Genius Recipes

A Genius, Entirely Inauthentic Risotto Made Out of Sunflower Seeds

January  6, 2016

Sunflower seeds, you're getting a promotion. No more will you be just the last stop at the salad bar, or the cheap filler in the spaces between pecans in our granola. You've always been a reliable source of protein and crunch, but truthfully, nonessential. An accent.

But there's this whole other thing you can do that nobody told us about! It turns out you're just like other nuts and seeds that we can soak, then blend into rich, magical dairy-free milks and creams. You've got this softer, gentler side that's surprisingly easy to lure out, sunflower seeds. I dig it. And we can cook you just like rice, too? What?

Photo by James Ransom

I'd heard rumors for years about the genius of nuts being treated like beans or grains and served as the base of a meal, not the garnish—the (apparently) top-secret pressure-cooked almonds served like beans at Torrisi, Blackberry Farm's peanuts boiled and seasoned baked bean-style, with an aggressive cupful of honey.

Photo by James Ransom

But none were ever so simple as this sunflower seed risotto technique from Sarah Britton at My New Roots. You won't need a pressure cooker, or to simmer or bake anything for hours. Sunflower seeds' teeny size comes in handy here, as does their economy.

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This is all you have to do, and it will set you back something like $6: Soak 2 cups of the seeds overnight, blend half with fresh water the next day to make a thick cream, simmer the other half with sautéed onions and garlic for 20 minutes, then combine the two. "The best things most often come out of the seemingly strange," Britton writes.

Photo by James Ransom

The cream floats and clings to all the little seeds, which are softened but still al dente, very much like properly-cooked grains of rice. The taste is savory and earthy and a little burly, and makes much more sense than you'd expect.

Photo by James Ransom

As inspiring as this rebirth is, the seedy risotto at this stage is also a downtrodden shade of beige. Which is where Britton adds another genius layer—she piles on a lot of colorful vegetables, whatever's at the market that excites her.

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Top Comment:
“It tastes like really good sunflower seeds. I like the name "girasolotto."”
— Gardener-cook

In the spring, she made it with young carrots and white asparagus; I pulled a surprisingly pastel assortment from the winter NYC Greenmarket: not-so-young carrots, Romanesco broccoli, and radishes, plus frozen peas, because frozen peas are always welcome.

But instead of trying to evenly chop, cook, and time the vegetables with the risotto, Britton simply blanches them in big chunks in succession in a single pot before piling them on top.

This jumble of freshness brightens the comforting, nutty slush in the bottom of the bowl—in shape, color, flavor, texture, and spirit. Then, to marry the two and shine them up even more, Britton swoops in with another layer of olive oil, crunchy salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

The first time I tried to recreate the beautiful scene from My New Roots from what she called both "Inspirational" and "Celebration" risotto, all I had was an aging sack of carrots and those trusty peas, and it looked like a meal for a preschooler. (I had better luck the second time, thanks to a little help from my friends.)

No matter how inspirational (or not) your scene is, this risotto will be a warming supper, a filling make-ahead lunch, a dinner party conversation starter. Way to go, sunflower seeds. I always knew I liked you.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thanks to Food52's Associate Editor Ali Slagle for this one!

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Gardener-cook April 1, 2017
This was one of my favorite techniques of 2016. It's a Godsend for those of us who control our blood sugar with the diet instead of medication, and because it is filling you don't need to eat much of it. The proper amount of salt is absolutely crucial to having it taste good, and nobody should get the idea that it tastes like rice. It tastes like really good sunflower seeds. I like the name "girasolotto."
djgibboni January 11, 2016
Lovely recipe, but not risotto. Risotto is made with "riso," rice. Gotta find another name. If it's made with barley ("orzo,"), it's orzotto. With "farro," farrotto. And so on. One of the commenters suggested "girasolotto," from "girasole," sunflower. Bit of a mouthful, but as good a name as any.
Risottogirl January 10, 2016
Just dreadful...waste of perfectly lovely organic sunflower seeds.
FatherPatrick P. January 10, 2016
Great recipe! Of course, it's not a risotto because it has no "riso" (Italian for "rice"). I propose that it be called "girasolotto", from the Italian word for sunflower (girasole).
Kristen M. January 10, 2016
I like it!
Jessi January 10, 2016
qont this be extremely calorie heavy?
Kristen M. January 10, 2016
It's not light, but it's also very filling and nourishing, so you don't need a terribly big bowl of it.
X January 19, 2016
I would say very high calorie. There's 50 calories in only 1 tablespoon of plain sunflower seeds. A half of cup would equal around 400 calories, and that's without the additional "sauce" made from more seeds, olive oil vegetables, etc. sounds interesting, but that's way too many calories for me to spend on just 1 meal, especially since it doesn't include anything else, i.e., bread, salad, maybe a glass of wine, etc.
Dessito January 10, 2016
I love sunflower seeds (roasted and salted, on their own), but as a risotto... Why?
Judith R. January 10, 2016
Made this two days ago. I don't think it belongs in the Genius category. Beyond bland, even with good vegetable stock. Chicken stock might help, too. I made a half batch, doctored it up after a few mouthfuls with good homemade basil pesto and a handful of Roman cheese. Ate half of the half batch and the rest went down the disposer. IMHO, make real risotto. Tat can be made deliciously vegan. First letdown I've had from this site, but nobody's perfect ;)
Kristen M. January 10, 2016
I'm sorry it wasn't up your alley—I actually loved it made with just water, and was surprised how appealing the flavor of the sunflower seeds was after simmering with the sauteed onions and garlic (and—very important—salt, to taste). The toppings make a big difference, too—especially the squeeze of lemon.
Smaug January 6, 2016
Don't know what kind of sunflowers these would be with "teeny" seeds. Also don't know what you'd make risotto with other than seeds.
Kristen M. January 9, 2016
You got me on the rice being seeds thing, oldunc. I updated the title. But I stand by teeny!
Smaug January 9, 2016
You must be getting them from some sort of weird hybrid sunflowers. Flax seeds are tiny. Poppy seeds are tinyish. Sunflower seeds are big. Mango seeds are humungous- and on through the coconuts...