Sunflower seed risotto? This creamy vegan “risotto” is made without rice, but with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and roasted asparagus! Healthy and so delicious.

As a dietitian, I love thinking of creative ways to get more whole plant foods into your diet. This philosophy is at the heart of my cookbooks Eat More Plants and Good For Your Gut. It’s why I create nourishing plant-based recipes on this blog. So the first time I tried a sunflower seed risotto, I thought that it was just such a clever use of these nutrient-dense seeds that most of us don’t eat enough of, I wanted to try my own take on the recipe! It’s vegan, gluten free and nut free too.

It’s easier to create plant-powered healthy, gluten free dishes than you think. Eat More Plants is 100% gluten free and more than half the recipes in Good For Your Gut are too. But I don’t do it for the reason you might think: unless you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten isn’t actually bad for you.

sunflower seed risotto with asparagus

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I create a lot of gluten free recipes because I got my start as a gut health dietitian caring for a lot of folks with these conditions, as well as irritable bowel syndrome, where gluten-containing grains also contain FODMAPs which can make IBS symptoms worse. It’s not the gluten. So I want to show people who need to avoid gluten or gluten containing grains that they can still enjoy a beautiful variety of delicious, plant-based foods that help them get more fiber in their diet, which is often lacking when you go gluten free.

Is risotto gluten free?

Because it is made with rice, generally speaking a risotto should be gluten free. If you have celiac disease, always double check because there could be non-traditional additions such as flour for thickening or a seasoning mix that isn’t gluten free.

Is risotto vegan?

Most standard risotto recipes are not vegan, because of a liberal use of cheese and butter. However, risotto is very easy to veganize! For this sunflower seed risotto, it’s creamy texture comes from tahini, which is made from sesame seeds rich in calcium and one of my favourite vegan ingredients.

Can you make risotto without rice?

Before we go any further, I need to clarify: I have nothing against grains. I eat grains every day, at most of my meals. Don’t believe the internet: whole grains are totally healthy. Fibre rich and filled with minerals like iron and plant-based protein (yes, protein!) – no matter what your dietary needs, there is a delicious and nutritious whole grain that deserves to be a part of your diet.

It’s just that most of us are really, really good at eating grains but not as good about eating, say, vegetables or seeds. So every once in a while, it’s great to switch it up so you can enjoy the variety of textures, flavours and yes, nutrition, found in the plant world.

So yes, you can totally make a risotto-like dish without rice. You can make it with sunflower seeds. You can also make it with farro. Or millet. And probably a million more varieties I just haven’t thought of yet. It’s really about getting that texture of something tender yet chewy in a creamy, not too soup-y, sauce which is why I created this sunflower seed risotto.

What is a sunflower seed risotto?

I have tried some amazingly delicious sunflower seed risottos in restaurants and really wanted to try it myself at home. I didn’t expect it would be this easy.

In doing some research, there weren’t a lot of recipes out there and the only blog I found with a great recipe was My New Roots…so I wanted to put my own unique spin on the dish.

I did it by making my risotto a triple threat: not just sunflower seeds but zinc-rich pumpkin seeds and calcium-rich tahini. Because we all know how to put tahini in a salad dressing, but what about making actual food with it?

What makes this version different is that you don’t have the uniform, bitty, soft texture that 100% sunflower seeds provide but I am totally okay with that. I love the extra texture of pumpkin seeds and the tahini packs this dish with creamy, umami goodness. Seasoning totally makes this dish so be sure to taste – and season – well with salt.

Give it a try with whatever veggies are in season. Asparagus are lovely in the spring, but for a fall or winter option try mushrooms or butternut squash. YUM!

Sunflower Seed Risotto Ingredients

This lovely nutrient-dense meal comes together with fewer than 10 ingredients! This sunflower seed risotto takes a bit of prep because you want to soak the seeds in advance, but you might be surprised that you can make this meal – including the roasted asparagus – in just 45 minutes! You don’t need any special equipment and you also don’t need to stand over the pot, ladling in stock for a half hour so it’s actually weeknight doable .

  • raw sunflower seeds
  • raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • yellow onion
  • garlic
  • asparagus
  • vegetable stock or better than bouillon vegetarian chicken concentrate
  • tahini
  • lemon juice
  • sesame oil

What are the health benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are surprisingly nutritious: a quarter cup of shelled seeds has 7 grams of plant-based protein, 3 grams of fiber and plenty of micronutrients like almost 2 mg each of iron and zinc, 115 mg of magnesium, plus 19 micrograms of selenium. Minerals are super important, particularly to those on a plant-based diet.

More sunflower seed recipes

Creamy Sunflower Seed Risotto (Vegan)

This creamy vegan "risotto" is made without rice, but with sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and roasted asparagus! Healthy and so delicious.
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  • 1 large bunch of asparagus , (about 20 stalks)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, micro grated or crushed
  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable stock, or 2 teaspoons (5 mL) better than bouillon vegetarian chicken plus 2 cups water
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, soaked for 4 – 8 hours
  • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds, soaked for 4 – 8 hours
  • ½ cup well-stirred tahini
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil , plus more for roasting
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
  • dash sesame oil
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly cracked pepper, to taste


  • Soaking hack: soak in the morning so you're ready to make dinner at night! Drain and rinse soaked seeds well before using.
  • When you're ready to cook, start by prepping the asparagus: preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • Wash asparagus and trim ends. Place on cookie sheet and toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 15-30 minutes, watching for desired doneness. You want them to soften, get a bit roasty but to stay vibrant and not look too wilted. How long it takes depends on how large the asparagusare. When done, leave whole or slice into 2 inch pieces and set aside.
  • For the risotto, heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large rimmed skillet or a medium pot over medium heat. Saute the onion until translucent and glossy, about five to seven minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add soaked seeds, along with stock or water + bouillon concentrate. Turn heat to medium-low, stir, cover the pot and simmer the seeds for 20 minutes.
  • Remove cover, stir and simmer for another ten minutes. Remove from heat. Most of the liquid will have been absorbed but not all…don't worry, it will come together with the tahini sauce!
  • In a small jar, mix together the tahini with lemon juice, sesame oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Stir tahini sauce into risotto, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, sesame oil and lemon juice (I like a lot of lemon!) and serve with asparagus.

Photo Credit: Melissa Quantz