Pearl Barley Risotto with Lamb and Fetta

Key Features

  • packed with flavour
  • moderate to low fat
  • very high fibre
  • high carbohyddrate
  • high in iron

This dish was inspired by a meal I ordered at a local restuarant. There’s no doubt the original chef-made version was very high fat, but I have recreated it as a healthy alternative. It is a pesto flavoured risotto made with pearl barley instead of the traditional arborio rice. Pearl barley is a high fibre grain that needs to be cooked for longer than rice (due to the unrefined nature of it), and is often soaked overnight for quickest cooking. The feta cheese matches really well with the lamb in this dish, and the tomato just adds colour and a fresh cool flavour.


(Serves 3, or 2 hungry athletes)
  • 2 cups of pre-soaked pearl barley (~1 cup dry)
  • 400g boneless lean lamb (backstrap)
  • dash of oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 Tbs pesto
  • 50g feta cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tomato roughly chopped into 2cm cubes

Barley has a slightly lower carbohydrate content per gram than other refined white rice due to the fiberous husk, however is comparable nutritionally to brown rice. You could also use brown rice as an alternative in this recipe.  The lamb makes this recipe high in iron and suitable for female athletes, or distance runners. The lamb should be low fat to reduce the amount of saturated fat, however pesto contains a lot of fat but the good type of oil, so if you are trying to reduce body fat, reduce or eliminate the amount of pesto, and replace with 1/2 bunch of fresh basil to boost the flavour.


  1. Soak barley overnight if possible, otherwise cooking time will be increased
  2. Fry the lamb in a non-stick fry pan until cooked and slightly pink in the centre (or as desired), leave to rest steps 3 & 4, then slice thinly while waiting in step 5
  3. Using a deep non-stick pot, fry onions on med-high heat with a dash of oil till soft
  4. Add pearl barley to the pot, then add the baslamic vinegar, stir till mostly evaporated
  5. Add 1 cup of stock and cook until mostly absorbed (~5 minutes)
  6. Add broccoli and second cup of stock and cook until mostly absorbed (~5 minutes)
  7. Add small amounts of water until barley is soft but still with a slight crunch
  8. Add the sliced lamb
  9. Turn off heat and stir in pesto, crumbled feta and pepper
  10. Serve and top with diced tomatoes.

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