Saving money is a high value to me. But so is eating right. That’s why I love dishes like this Barley Risotto, adapted from a recipe my friend Heather sent to me recently. With things in the economy as they are, we’re all tightening our belts these days, but we don’t want to be loosening the belt on our slacks just because we’re eating less expensive foods!

We want to make those inexpensive carbs (whole wheat, barley, kidney beans, lentils, etc.) count, not just as empty calories but as healthy additions to our diet. And that’s why I thought an overview about sources of protein might be in order.

Did you know that a protein molecule has 33 amino acids? Very few non-meat foods contain all 33 amino acids. The only ones I’m aware of are eggs, fish, soy products and quinoa. So in order to get complete protein, you need to eat the right combination of foods.

In order to get all 33 amino acids from sources of protein, you must combine whole grains with dairy products (examples would be yogurt and granola or cheese sandwich on whole grain bread) or whole grains with legumes (examples are tortillas with refried beans or Barley Lentil Stew, a favorite recipe from my book O Taste & See Some More!  (By the way, Supplementary Proteins aren’t bad…they just aren’t complete proteins.)

That leads me back to the recipe for Barley Risotto. By itself, barley doesn’t contain all 33 amino acids of a protein molecule. Neither does the cheese. But when cheese is stirred into the risotto at the end…you’ve got a complete protein. Of course many non-meat proteins contain more calories, but they also “stick with you”, making you feel full longer, giving you healthy fiber, etc. The butternut squash in this recipe is also a good source of Vitamins A and C, as well as magnesium, calcium, and potassium. The recipe is easy, so I did not take step-by-step photos.

I hope you’ll give it a try…and be looking for ways to add protein to your diet by adding the right combinations of foods. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 4-6



  • 1 1/2 lbs. of butternut squash or pumpkin cut into 1/2-inch cubes (approximately 3 C.)
  • 2-3 T. olive oil
  • 2 C. of thinly sliced mushrooms (approximately 8 oz./200 g)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 C. uncooked pearl barley
  • 4 C. chicken broth (1/2 C. can be white wine if you prefer)
  • salt/pepper
  • 4 oz. soft cheese: cream cheese, Taleggio, Brie, or goat cheese




  1. Saute the squash/pumpkin in 1 T. olive oil over medium heat until tender. Sprinkle with a bit of salt while cooking. (Alternately you can roast it in the oven at 400° F (200° C) for 25-30 minutes.)
  2. Remove squash to a bowl and use the same pan with a bit more olive oil to saute the mushrooms until browned. Add to the squash in the bowl; you’ll stir these in at the end.
  3. Use the same pan to saute the onion in a bit more olive oil until tender. Add the garlic and barley and stir for one minute so it’s all coated with the oil. If using wine, add it now and cook for 2-3 minutes until the alcohol evaporates. Add the broth, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until the barley is tender and the liquid is almost all absorbed.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, as well as the squash and mushrooms. Adjust seasonings and garnish with thyme if desired.


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