Do you ever feel that you have to miss out on some of your favorite foods just because you can’t eat certain foods or ingredients? It can be so difficult to say no to certain foods you know you love when, at the same time, you know you will feel SO MUCH BETTER if you just don’t eat it. The struggle is real, I know!
Risotto is a food I fell in love with at first bite, and I was determined to keep eating it even though I no longer eat dairy. So, I put on my recipe developing hat and came up with this Dairy Free Asparagus Risotto, and it hits the spot every time I make it!
What is a food you wish you could eat but have to say no to because of food intolerances or allergies? Tell me in the comments so I can try to come up with a recipe that does work for you!
What is Risotto
If you’ve never had risotto before, let me tell you what you’re missing! Risotto is a traditional Italian side dish and can be flavored in so many different ways. The basic version is loaded with butter and Parmesan cheese, and while that may be fine for many people, it’s not fine if you can’t eat dairy!
Risotto is made with rice, and I know, you may be wondering why it’s a traditional Italian dish since Italy is most known for pasta! I don’t usually think of Italy as a rice producing country, however, the climate there is perfect for growing short grain rice, which is the type of rice that’s used to make risotto. Since the Italians were growing rice, they naturally figured out a way to make it taste amazing, like they do with all the other food they produce! Risotto was the result, and I’m sure glad they took the time to figure it out!
The texture of risotto is what really sets it apart from other rice dishes. Usually the goal of making rice is to end up with perfectly tender cooked grains of rice that are light and fluffy and really don’t stick together when you give the rice a stir.
With risotto, on the other hand, the goal is to get a creamy consistency with rice grains that are on the brink of being tender but aren’t quite there yet. This texture is known as “toothy” or “al dente”. You may have heard these terms associated with pasta – it’s the same level of doneness where you might think the pasta needs another 30 to 60 seconds of cooking before it’s really “done”.
The best way to describe traditional risotto is to think of a rich, thick alfredo like sauce mixed with rice. That’s pretty much what you’re going for with risotto. If you’re not prepared for the texture and consistency, it can be surprising at first, but after a few bites, I think you’ll love it!
How to Cook Risotto
Cooking risotto is COMPLETELY different than cooking regular rice. As you may know, with regular rice, you cook the rice in barely simmering water in a covered saucepan until all the liquid is absorbed, and for the love of Sweet Jesus you’d better not uncover that saucepan while the rice is cooking.
With risotto, the rice is cooked in an UNCOVERED saucepan (what?!?) and you GRADUALLY add the cooking liquid as the rice cooks, which allows the rice grains to absorb the liquid slowly. This way of cooking the rice makes sure that the risotto doesn’t turn into a gloppy, mushy mess. It allows the individual rice grains to cook separately, which is the goal.
You DON’T want the rice grains to stick together until the very end when you add the creamy element (which is usually cream, butter and Parmesan cheese, but not in the case of this Dairy Free Asparagus Risotto!), which will then hold the rice grains together. This is why you can feel the individual grains of rice as you’re eating risotto even the whole dish has a rich, creamy consistency. Make sense?
Tips for Making Perfect Risotto
When I worked in the Better Homes and Gardens test kitchen, I tested plenty of risotto recipes in my 7+ years of working there. Here are some tips for making perfect risotto that I learned along the way:
- Rice Matters: make sure you use a short grain rice, such as Arborio or Carnaroli. Short grain rice is usually fatter/more plump than long-grain rice, which is why it cooks so perfectly in risotto. Long-grain rice would get too tender, too quickly if you used it for risotto.
- Skip the Rinse: if you’re in the habit of rinsing long-grain rice before cooking it to remove the starch that clings to the outsides of the rice grains, you can skip that step when making risotto. A good risotto will benefit from the extra starch that’s on the rice grains because this starch helps make a creamier risotto.
- Toast the Rice: One of the first steps of making perfect risotto is to toast the rice by cooking the dry rice in hot oil in the pan. This browns the rice a bit and adds really good flavor!
- Take it Slow: don’t rush the cooking process of risotto. You want the liquid to be barely boiling during the cooking process. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the gentle boil. Also, don’t add the next ladle of liquid until the previous liquid is totally absorbed, and resist the urge to add more liquid than called for at one time.
- Test Doneness Early: In the recipe below, I’ve given the timings that worked well for me, however, burners vary and different saucepans conduct heat at different levels, which means that your rice may take more or less time than mine to finish cooking. Test the rice early to make sure it’s on the right track and to make sure it doesn’t overcook.
- Risotto is Selfish: Risotto likes to be the center of attention, so make sure any food you are serving with the risotto is ready to eat before the risotto is finished. And make sure the people you’re eating with are ready to sit down right when the risotto is ready! Risotto doesn’t like to sit around, and the texture will suffer the longer it sits before you eat. The rice will continue to absorb the saucy liquid it’s sitting in, which can make the risotto turn into a thick, gloppy, mushy mess. No one wants that, so treat risotto like the center of attention that it is, and make sure you eat it right after it’s finished!
Now that you know more about risotto than you knew you needed (ha, ha!), give this Dairy Free Asparagus Risotto a try, and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!
Dairy Free Asparagus Risotto How-To Photos:
Dairy Free Asparagus Risotto
- ½ cup raw unsalted cashews
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1/3 cup water
- 4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
- 1 cup Arborio or carnaroli rice (do not rinse)
- ½ cup chopped shallot or onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup lower-sodium chicken broth
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup dry white wine (such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio)
- 8 ounces fresh asparagus (about half a bunch), trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- ½ cup refrigerated unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- Chopped fresh chives (optional)
- Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
- In a medium bowl combine cashews and 1 ½ cups water. Cover; let stand at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours (for a quicker soak, use very hot water; soak the cashews for at least 2 hours). Drain and rinse cashews; drain well. In a blender combine drained cashews, 1/3 cup water and the nutritional yeast. Cover; blend until very smooth. Set aside.
- In a 6-quart heavy pot or large heavy skillet, cook rice and shallot in hot oil over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes or until rice just starts to turn brown, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, combine 2 cups water and the broth in a microwave-safe glass measuring bowl. Microwave on 100% power (high) for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is just boiling. Set aside.
- Add garlic to rice. Carefully add wine. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until wine is completely absorbed, stirring frequently.
- Start a timer for 18 minutes. Add about 2/3 cup of the hot broth mixture to the rice; cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until liquid is almost completely absorbed (adjust heat as needed to maintain a very gentle boil). Repeat adding hot broth mixture to rice, 2/3 cup at a time, stirring frequently and allowing liquid to absorb before adding more. Continue this until the 18 minute timer is about finished (at this point you should have about 1 cup of broth mixture left).
- Stir in the asparagus and another 2/3 cup broth mixture. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes more or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Taste the rice to check doneness. If it is almost tender but has a little chewiness in the center, do not add any more broth mixture (discard the remaining broth mixture). If it is not close to being tender, add another 1/3 to ½ cup of the broth mixture and cook until that liquid is absorbed. Then check it again and continue this until the rice is almost tender but still a little chewy in the center (do not overcook; the rice will continue to cook and absorb liquid as it cools and it’s easy to overcook the rice).
- Whisk together cashew cream, coconut milk, and salt in a medium bowl; add to the rice. Cook and stir for 1 minute over low heat. Immediately remove pot from the heat. Transfer risotto to a serving bowl. If desired, sprinkle the top with chives and fresh pepper. Serve immediately.
6 to 8 servings (1/2 to 2/3 cup per serving)