Spring Fresh Quinoa Pea Risotto With Roasted Asparagus & Fennel

I hope you will celebrate spring with me with my vibrant fresh quinoa, pea, and asparagus risotto! Cooking has been a longtime passion of mine. I love to create new recipes, but also enjoy tweaking the classics—like risotto—to give them a healthier value without sacrificing taste.

I am so looking forward to all things spring, aren't you? New beginnings, flowers, spring vegetables, and even pre-bikini detoxing! The great news is that this risotto dish can be enjoyed even while you’re detoxing. What? Risotto and detox? Not impossible when you swap classic rice for quinoa. (To my Italian friends: I know risotto is rice, but please bear with me when I mean the "Italian rice dish”...and I still do really love the classic carnaroli risotto too, but life and the kitchen are more fun with options, right?)

I think asparagus is really one of the stars of spring produce with its eager spears shooting out of the earth (have you ever seen this? such a miracle of nature!), so I’m harnessing its stellar power for this dish—together with bright, sweet peas. And this recipe combines two of my favorite ways to eat asparagus: either simply roasted with a little coconut oil, sea or Himalayan salt, and garlic, or made into a delicious, creamy risotto. The difference is, I’ve modified my risotto recipe to use activated quinoa so it packs so much more body-loving protein and overall nutrition. This also makes it much lighter and easier to digest than classic carnaroli or arborio rice. The method is pretty easy if you’re used to classic risotto. I cook my quinoa version more or less how I cook the classic recipe. I start with my own rich and flavorful shiitake mushroom vegetable broth so I can make use of the remnant asparagus ends and add dimension and nutrients to the whole dish. I also prefer to separately roast the asparagus tips, and to keep the veggies bright, I wait until the very end of cooking the risotto before I toss in the thinly sliced asparagus. I paired the risotto with some gorgeous fennel from my garden, but it can be omitted if you don’t like or have fennel.

This separation of cooking methods requires a bit more effort, but it’s worth it. You’ll save time and energy cooking the quinoa phase because it cooks a bit more quickly and is less sensitive than the rice version, leaving you more time to roast the vegetables at the same time.

Note: I use ghee with its high smoke point for this recipe, but coconut oil is a good substitute if you’re completely dairy free.

I hope you enjoy it! To your health and happiness! xx, Juli

Swap rice for quinoa for this lighter, healthier risotto.

Spring Fresh Quinoa & Pea Risotto (serves 4)

For the risotto

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 leek, trimmed and diced
  • 2 ribs celery, minced
  • 3 tbsp ghee (or coconut oil if you prefer, but I really recommend ghee for the depth of flavor)
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed (preferably activated by soaking for at least 4 hours)
  • 400 ml dry white wine
  • 2 - 3 cups of mushroom vegetable broth (see recipe below)
  • 2 bundles (about 24 spears) asparagus, tips removed and set aside to roast and spears thinly sliced at an angle
  • 2 cups peas (frozen or fresh)
  • sea or Himalayan salt to taste
  • coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • parsley, mint, and rucola for garnish, chopped
  1. In a pot over low-medium heat, sauté the garlic and shallot until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add the leek and celery and continue to cook until translucent.
  3. Add the quinoa and mix until it’s well coated. Stir gently, but continuously to prevent it from sticking.
  4. Add a bit more ghee or coconut oil as needed.
  5. Add the white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan.
  6. Turn the heat up a notch.
  7. When the wine is mostly absorbed, turn down the heat to low-medium and add the broth one ladle at a time. (I prefer my quinoa risotto with a tiny bite, so I tend to use about 3/4 cups of broth per 1 cup of quinoa. You will need more broth if you are not using activated/soaked quinoa.)
  8. While the risotto is absorbing the broth, steam the peas until they’re tender, but not mushy. Set aside until ready to add to risotto.
  9. Keep stirring the quinoa so it doesn’t stick. You will have to watch it, but not as carefully as if it were "rice" risotto.
  10. Season with salt and pepper one final time.
  11. About 3 minutes before the risotto is finished cooking, toss in the thinly sliced asparagus.
  12. Combine well so the asparagus has a chance to cook. I like the asparagus to be just tender, but still retain its color with a tiny crunch.
  13. Toss in most of the steamed peas, but save a small handful to add to the serving plate as garnish.
  14. Squeeze a bit of fresh lemon juice and garnish with herbs—I like fresh mint, parsley, and even a bit of the rucola from my garden.

Homemade shiitake mushroom vegetable broth for your risotto.

For the shiitake mushroom vegetable broth (to be made in advance, at least 3 hours)

  • 4 shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried), quartered
  • 1 celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • handful of asparagus ends (the remnant woody ends)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  1. Simmer ingredients until you have a rich and flavorful broth. I simmer for about 3 hours.

For the roasted asparagus and fennel

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 C.
  2. Brush the asparagus tips and fennel with coconut oil, season with salt, and add the garlic.
  3. Roast the fennel for about 10 minutes, then add the asparagus tips.
  4. Roast until veggies are golden. About 20 more minutes.