Seaweed Risotto Recipe

A seaweed risotto recipe inspired by a trip to Chile. This version calls for dried nori seaweed, pearled barley, lots of finely chopped spinach, and a blend of cheeses.

Seaweed Risotto

Last August when I was in Santiago, Chile I enjoyed an exceptional risotto made with fresh seaweed, or as my Chilean friends call it - cochayuyo. My Spanish is bad, and after a lot of hand signs and a bit of show-and-tell, Chef Raimundo Tagle communicated to me that it has long been used in peasant cooking, and unfortunately because of that, not many chefs were using it in the fancier restaurants in Santiago. The delicate flavor and toothsome texture of the cochayuyo was a perfect pairing with the creamy risotto in front of me, and it got me wondering why we don't see more fresh seaweed preparations here in the United States - particularly within our coastal communities. Chef Rai slices the fresh seaweed tentacles into rings half the width of my thumb, sautés them a bit, and then combines them with a rice-based risotto along with asparagus, walnuts, and freshly-grated cheese. I realize that finding fresh seaweed is going to be a challenge for a good percentage of the people who visit my site, so I decided to do a variation on the general theme using dried nori seaweed (which just about everyone can track down), pearled barley, lots of finely chopped spinach, and a blend of cheeses.

Seaweed Risotto Recipe

I used chopped spinach in this recipe for a couple of reasons. I like the vegetal flavor and nutrients it delivers, but I also like the bright green flecks it brings to this risotto. It counter-balances the green-brown of the toasted seaweed nicely, lending a fresh, appetizing appearance. The toasted walnuts lend a good amount of earthy crunch, and the lemon gives a kick of acidity to counter-balance the creaminess. A pinch of of smoky-smoldering merken pepper (think of it as the definitive Chilean spice) would be the perfect finishing touch. I'm pretty sure Whole Foods Markets now carries it nationwide in the spice section.

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Seaweed Risotto Recipe

If you can't find mascarpone, feel free to substitute creme fraiche, or even a bit of grated gruyere. You are after something to give the risotto that creamy body (which normally comes from the Arborio rice). Also, I call for a relatively modest amount of dried seaweed here, and nori itself is relatively mild in flavor, but if you think you want a more pronounced sea vegetable flavor - feel free to increase the amount to 1/2 ounce - or add it to taste. Also note that if you end up with leftovers, the flavor develops some overnight as well.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 medium shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups lightly pearled barley or pearled farro
1 cup good-quality dry white wine
6 cups water or lightly-flavored vegetable broth
1 lemon, zest and some juice
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 ounce dried nori seaweed, toasted
1 1/2 cups finely chopped spinach
1 cup walnuts, toasted

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the onion, shallots, garlic, and salt. Saute, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften a bit.

Add the barley to the pot and stir until coated with a nice sheen, then add the wine, and simmer for 3 or 4 minutes, until the barley has absorbed the liquid a bit. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle, active simmer.

In increments, add about 6 cups of water (or broth), 1 cup at a time, letting the barley absorb most of the liquid between additions. This should take around 40 minutes altogether - sometimes I only end up using 4 or 5 cups of water, it really depends. Stir regularly because you don't want the grains on the bottom to scorch. You will know when the barley is cooked because it won't offer up much resistance when chewing (it will be chewier than Arborio rice though). I like my risotto on the brothy side, so don't worry if there is a bit of unabsorbed liquid in the pot.

When the barley is tender remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest, mascarpone cheese, and most of the Parmesan. Then stir in the seaweed, and lastly the chopped spinach. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed, adding a bit of lemon juice too if needed. Serve topped with walnuts and the remaining Parmesan.

Easily serves 6+.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Recipe sounds great but I'm wondering exactly what kind of seaweed they used in Chile. Tentacles?

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?

That dish looks so delicious and warming. I love barley and farro, they are the ultimate comfort grain for me. I had not thought of combining seaweed with it, but it looks perfect. . . and really nutritious! Thanks for a great recipe!

Sophia from Kitchen Caravan

What a fantastic recipe - love risotto and have never tried it with spinach so I'm anxious to give it a go.

Tabitha (From Single to Married)

I love this recipe - especially the idea of using barley instead of arborio rice. Looks delicious!

ashley (sweet & natural)

I love this recipe - especially the idea of using barley instead of arborio rice. Looks delicious!

ashley (sweet & natural)

that sounds amazing. i love seaweed in non-asian recipes. (I like it otherwise, as well, but they are rare!)


This looks FANTASTIC. I have always wanted to try a risotto recipe (and have done so once with pretty good success) but find the standard ones so unhealthy. What a wonderful alternative! However, I have the same question as Kim. I am in Berlin and it is sometimes harder to find some of these grains. Other than white rice, are there any other grain substitutions that would work?


I eat seaweed a lot, ever since I was a baby - it's wonderful for your body and skin. It is delicious and feels cleansing. I usually buy it dehydrated or I'll get the dried, flattened seaweed. It's delicious toasted with a bit of sesame oil and salt. A little chicken or veg broth, spring onion and dehydrated seaweed is a wonderful lunch when heated as a soup. You can add a little cooked barley if you need something a bit more heavy. Thank you for sharing this - it's a take on seaweed I haven't yet seen!


Do you think coarse-grain bulghur could be used in place of barley? We can't get barley in Ankara, sadly. Or maybe wheat berries?


You're amazing - such an ambassador of smart fusion-cooking!


wow, this looks awesome! i've actually never cooked with seaweed. yum!


Chris: Do it. Heidi turned me on to barley-based risotto a while back, and my life has been much more delicious as a direct result. Seaweed risotto? I'm intrigued. I'm not sure I'll like it (though I like both nori and risotto), but I am willing to try it. Plus, I happen to have all the ingredients on hand. Fate? Mayhaps.

Laurel from Simple Spoonful

Wow, such an innovative idea. I'm of Japanese descent and I grew up eating all types of seaweed. I love it as an adult too, but have never really ventured outside of Asian flavors or sticking it in a stew or soup. And here you've married all my favorite things! Can't wait to try it.


Believe it or not, I have never had the pleasure of tasting barley because I hadn't found a tantalizing enough recipe. But this one far exceeds my expectations and is making my stomach growl as I type. I have been looking for new ways to add more seaweed into my diet, and this looks like a great idea. As usual, insanely creative, Heidi.


This is an insanely awesome idea. I just made a brown rice risotto that was cool and now I'm psyched to try more risotto things!


I bet the fresh seaweed was great. Alas, I would be one of the individuals who would have a hard time procuring some. Lucky for me, you already solved my problem. While we can't do barley or farro, I'm sure the recipe will be just as tasty with Arborio rice.


Yes, Yes, Yes! I'm so happy to have your website now. I found it from AngryChicken, another great blog.

Melissa Gutierrez

Can't wait to try this ! I am a new reader of this site & I love all the healthy & yummy recipes : )

Chef SnowKat

I love risotto! this looks great. I would have never of thought of combining it with seaweed.

Eliza from Eliza Domestica

what an innovative use of seaweed- i love eating it, but never imagined it in such a context. can't wait to try this one. (it took a few decades, but i finally have realized seaweed is so much more than just something to flick onto your sisters when they're lying, unaware, on the beach.)


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