Slow cooker barley risotto with feta, spinach and lemon, 34p.


Day three of the slow cooker experiment (£8 from Wilkinsons!) and I decide to try a risotto in it. Only I’m not using rice and this doesn’t have the characteristic standing-and-stirring of a risotto, so I’m not really sure what to call it, apart from bloody yummy – as I’m tucking in as I type this! I haven’t overloaded this with too many flavours, as the chewy nuttiness of pearl barley speaks for itself, but if you have the inclination, this would be delicious as a side dish with juicy cooked chicken, or padded out as a cold salad with sliced black olives and tomatoes – a sort of tabbouleh, if you will.

Ingredients (serves 2) – in a 1.5l stock pot.

160g pearl barley
100g frozen spinach
I cup of chicken stock
3 cups of water
50g Greek style cheese (feta or equivalent)
1 tbsp Lemon juice
Few sprigs of Parsley

Pour the water, lemon juice and stock into the slow cooker and add the pearl barley. Cook on High for an hour, then reduce to Low.

Cook for a further 2 hours on a low heat – check after 2 hours, mine was swollen and sticky, just how I like it. Defrost the spinach and add it to the dish, stirring through.

To serve, crumble over the cheese, garnish with chopped parsley and a splash of lemon juice.

Delicious hot or cold. Would also benefit from a drizzle of oil when served – like the Spanish do with Paella – but it only occurred to me as I was eating it!


Those of you without a slow cooker can make this in a saucepan by bringing a saucepan of the water and stock to the boil, and adding the pearl barley. Boil vigorously for 10 minutes then reduce to a simmer for a further 20, adding the frozen spinach to the pan. You may need to add more water, as the slow cooker retains moisture where a saucepan does not so well. When the pearl barley is swollen and tender, drain any excess water and serve with crumbled cheese, chopped parsley and a splash of lemon juice – and oil, if you wish.

Ingredient cost breakdown, the orange supermarket, correct at time of going to blog:
500g pearl barley 55p (160g/18p)
10 chicken stock cubes 20p (1 stock cube/2p)
1kg frozen spinach £1.49 (100g/15p)
200g Greek style cheese 80p (50g/20p)
250ml lemon juice 60p (1tbsp/4p)
27g parsley -approx 20 sprigs – 80p (2 sprigs/8p)

Tip – Chop the remaining parsley and leave it on a side plate or in a mug to dry out for a few days, or hang it from something (I use an elastic band and a bit of string to hang it from a cupboard handle – high up, not near the floor for vague hygiene reasons) or chop it and press it into ice cube trays with a little water for instant portions of ‘fresh’ chopped parsley.

Mine was cheaper than stated as I used home made chicken stock (another slow cooker triumph – to be blogged soon!) and home grown parsley from my window ledge, but I appreciate not everyone has those lying about, so I’ve costed them in for arguments sake.

Jack Monroe. Twitter: @MsJackMonroe.


  1. I have made a risotto in the oven which does not need stirring so maybe you could use a similar risotto using rice with the slow cooker. The oven version [Weight Watchers recipe from memory] worked out very well and was very enjoyable.

  2. We tried this yesterday, with the beet risotto recipe, it was delicious!
    Basically because I didn’t have any risotto rice or other shortgrain rice…’s a good substitute! I didn’t have any stock cubes handy, but figured there had to be another way to add the hearty bite, by roasting the barley a bit longer and a bit of left over cooking fat.It worked quite nicely too….now the possibilities are endless, since this works out cheaper for me too…

  3. I use barley to make kasha, with onions, garlic, a diced carrot, mixed herbs, s&p, and sliced mushrooms if I have any. I cook it on the stove, and it’s a bit like a nutty risotto – delicious!

  4. Ha!

    Believe it or not, but you should, because I have heard so many of these aphorisms in ancient Greek recited to me by my mother, and one is this –

    “Hippocrates said you should eat barley everyday.”

  5. Looks great! I’ve tried something a bit like this before, but not with feta. This might be useful for people who work all day – I’ve left barley risotto all day in the slow cooker on low while at work, and it turned out fine (it might not be exactly the same consistency, but still yummy). I don’t think this works with rice though, as it tends to go a bit gluey.

  6. I have to follow a gluten free diet so barley is out of the question. However I make something similar with quinoa or hulled millet or sometimes buckwheat.
    In summer I cool the leftovers and stir them through fresh rocket for a brilliant lunchbox lunch.

  7. On a stock related note, I do make chicken and other meat stock, but I also make an almost free veg stock which is surprisingly good.

    I put veg peelings and trimmings into a pot in the fridge as I prepare meals and after a few days worth put it in a saucepan, boil for ten minutes then turn off the heat to let it infuse.

    I use pretty much anything that isn’t potato (too starchy) or brassicas (too cabbagey). I almost always have onion and garlic skins and root ends in there. Each one is individual depending on what I’ve been cooking. The one with butternut squash peel was delicious.

    I store it in an old pickling vinegar jar in the fridge and use whenever water or stock is called for in a recipe.

    • I do that too, free veg stock with no nasty additives and no wasting of any whole veg.I always put onion skins in as it gives it a good colour.

  8. Barley is a lovely grain, very good for filling bellies. Nice to see the usually shunned (in recipes) frozen spinach making an appearance too as it works out far cheaper than the fresh stuff, which also has a exceedingly short shelf-life. Fresh isn’t needed in slow cooked recipes like stews or casseroles even pies as it breaks down under cooking. I may make this today with veg stock.

  9. I love that you’ve got a slow cooker, more recipes please! I bought a slow cooker last year but haven’t used it much.

  10. Adore pearl barley risotto! Not sure if it is just me and my dusty mathematical skills, but I’m not sure if all the prices quite add up in this recipe… I would have thought 160g of PB would have come out at 17-18p? And the stock cube at 2p?

    We love this blog in our house in any case!

  11. Check your cooker – my electric zanussi has a slow cook option on the main oven. It is great and the size means I can often do two meals side by side. I do a mild curry for children and a hot one together on a Saturday.
    I have a pork and rice and barley dinner in at the moment inspired by recipe above, ill let you know how I get on.

  12. I have the £8 Wilkinson’s slow cooker, which I think is amazing value, but I do find that the back, where the power lead joins the cooker gets very hot, so halfway through cooking I just spin the inner pot around. I also cook porridge in mine and it’s very good!

  13. I fell in love with barley for orzotto or for just adding to any stew or casserole type dishes. It was mentioned as the cheapest healthy carb on the Old Style forum on Money Saving Expert, and I have found it incredibly versatile. You can substitute for rice in most recipes.

  14. Hi Jack great idea and thanks for all the other recipes and ideas you have posted. I have been playing around with a wonder box cooker for a while now. So far I’ve cooked stews, soups, rice pudding and porridge and all have come out very nice. It’s well worth a try and long term could save a fortune now the gas will be going up again soon.

  15. I’ve made “risotto” using pearl barley too – I call it “pearlotto” – I got the idea from from a River cottage book where he had made it with spelt

    • Hugh F-W calls his spelt take on risotto speltotto. So, in his speak, this would be barlotto. I have used barley for yummy creamy takes on risotto for years , and of course in thick soups , or “stoups” as H F-W calls them. It is slightly sweet compared with rice, and lovely and satisfying. I use it in part to vary my diet. For health I reasons I think it best to not be over reliant on wheat or rice. I have not yet used spelt (expensive) though I do make a spelt bread that people say is good….. and I agree.

  16. There’s an amazing barley risotto in the latest ottolenghi book that you could double up on – a tomatoey one with feta – so you could cook double the barley then fish half out and save for the next day. Basically then it’s onion, celery, bay leaf, tin of tomatoes, but I think it could bear lots of adaptation. I just cooked the barley on the job, fridged and cooked the risotto the day after

  17. I sometimes make a barley casserole – cook onion, garlic, carrots in oil, add barley and stir around, add stock and simmer till the barley is cooked and swollen and the stock is absorbed. Meanwhile slice mushrooms and sprinkle with lemon juice, then fry in oil still thoroughly cooked, stir in ground almonds and creme fraiche. It’s really tasty

  18. Just made your barley risotto and it was so so nice. Thank you. You are truely inspirational please keep up the good work.

  19. Hi Jack, great recipe.
    Any ideas on how to cook it if i want to chuck it in in the morning before work? Reckon it would work 8 hrs on low or just turn to stodge?

  20. Had this with my daughter for lunch yesterday, made on the hob, was yummy and made extra for leftovers. Nice idea.

  21. Just made this for dinner. I replaced the spinach ( even though I have some frozen) for an elderly piece of broccoli that was looking sad in my fridge. Worked nicely 🙂 X

  22. Sounds delicious! Any chance you could tag your slow cooker recipes so they are easier to find please?
    Ive only recently found you, and find you utterly inspiring. Keep up the good work and turning your life around. Not so sure I like your new website as much tho, im having trouble navigating it, but im sure il get there eventually! Much love Diane x

  23. Plan to make this for tomorrow’s dinner with the other half as lunch for work on Wednedsay. If it’s half as good as tonight’s pasta with salmon paste, chilli and lemon it’ll be delicious! Very impressed!

  24. Made this for dinner last night. Didn’t have any feta so grated up the last of a piece of Parmesan. It was bloody gorgeous! Took the second portion to work today and everyone thought it looked and smelled amazing. They also think I spent a fortune on making it which, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth!

  25. Bit confused, hope you can help…. I haven’t used pearl barley before and I’m not sure about the measurements. The packet says that 25g uncooked barley creates an 88g cooked portion… Your recipe says use 160g of barley for two portions…is this the cooked weight or the uncooked weight? Either your portions are huge or the recommended portion size is miserly !!

  26. I was intrigued by this recipe so despite not having spinach, feta or parsley thought I’d give it a go anyway. I was very impressed with the result from just 3 ingredients: pearl barley, stock and lemon juice. It made a lovely nutty accompaniment to my veg curry. I got extra benefits too – I think I overdid it with the stock but strained it off, added a few dashes of Worcester sauce and ended up with a yummy mug of soup. The remaining pearl barley got transformed into a salad for my son’s packed lunch the next day by adding chopped gherkins, baby tomatoes, olives, spring onions and mayo (basically whatever I had lurking in the fridge) and he thought it was delicious. Very pleased – easy, great value and very versatile. Thanks for the idea, Jack. (Looking forward to making the ‘as is’ version next time. Also keen to explore variations such as adding spices, onions, garlic……so many possibilities).

  27. Just cooking this for tonight. I’ll let you know how I get on. Just recently been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, so should really be watching the carbs, especially high GI foods to avoid spikes that insulin can’t handle. Barley has a Gi of less than half of wheat, so in theory should not give me a post meal blood sugar spike 🙂

  28. Would absolutely love to see some more slow cooker recipes if you have a chance, now the winter is most certainly here!

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