Seaweed Risotto

Seaweed Risotto Recipe

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.

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+.


I send an email roughly once a week, sharing new recipes and cooking inspiration. - xo heidi
Heidi Swanson


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.)


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

Eliza from Eliza Domestica

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

Chef SnowKat

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

Melissa Gutierrez

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.


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!


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.


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.



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



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


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?


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!


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?


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


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

ashley (sweet & natural)

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)

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

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

Michelle @ What Does Your Body Good?


Thank you so much for this lovely recipe. I'm constantly looking for ways to incorporate seaweed into dishes, and this sounds fantastic. I think I may try those delicate little tendrils of wakame or arame. Your mixtures of nutrient-dense, colorful foods are always so refreshing.

Kylie of Thin Crust, Deep Dish

What a great recipe - seaweed is so good for you too! I love making risottos. I bet this would be really good with some shrimp or other seafood in it as well.

Lauren Denneson

This is an interesting combination! Looks really delicious!


Such an interesting idea! I weirdly I think I actually have all of these ingredients in my kitchen at the moment. Well here's tonight's dinner then!


This looks great...will be on our dinner table tonight and another wonderful reason to use the oh so cute cocottes that I promptly purchased after your spinach dip posting. Thanks for keeping me consistently inspired on a healthy front!


Wow, this looks delicious!


This looks great...will be on our dinner table tonight and another wonderful reason to use the oh so cute cocottes that I promptly purchased after your spinach dip posting. Thanks for keeping me consistently inspired on a healthy front!


It looks yummy!


As excited as I am about the combination of seaweed and risotto, it's your addition of walnuts that really gets my appetite going. I can just imagine the mix of textures and layers on flavours: crunchy, chewy, smooth, salty, rich and toasted. A truly amazing looking dish.

Dallas from Bitchin' Kitchen

whoa, seaweed and CHEESE????
i've only had asian preparations of seaweed & i'm an adventurous eater & i've loved the sound of every recipe on your site, BUT i don't think i could do this.
(traditionally, isn't seafood & cheese verboten?)


I like the idea of this recipe, will have to give it a dairy-free makeover. I am curious -- what is your preferred method for toasting nori? A quick run over a gas burner? And, do you just tear up the nori sheet by hand, or do you slice it into shreds? Thanks. :)

Dawn in CA

You are brilliant. I love how you balance everything; taste, texture, color, and nutrients. Your work is an inspiration for the home vegetarian cook. Thank you.


More seaweed recipes, please! I've been thinking about incorporating more seaweed into my diet -- hijiki and arame in particular, with dark leafy greens and grains. Great post, Heidi, thank you.

Liz @ OddKitchen

This is a totally new way to use seaweed. We've really never seen it outside of Japanese food...and of course it's usually nori. But this sounds very healthy and filling!

The Duo Dishes

Thanks for a great recipe, Heidi!

Unfortunately, I have to eat diary free, so this recipe probably won't work for me. But I loved hearing about another way to add seaweed into our daily menu. Because of it's incredible health benefits, I have been experimenting with seaweed recently, so it's great to have some new inspiration. :-)

Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

I agree--please, more sea-veggie recipes! I'm really getting into 'em lately (may need to join Kelpaholics Anonymous soon :) ),
and while I know how to do many of the simple, traditional Japanese things with nori and kombu, and even have a West Coast friend who sends me fresh kelp,
I doon't have near enough modern Western recipes like this. Vegetarian Times had a good article on seaweeds awhile back, but other than that, recipe mags seem to ignore this wonderful gift from Mama Gaia.


Great recipe. Can't wait to try it. How do you toast dried seaweed. Help!



I was just wondering the other night as I was making rice pudding, and this reminded me, whether there is such a thing as brown arborio rice. I thought you, if anyone, might know :] Thanks!


Amber Shea

This recipe looks very good, i am Chilean and is very hard to find heidi´s ingredients, but cochayuyo and merkén are very common here. You can get some cochayuyo while you are swimming in the beach, and merkén is a dried pepper, made by Mapuches, natives of the south of Chile.


I've just been craving seaweed lately. Can't wait to try this!



I´m so glad I found your website!! I recently got married with a wheat-dairy-meat-alcohol free healthy guy and it´s so hard to cook, but you´ve been saving my life!! The Nikki´s sweet potato the Quinoa Bowl (for breakfast, with fruits,I use coconut milk to cook the quinoa,it´s sooo good) are a big hit here!!!

I loved your recipe, sounds really good and I will try to do my best without using wine and replacing the cheese for a vegan one (there is a nice parmesan that tastes the same,maybe I should try that)...I just would like to know if it´s possible to do with brown rice... sounds like I need to change everything but I have to adjust so we both can eat...
Thank you so much!! :) :)


OMG! When I saw your Seaweed Risotto I want to knock on your door and ask if I can have some right there in your kitchen:-) You should open a restaurant Heidi. In that will become one landmark for visitors from all over the world to go experience when they visit your part of the globe! You can design it with motiff like your kitchen perhaps..mmm I can already imagine the aroma!:-)


this sounds so delicious! thanks! =)



This recipe brings so many memories. I'm from Chile and I grow up eating seaweed or cochayuyo. This plate sound great. My aunt use to make seaweed fill with cheese.
Next time I go to Chile I'm going to take a picture of the cochayuyo.
Thanks for the recipe, I love your cooking!


Looks delicious Heidi, Is there some reason that I have missed that you have used barley instead of arborio? Personally barley reminds me of overcooked boarding school soup from way back so it is not something I use from choice


mm now i want to go to chile and eat seaweed risotto sounds amazingly delicious with fresh seaweed tentacles especially. your rendition sounds good too though!


Sounds delicious.

One reason I can conjecture you don't see more coastal seaweed dishes in the US, is the varieties of seaweed that grow in atlantic and pacific coastlines on the us aren't very appetizing. I suppose you could make them into nori, but, I'm not very tempted.

HS: I wish I knew more about it. I think you're right to a certain extent - I believe the Chilean seaweed is a specific varietal - Antarctic or something. I'll look into it some more, and ask the (dried) seaweed sellers at the markets here about it.


I want to love this idea but somehow risotto without rice is just not risotto.

I'm working on getting my head around this one!

HS: Fair enough Dana. It's funny, when I was working on my book, my editor corrected it to be called "risotto-style" barley....I love it this way now - the Arborio seems almost too white/starchy to me now that I've been using other grains. Anyways, it's worth giving a shot.


Looks amazing!!! =]


Hi Heidi, this is an awesome recipe, thank you again! Speaking of sea veggies, I have to tell you that someone told me about making a DLT sandwich, that is Dulse, Lettuce & Tomato. I fried up some Dulse and I want you to know that fried Dulse is so DEEEELISSHUSH! I can't recommend it highly enough! Yummy Sea veggies!

ArtzenFlowers Color & Decor

This recipe sounds so interesting. The seaweed frightens me a bit, but it looks too tempting to pass up. Thanks for sharing!


would like to know whether the seaweed could be picked up from the sea or is it a special type?


would like to know whether the seaweed could be picked up from the sea or is it a special type?can the dried chinese seaweed be used?


I'm in the camp that baulks at pearl barley (although it reminds me of the duty food I made from old vegetarian recipes when I first gave up meat). Still, I guess the answer is 'do it with rice'.

As to picking up seaweed, you have to be careful where you do it or it can be contaminated with all sorts of things! Perhaps that's not such an issue on the seaboard of a continent but on a small densely populated island ... !


I love seaweed. I love spinach. I love risotto. There... I'm sold!

Life Chef

I'm pretty new to cooking (well at least the healthy, whole grains, good for you and good tasting food) and I just wanted to say what an inspiration your food is to me. I've never cooked a risotto and while I know this is not a typical recipe it has been the only one I've seen that has made me want to try it. And I'm sure it will turn out fantastic because every recipe I've tried from this website has been omg-I-want-to-shout-from-the-rooftop good. I really love your style can't wait to try this out!


wow barley instead of rice? who knew?
and with seaweed and nuts, i can't wait to make this!!!


I love this chef TRaimundo TagleI'am chilean I live in chile , on Padre Hurtado in my farm , I love cooking I study several times in diferent place , at the cordon blue, when you visit chile send me imail.thanks for your opinion

M Regina Dominguez v

If some one needs a place to find merkan pepper check out zinngerman's. They are a store based in Ann Arbor but also sell over the internet. You may regret it if only because it will dent your budget.


What a gentle persuasion of ingredients and flavors. Loved It. Perfect complement of textures. Perhaps the setting to which this dish was enjoyed enhanced it even more.

While sailing H28 Bright Star with dolphins.

Jaime Greer

In Nigella Lawson's Christmas cookbook she makes a risotto-style dish with barley and calls it an orzotto, which should keep all the language-purists happy! This sounds gorgeous - am going to try it right now!


I made this for dinner last night, and my boyfriend said it was one of the best recipes from your blog yet. That's saying a lot, because we've made and loved so many of them.

The best part is that we had enough for dinner, for a late-night (post-theater) snack, AND a huge lunch today. This will be added to our regular rotation!


I need to avoid the gluten contained in the barley.

Can I substitute whole buckwheat groats?

I'm asking because I know that buckwheat can have a strong flavor, and this recipe is so far afield from what I'm used to making that I can't tell whether the buckwheat would be compatible.


love seaweed good combination recipe . I use dried seaweed (fresh) INSTEAD ROASTED ONE.

susan bailey,s

For the dairy-free folks: maybe some tahini instead of the cheese? Or make up a bit of walnut butter in the food processor to match flavors.
Looking forward to trying this...


I am yet to master the *perfect* risotto, but it looks like you arrived there a long time ago! Great stuff.

Scott at Realepicurean

I have never tryed it before but it looks fantastic!!!


hey its me again but i think the seeweed would be a very good dish for olive garden!! Thats just my opinion!!

Maddy wilkins

This looks so great! I'm curious to know what you think about using arborio rice for it (it's what I happen to have in my pantry right now), or if you'd recommend sticking with the barley.

Liza Jane

This was so good! I've never posted before but I had an all-Heidi-recipe weekend, and just cooked three recipes in no time for some delicious lunches all week. Your recipes are always remarkably simple and tasty and give me great new ideas. Thank you!!!


I was wondering about how to toast nori too, but then I looked at the package, and it said it was already toasted. Probably that's what nori means - toasted seaweed. Anyway, I made this with arborio rice and only nori, and it accompanied shrimp on kelp noodles and cabbage. i called it spongebob dinner and my kids liked it. which is rare and amazing.


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