Make this hearty vegetable barley soup for a cozy, healthy, texture-loaded vegetarian (and vegan!) dinner. It’s easy to make and cooks in just 30 minutes, all in one pot!
We have a rule for vegetarian soups around here: they cannot be boring. They must have texture. And they must be bursting with flavor. So when you start questioning whether or not vegetable soup really makes the cut…let me tell you, it’s absolutely worthy of a comforting dinner.
It’s also super dietary friendly – this soup is not only vegetarian, but it’s vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and super customizable!
What is Barley?
Barley is a hearty short whole grain that has a chewy texture and is a good source of many nutrients, making it a healthy addition to soups, stews, and grain salads. Barley comes in several forms, and for this recipe it’s important to use pearled barley which is dehulled, meaning the outer hull has been removed for faster cooking and easier digestion.
You can find pearl barley in the grain section of your grocery store near the rice and dried beans. It’s budget-friendly too, and shouldn’t cost more than a couple of dollars for an entire bag.
Do I need to Soak or Cook the Barley?
In this vegetable soup, you do not need to soak or precook the barley, as long as you’re using pearl barley. The barley simply cooks with the soup ingredients and does not require soaking.
Vegetable Soup Ingredients
In addition to pearl barley, there are a whole lot of vegetables in this soup. You can absolutely substitute the vegetables you have on hand, too, noting different cook times below.
Here’s what you’ll need to make this version of barley veggie soup:
- Mirepoix: a mixture of diced onion, carrot, and celery, which gives the soup a lovely, flavorful base.
- Yukon Gold Potatoes: I recommend using this variety of potatoes because they require no peeling with their tender, waxy skin and hold their texture when simmered in soup. You could substitute russet potatoes if needed.
- Garlic: of course!
- Tomato Paste: provides a rich umami-ness to the soup.
- Spices, Salt, and Pepper: adding a little dried basil and oregano (you could also use an Italian Herb blend), white pepper for kick, and bay leaf for depth
- Chopped Fresh Parsley: adds brightness
- Diced Tomatoes: a traditional vegetable soup would be amiss without tomatoes!
- Vegetable Stock: the base liquid of the soup, it adds a lot of flavor to the soup, so I don’t recommend using water. You can also use a bullion base to make the stock if needed.
- Frozen Veggies: I like adding frozen corn, peas, and green beans for additional texture and heartiness.
If you can’t find pearl barley or would like to substitute with another grain already in your pantry, you can do so. You can use farro or wheat berries for an alternate hearty grain, or add in rice, or even a small pasta. Be sure to take note of the cook time if you are substituting a grain, as it will then vary!
Feel free to mix and match the vegetables as mentioned, and here are some guidelines for the veggies I recommend:
- Leeks in addition or in place of yellow onion.
- Mushrooms: add with the mirepoix and allow the mushrooms to release most of their liquid before continuing with the other veggies.
- Butternut Squash: add with the mirepoix as it will take longer to cook. Make sure it’s diced small and even for the most efficient cooking.
- Zucchini or Yellow Squash: add with the spices and saute a minute before adding the tomatoes.
- Kale or Spinach: wilt either in the soup towards the end of the cooking process. Kale will take a little longer to wilt than spinach.
- Beans: I would use canned beans for ease. Feel free to add chickpeas (garbanzo) beans, white beans, black beans, or even kidney beans. All add an extra boost of protein!
Do note that when adding additional vegetables or using an alternate grain, you may need to adjust the amount of liquid you use. If you are adding a substantial amount of additional vegetables, you will definitely need to add more broth.
How to Make Vegetable Soup
This soup is really easy to make and all comes together in one pan (ah, the beauty of homemade soup!). Barley can take a while to cook depending on how it’s simmered or boiled in the broth. I have had it at the perfect al dente chewiness point at 15 minutes, and other times it’s taken about 25 minutes on a lower simmer.
So that being said, this soup does come together in 40 minutes or less depending on that barley. You can’t argue with all the hands-off cooking time though!
Saute the Mirepoix
First, start by sauteeing the mirepoix mixture of onion, celery, and carrots in olive oil. As always, I recommend adding a pinch of salt to begin layering in the flavor, which also helps bring out the flavor in the veggies, especially as they “sweat”.
I also like to add a pinch of red pepper flakes for depth, and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. This is definitely on a preference basis!
Add the Vegetables
Continue layering in the vegetables. Next go the diced potatoes, as they take a little longer to cook. Then add in the garlic, herbs, and spices. Stir in the tomato paste and allow it to cook for a minute to develop a deep, rich flavor.
Then stir in the diced tomatoes along with their juice, the vegetable stock, and barley. Stir until it’s combined, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, cooking for about 20-25 minutes (sometimes as quick as 15 or up to 30 depending on your simmer) until the barley is tender, yet still chewy.
Add the frozen vegetables once the barley is almost cooked, and simmer for a minute or two until they are heated through. Stir in the fresh parsley, and as always, be sure to taste test for the salt level (adding salt throughout the cooking process!).
What to Serve with Soup
My all-time favorite thing to serve with soup is thick, crusty bread. If you’re lucky to have homemade sourdough bread on hand, don’t skip it! Otherwise homemade flatbread or socca is a delicious pairing, and cornbread with whipped honey butter would also be delicious.
Storage and Freezing Barley Soup
To store leftover soup, place it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. It does thicken as it cools, so to reheat I recommend adding additional water or vegetable stock, then reheating in the microwave or stovetop.
To freeze, place in a freezer-safe container with room for expansion – or use Souper Cubes for even easier freezing and thawing! Again, you may need to add additional liquid when reheating depending on your preferences. Thaw in the microwave or on the stovetop.
One Pot Vegetable Barley Soup
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced (1 medium)
- 1 cup carrots, diced (2-3 whole carrots)
- 1 cup celery, diced (2 stalks)
- ½ pound yukon gold potatoes, about 2 medium
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- Bay leaf
- 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 cup frozen corn
- 1 cup frozen green beans
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and sautee for 3-4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, if using.
- Add the potatoes and cook for 2 additional minutes, then add the garlic, dried herbs, white pepper, and bay leaf; cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a minute, then add the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, and barley.
- Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for approximately 20-25 minutes until the barley is tender, yet still chewy.
- Add the frozen vegetables and cook for 1-2 minutes until thawed. Remove the bay leaf and stir in parsley. Serve and enjoy. Don't forget to add salt throughout, and be sure to taste test to make sure there is enough.
- If needed, add additional broth; the soup will thicken as it sits and cools. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge, or freeze.
Disclaimer: The nutritional information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.