This rich and hearty Instant Pot barley risotto comes with delicious Mediterranean flavours of tomatoes and thyme and is topped with fresh marinated feta. Its unison of bold flavours and unique textures will make you fall in love with pearl barley.
We can all agree that risotto is one of Italy’s finest culinary exports. This creamy, hearty rice dish is a popular dish with many, and although it might seem like something you only order at a restaurant, risotto is surprisingly uncomplicated to make at home, especially with the help of Instant Pot.
We make a lot of regular Arborio rice risotto dishes using the Instant Pot because, in all honesty, it’s one of the most failproof methods we’ve come across so far. You can try our Instant Pot fennel risotto recipe here or the budget-friendly pea and celery risotto here. And while we’ve become proficient with regular risotto making, we’ve never really tried using a different type of grain.
It has become quite fashionable to experiment with risottos made with quinoa, pearl couscous or barley, and we decided to give it a go with the Instant Pot. This particular recipe for tomato and thyme Instant Pot barley risotto comes from my friend Katie’s mom. She often makes it for her family using a stovetop method but we decided to adapt it for the Instant Pot and it worked a treat. And given the pressure cooking powers, it took a lot less time, given that pearl barley needs more time to cook than Arborio rice.
Before you cook
We are using uncooked pearl barley grain, which has been well rinsed under cold water. You can, of course, replace barley with regular Arborio rice, in which case you will need to reduce the cooking time to only 4-5 minutes, instead of 15 minutes.
The finished risotto is served with some feta cheese, which is marinated in olive oil and caraway seeds. If you can’t find caraway seeds, cumin seeds will work well or you can use mixed dried herbs or rosemary instead. Leftover feta can be saved for later and used in an omelette or in a salad. The sharpness and saltiness of the feta cut through the sweetness of the tomatoes and lifts the dish to the next level. You can marinate the feta ahead of time, and if you want a more fuss-free version, you can look for already marinated feta in your supermarket.
For a vegan or dairy-free version, replace the butter with extra olive oil and serve without the feta on top, or you can use some vegan-friendly cheese instead.
Creamy, yet with perfect al dente texture, this tomato-based Instant Pot risotto is made with pearl barley and topped with marinated feta cheese. Great for family dinners!
For the risotto
1 + 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
1 medium celery stick or 2 small sticks, sliced or diced into cubes
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1 + 1/2 cups uncooked pearl barley (rinsed, using 250ml measuring cups here)
1/2 teaspoon smoked or regular paprika
1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
3 peels of lemon rind
4 thyme sprigs or 1 teaspoon of thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste/concentrated puree
3 cups vegetable stock (750 ml with 1+1/2 stock cubes)
1 teaspoons salt
For the feta
1 tablespoon caraway seeds or cumin seeds
1/2 cup olive oil
300g / 9-10 oz feta cheese, broken or diced into cubes
Fresh oregano, for garnish
- Turn the Instant Pot on and press the Sauté function key. Add the butter, olive oil, onion and celery and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring a few times.
- Add the barley, paprika, chilli, lemon rind, thyme and bay leaf and stir through for 20-30 seconds. Press Cancel to stop the Sauté process.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato puree/paste, stock and salt and stir through. Pop the lid on and lock it, making sure the steam valve is pointing to Sealing. Set to Manual, HIGH and adjust the time to 15 minutes. After 3 beeps, the Instant Pot will start to build up the pressure and the cooking will begin.
- Once the timer goes off, allow pressure to release naturally for 5 minutes, then open the lid after using a quick release to let off the rest of the steam. Stir through the risotto and serve with crumbled feta over the top.
- While the risotto is cooking, prepare the marinated feta. Add the olive oil to a hot frying pan together with the caraway seeds. Stir through for 1 minute to release the spice aromas.
- Remove from the pan from the heat and allow to cool down for 5 minutes. Place the crumbled or cubed feta into a bowl and pour the oil with the seeds over the top. Stir through and set aside to infuse. You can do this step ahead of time, giving the feta more time to marinate.