Risotto is a rice dish that is common in Italy. It is made of arborio rice, stock, and an occasional white wine. In Italy, risotto is a delicacy and a common way of preparing rice.
Trying out new recipes is something I love doing. When I tried out risotto, I fell in love with the dish. So, whether it's your first time trying out risotto, or you are just curious if you can use any other type of grain when preparing it, I got you.
You can use various substitutes instead of arborio rice when preparing risotto. They are basmati rice, brown rice, pearled barley, sushi rice, Israeli couscous, quinoa, farro, and bulgar rice.
What grains can I use to make risotto?
I wish I knew sooner that you don’t necessarily need rice grains to make risotto. I say this because I used to go to great lengths to ensure I got arborio rice for this recipe.
Arborio rice can sometimes prove hard to find. In some states, it is also pricy, and sometimes we want something that we can afford.
It is generally found in Italy, thus the scarcity in some parts of the world. It is also known to grow in some states like Alaska.
Due to not always getting it in the stores, I was forced to look for alternatives. The good news is, I found plenty of them.
Risotto can be made with various grains and not necessarily rice grains. You can use farro and barley, to mention a few.
Avoid using hard grains like wheat since they won't deliver the creaminess required for the risotto.
Substitutes for arborio rice in risotto
We have already discovered that you can make risotto without arborio rice. Let's now dive into every substitute and see what makes it qualify.
1. Basmati Rice
Basmati rice is one of the most common types of rice. Even if you lack anything else in this list, which doubt, basmati rice is always available. It is a long-grain that is gluten-free.
The end goal is to come up with a creamy dish. Basmati rice is not as creamy as arborio rice. For that reason, you need to add some pumpkin broth to make it creamier.
Alternatively, it might be enough to form a firm creamy base for your risotto if you are using stock. Basmati rice is rich in starch, although arborio rice is richer.
2. Brown Rice
Brown rice is not as processed as white rice. Only the outer hardcover, commonly known as the haul, is removed during its processing.
The germ and bran are left intact. These have a variety of nutrients that are helpful to your body. It is full of starch and other nutrients. Doctors recommend it to diabetic people because it has low sugar levels.
If you consider eating healthy, brown rice is an excellent substitute for arborio rice when making risotto.
Personally, brown rice has a smell and flavor that puts me off. But then again, my family enjoys it, and so I find myself using it more than I would wish.
If you are diabetic or you want a healthy alternative, brown rice will be a good choice.
3. Pearled Barley
Pearled barley is processed barley. The hard outer layer is removed during processing, and then it's polished to remove some of the bran. As a result, it has a vast volume of nutrients, and it is one of the best substitutes for arborio rice in risotto.
If you are wondering why you should use the pealed barley and not the hulled barley, read on. Pearled barley is more processed than hulled barley. As a result, it takes a shorter period to cook than hulled barley, which is not processed. It is also less chewy than hulled barley.
For the risotto, you want something creamy and chewy but not so tough that it will take forever in your mouth.
Another reason pearled barley is better than hulled barley is that it is creamier upon cooking. Remember, for your risotto; you will want to use something light to get the desired results.
4. Sushi Rice
Sushi rice is the rice that is commonly used in making sushi. Sushi rice is a short-grain rich in starch and other nutrients.
If you cannot afford arborio rice or live in a place where getting arborio rice is a hustle, you can opt to use sushi rice.
It is crucial that you don’t rinse the rice when using it to prepare risotto. Washing the rice might eliminate a considerable amount of starch, which can negatively affect your risotto.
Avoid overcooking sushi rice. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. If you overcook it, it will be steaky and not in a good way. Sushi rice cooks fast, so you should ensure you time it correctly.
5. Israeli Couscous
Israeli couscous is a granule that looks like pasta but is small and round-shaped. It is made from mixing semolina, wheat flour, and water. It differs from true couscous in that it is softer, bigger, and chewy.
You can cook Israeli couscous as you cook your rice. However, it would help if you were careful of the water ratio as you don’t want to go overboard.
Or, you can cook it the way I cook it, like pasta. Drain excess liquids (i say liquids because you can use water or broth for cooking it), then continue with the process of cooking your risotto.
The Israeli couscous is a good substitute for arborio rice in risotto because it is easy to cook, has a chewy texture, and takes little time.
Farro is a common substitute for arborio rice when preparing risotto. It is a hulled grain meaning it has its bran intact. The bran helps the grain trap moisture, which will make it creamier when it finishes cooking.
Farro is preferred because it has a nutty flavor that will make your risotto smell and taste good. It also cooks in under thirty minutes, and you don’t have to soak it first.
Sometimes, you need a quick fix. In those times, you will want to use farro for risotto.
Quinoa is a South American grain that is grown in the Andes mountains. Quinoa is rich in proteins more than any other grain on this list.
Even if it lacks starch, it is the replacement you can consider using for your risotto if you don’t have arborio rice.
I don’t use it as much since I need my risotto to be creamy and a bit chewy. But I found a solution to that. I realized if I add milk or yogurt to the quinoa, it becomes creamier. It is the last substitute I would use when making risotto.
Even so, it is a viable substitute, and if you lack anything else you can use for risotto, you can use it.
8. Bulgur Wheat
If you want to start eating healthy, bulgur wheat is the way to go. It is cholesterol-free, has a massive fiber volume, and is fat-free. It is also highly nutritious and has various amino acids. What more could you be looking for?
It is made from grinding dried par-boiled wheat berries. As a result, it makes it easier and faster to cook. You can either boil bulgur wheat or steam it. Either way, it will yield you excellent risotto that is highly nutritious.
It is known as crackled wheat in the United States of America due to how it looks and the process used to make it.
Why is arborio rice unique?
As mentioned above, this grain of rice is commonly grown in Italy. It is named after a town in Italy. Arborio town, in PO valley.
It is short grain and at its longest is at least medium. When cooked, it is creamy, which is a quality that makes it perfect for risotto. It is rich in starch and is firmer and chewer than most rice grains.
All these are what make arborio rice the preferred choice when making risotto.
Risotto is one of those dishes you want to keep on making. Since I discovered it, it has become a regular meal in my house. Even if I use arborio rice mostly, sometimes I like to substitute it.
Whether it's your first-time making risotto or just realizing you wanted to make risotto and you don’t have arborio rice, the above substitutes are excellent.
All of them are nutritious, and some of them have very welcoming flavors. Take farro and bulgur wheat; for example, they have a nutty flavor that makes your risotto sweeter.
Now that you know the substitutes you can use to make risotto go ahead and try them to know which one works best for use. All the replacements in this list are locally available, so it will not be a huge struggle. All the best.