) surrounding “eating preferences.” It’s one thing to suggest or enthusiastically recommend (from personal experience) the benefits of a particular “diet,” but oftentimes there’s the implied message that it’s the “right” (or only!) way to eat, with the underlying message: “therefore, you must be ‘wrong’…”

    Food is personal and it’s a matter of choice, which I’m entirely grateful for! I’m not a vegetarian, but during the summer I’ll eat nothing but vegetables for days (for the sheer JOY of it when gardens are at their peak), with a knowing “nod” from my vegetarian friends. But, I don’t expect them to begrudge my preference for a nice, fat steak now and then, anymore than I’d turn my nose up at their tofu. Live and let live.

    And, “no thanks” to the wheat germ — been there, done that! 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I don’t think I’ve eaten wheatgerm since. Yes, a vegetarian meal is always best with a steak on the side! xx

  17. I eat like this a lot…I rarely eat meat, but I certainly cook it for others. I love Brussel’s Sprouts in my roasted veggies…but adding in the barley is something I’ve never done and that makes this a perfect main dish! In the United States there is a wide variation of what is considered either health consciousness, or considered extreme. i think there are very different regional differences in tastes. And some of my friends across the country are really a little critical of my yoga practice, thinking I’ve gone over to some kind of cult religion. It’s so interesting to me how we gain our initial impressions and then how they also may change over time. Your health food looks just wonderful to me, Charlie!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I love Brussell’s Sprouts too – we are a rare breed! Yes, it’s amazing how things have changed. Where I live there’s barely a woman walking around without a yoga mat under their arm! xx

  18. yummychunklet says:

    Great post, Charlie! When I see things in movies about the “health craze” if the 70s, it seems like the food was always raw or with little preparation. I’m glad we’ve come farther now.

  19. Glamorous Glutton says:

    I remember vegetarians being considered pariahs at the table and endless talk of their unhealthy diet. How wrong we are when we’re I’ll informed. Great roast vegetable dish. GG

  20. InTolerantChef says:

    Oh dear Charlie, I love vegetarian food- it goes so great with steak!
    We grew up exactly the same way, soft drinks were for parties only, and chocolate was reserved for Easter. I really think it was much healthier overall, but I guess food choices were a bit more limited back then too- I couldn’t go without a good laksa now and then 🙂
    I hate food fads, it makes someone like me with true food InTolerances look fussy and picky when there really are issues.
    PS. barley contains gluten, it hides everywhere!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I didn’t know there was gluten in barley. Unbelievable. Like you say, it seems to be everywhere! xx

  21. Haha I have never heard of vegetarians and vegans being considered like this – thank god for modern times and mass media communications 😀
    I think you have taken it on board pretty darn well with this dish my friend 🙂


  22. This was a very amusing post Charlie 🙂 I can only imagine how that ‘alternate’ neighbour would have been viewed – I wonder what has become of her now? Despite leaning heavily to the vegan angle myself, I think a good dose of moderation takes all of us a long way. I’d like a good moderate portion of this dish to prove my point 🙂

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I’m not sure what became of her. She was living in Australia while I was growing up in NZ to she’s probably in her 60’s now. I know she did become more and more restrictive in terms of what she would eat as she became older. She had two teenage sons and I don’t think they were very pleased! xx

  23. Suzanne Perazzini says:

    Every decade has its health and diet fads. Wheatgerm was definitely the new elixir of life a while back and, strangely enough, my husband bought some the other day, and it still tastes like sawdust. I was brought up on an isolated farm so we ate mostly off the land with some basic baking thrown in for good measure and I still have aches and pains. I have thought about going gluten free and I have several such recipes on my blog, but it’s not simple when you have others to feed so that idea keeps sliding away.

  24. I have noticed that there are lots of new diets that are gluten and diary free and then vegan friendly too…I know a girl from work the sweetest person shes’ both lactose and gluten intolerant so i really feel for her 🙁

    But I don’t really understand those who choose to be vegan but also have a problem with others having meat…i know a guy that is like that…we can’t even go out and have hot chocolate with him because it contains REGULAR cows milk…

    I think the way your parents brought you up was the right way Charlie 🙂 I think as long as you eat everything in moderation you’ll be fine ~ even i’m ok…even though lol i eat way too much dessert on a daily basis HAHAHA

  25. Isn’t ‘healthy’ food ridiculous? Don’t even get me started on all the allergies these days. My mother used to say (still does every now and then) ‘everything in moderation.’ I like to add the ‘even moderation’ (is that what Nigella says).

    Despite my aversion to all these fads you’re vegan dish looks delicious! I’m quite a fan of Barley. It’s like a hybrid of risoni, arborio rice and couscous.

  26. It is such a different world in so many ways. This looks delicious. I love good healthy food, and I absolutely love barley! 🙂

  27. Nic@diningwithastud says:

    I’ve contemplated going veggie every now and then but I dont think I could do it. Im a meat eater, although I’d like to eat less meat than I do. This risotto is perfect! Love barley too 😀

  28. Reem | Simply Reem says:

    One of my uncle is a very strict vegan… Sometime I feel it must be hard for him but than everyone has their own choice right..
    This looks perfect… and yes very healthy!!

  29. Elizabeth @Mango_Queen says:

    This is a great, yet affordable recipe. And so easy to do! Thanks for sharing. And thanks for the blog-visit!

  30. justonecookbook says:

    Sounds like what my children would ask – lately they ask very difficult questions that I am having hard time explaining the concept in English. I sometimes don’t know if English is the reason why I think it’s hard, or the concept… I love to eat balanced meal, and choose to pick healthier option but not very strict. Hope that “moderation” will work for us…and that’s my theory…

  31. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    LOL French toast with salt and pepper! Hehe now why didn’t that take off? 😛

  32. ChgoJohn says:

    I knew of no vegetarians growing up, Charlie, and have thought what my parests, especially Dad, would have done if one of us kids announced that meat would no longer be eaten. He had a hard enough time accepting that my Brother wanted his meat cooked well-done and acted as if it was a sacrilege.
    I’ve never had barley prepared like risotto and bet the change is a good one.

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Ha, ha. Your father sounds like quite a character. I used to ask for my meat to be well-done too. My parents would have fits! xx

  33. Mandy - The Complete Cook Book says:

    Not sure I could be a vegetarian… Healthy or not, this is a scrumptious meal.
    🙂 Mandy

  34. An eye opening post about healthy habits. That roasted veggies look so delicious 🙂

    ps: I am back!!!

    Kiran @

  35. The veggies look delicious! I’m still not sure about the raw sugar thing, I reckon all sugar is pretty much the same except for flavour. And cooking for vegans is indeed a tricky thing – not many of them visit us. They would struggle to watch my two wolves devouring half a cow. 😉

    • hotlyspiced says:

      I agree Celia. I’m sure a tsp of sugar whether it be white, raw or brown, is still, a tsp of sugar! Yes, it’s no place for a vegan around here either! xx

  36. My mother was (or rather is) a vegetarian – apparently she forced herself to eat liver when she was pregnant with my sister and I because it was considered an important thing to do back then, unlike nowadays. She never had a problem cooking meat for my father and me, but likewise, we frequently had meat-free meals too so growing up and not having meat for every single meal was completely normal for me. It’s still a shock, even today, when I meet people (haha, almost wrote “meat people”) who can’t possibly comprehend the idea of a meal without any kind of flesh whatsoever. With all the fantastic things we have access to these days, a myriad of different potatoes, about 100 different beans, peas and other pulses, and they’re not content unless there’s a slab of cow on the plate… mind-boggling :/

    • hotlyspiced says:

      That is so lovely the way your mother cooked for everyone’s tastes. And you are so right. With all that we have available in term so fresh produce, we don’t have to be eating cows every time we sit to eat xx

  37. OMG …. salt & pepper on french toast? I wouldn’t have eaten it either 🙂

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