This is a recipe for a Pearl Barley Soup filled with lots of vegetables that’s clean, nutritious and (yet!) oh-so-tasty. The chewy, nutty barley makes it so much more interesting than using just pasta or rice.
It’s also great base recipe to make your own soup. Follow my cooking method and broth flavourings, then mix and match your vegetables to suit your cravings – or fridge contents!
Pearl Barley Soup
How many times have you walked past a packet of pearl barley at the grocery store and not given it a thought? Next time, pick up a packet! Pearl barley is cheap, easy to cook and makes for a much more flavoursome addition into soups and salads rather than the usual rice or pasta.
So today, a Barley Soup! Simple to make, clean-flavoured and filled with nourishing veggies, the little trick that elevates the taste here is sautéing a small amount of herbs and spices for the soup. It really makes the flavour bloom. You will be surprised!
Pearl barley is a nutty, chewy whole grain that’s much tastier and nutritious than boring old pasta or rice!
Ingredients in Barley Soup
Here’s what goes in this Barley Soup:
1. Barley and broth flavourings
Pearl barley – Tasty whole grains have a nutty flavour and chewy texture that heightens the eating experience of this otherwise simple soup. Find it in the soup or grain aisle at the grocery store, alongside dried beans usually.
Not to be confused with HULLED barley which is tougher and takes longer to cook. Hulled barley has only had the outer hull removed. Pearl barley has had the hull as well as some of the bran removed, resulting in a grain which is paler, cooks faster, and is less chewy. Pearl barley is what we are using today.
Vegetable stock/broth – Homemade is so simple to make, it’s really worth making your own! Otherwise, store-bought is still decent and fine to use.
Bay leaves and thyme – The herbs. Fresh will bring better flavour to the soup but dried works too.
Ground coriander and fennel seeds – We’re just using 1/4 teaspoon of each here which isn’t much, but it’s enough to add a little something-something to the flavour of the broth that makes people wonder why is this so tasty?! As mentioned above, sautéing the herbs and spices is the trick here which brings out the flavour. 🙂
2. The Veggies
Oops, onion is missing! If I had better Photoshop skills, I’d draw one in. 😂
Onion – Putting this first because it’s missing from the photo! Just your usual everyday brown or white onion.
Garlic – Because rarely do any savoury recipes happen around here without garlic.
Veggie add-ins – I’ve used carrots, celery, mushrooms and swedes here (rutabaga in the US). But if you’re looking to make it your own, you can use any vegetables that can sustain a 35 minute simmering time. For faster-cooking vegetables (like asparagus), sauté them first, remove, then add them back in towards the end of the cook time.
For instantly wilt-able greens like baby spinach, just throw them in at the end.
Swedes? Just in case you aren’t familiar with swedes, they’re a bit like turnips and when cooked are sweet, soft and have an earthy, carrot-y and pumpkin-like flavour. Called rutabaga in the US, they are easy to peel with a standard vegetable peeler. They bring something a little different to the soup. Best substitutes for similar texture would be turnips, parsnips, celeriac or potatoes.
Parsley – A good handful to stir in at the end for a nice hit of freshness (colour and flavour).
How to make Barley Soup
This is super simple to make:
Sauté vegetables – Heat the oil then sauté all the vegetables for 5 minutes to soften. Just put them all in at the same time – onion, garlic, carrots, celery, mushrooms and swede. They won’t go golden, we just want to cook them to get some nice garlicky flavour and a little colour on the outside before we simmer.
Sauté herbs and spices – Add the thyme, bay leaves, coriander, fennel, salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Cooking them like this rather than throwing them into the broth adds more flavour into the soup because toasting the spices blooms the flavour!
This is a neat flavour trick you can adapt for many recipes. I do it quite regularly in recipes, from chickpea Chana Aloo Curry to the Almost-Zero-Weight-Watchers-Points Cabbage Soup (which needs every flavour helping hand it can get!).
Barley – Rinse the barley in a colander just under tap water, then leave it for a few minutes to drain before using. Then add barley and vegetables stock into the pot, then give it a good stir
Simmer 35 minutes on medium heat or until the pearl barley is cooked through. Pearl barley does not soften completely like overcooked pasta. It retains a bit of a chew to it which is what makes it so good! You will know straight away with one taste if it’s cooked through because raw pearl barley is hard like raw rice.
Stir in parsley just before serving.
Serve! Hopefully with crusty bread. 😇 (Slathered generously with butter!)
Storing leftover Pearl Barley Soup
As with all soups with starches such as rice or pasta, the barley will continue to absorb the stock when left overnight. It will become softer than ideal and thicken the soup considerably, not to mention the loss of all the soup broth!!
So to store leftovers, it is best to separate the broth. I use a strainer, though you could just use a slotted spoon to scoop out all the solids. We don’t need to be 100% meticulous here!
I just arrived at the end of the post, prepared to write about what to serve with Barley Soup like I do for most other dishes. But there’s no need! This is a lovely complete meal in one big pot. It’s full of nutritious veggies with enough tasty starch to give you energy and keep you full.
And I just realised, not only is this vegetarian, it’s vegan too. Yay vegans! – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
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Pearl Barley Soup
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 onion , finely diced
- 2 small or 1 large carrot (~200g/7oz), peeled, chopped into 1cm / 0.4" cubes
- 2 celery stems , chopped into 1cm / 0.4″ cubes
- 2 small or 1 medium swede (US: rutabaga), peeled, chopped into 1cm / 0.4" cubes (~200g, Note 1)
- 150g / 5 oz white mushrooms , cut in 4 (larger ones cut into 6 or 8)
- 2 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 1/2 tsp fresh thyme , chopped (or 1/4 tsp dried)
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground fennel
- 2 fresh bay leaves (or 1 dried)
- 1 3/4 tsp cooking/kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup pearl barley , NOT hulled barley (Note 2)
- 1.75 litres / quarts vegetable stock , preferably homemade (it's so easy!) else low sodium store bought
- 1 cup fresh parsley leaves
- Rinse barley in a colander with cold tap water. Leave to drain for several minutes.
- Sauté veg 5 minutes: Heat olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery, swede, mushrooms and garlic (yes, all at once!). Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Sauté herbs/spices: Add thyme, coriander, fennel, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Cook for 1 minute.
- Simmer 35 minutes: Add pearl barley and vegetable stock. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer for 35 minutes until barley is cooked. It will have a nice chew to it but should not have a hard centre like uncooked rice.
- Stir in parsley: Stir in parsley leaves. Ladle into bowls and serve!
- Strain soup (or use slotted spoon), store vegetables/barley separate from soup broth. Otherwise the barley will soak up all the liquid!
Souped up! More hearty soup recipes
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