You will not miss the meat in this hearty, healthy vegetable barley soup with fiber and protein-rich beans.
I make a big batch and serve it as a meal-in-a-bowl for lunch all week. The best…
I use onions, carrots, celery, butternut squash and spinach, but feel free to throw in whatever you have lying around in your fridge. There’s no need to worry about the exact amounts of vegetables in the recipe.
Normally I would make this hearty vegetable barley soup recipe with beef as in our Beef Barley Vegetable Soup, but I was determined to make a veggie barley soup version for Jenna (the other kook) who spends all her time worrying about the nutrition of her toddler rather than herself.
The end result is a healthy, hearty vegetable soup with lots of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals – a complete vegetarian meal in a bowl – the whole family will love. Thick, comforting and full of rich flavor.
I love eating it with warm bread slathered with butter. For me, that makes it a complete and satisfying meal on its own. A perfect Fall or Winter soup recipe.
Tailor To Your Taste
This simple soup is totally adaptable to your preferences and what you have on hand. Here are several variations and substitutions you can use.
- In addition to (or to replace) the carrots, butternut squash and spinach, other good options are parsnips, celeriac, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes. A great way to use up those limp fresh veggies in your fridge.
- You can also sauté mushrooms or celery with the onions.
- Or try adding cauliflower, a bell pepper or zucchini about 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
- Try other seasonings you might prefer such as oregano, bay leaves or celery salt.
- Pearl barley or pearled barley is the most commonly sold barley in a grocery store. It is filling and has a slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture. The outer husk and bran layer is stripped away, so it’s not quite as healthy as hulled barley and not considered a whole grain.
- You can use either type of barley in the recipe. Hulled barley will need at least 1 hour (or more) of cooking time. Pearly barley will need about 45 minutes.
- Note that barley is not a gluten-free grain.
- Use any cooked beans for this recipe
- I like white kidney beans or cannellini, but chick peas, pinto beans and red kidney beans would be good too.
- Good brands for vegetarian broth, based on taste tastes, are: Brodo, Zoup, Better Than Bouillon sous base (mixed with water) and Swanson’s Organic Vegetable Broth.
- If you’re not a vegetarian, you can use chicken broth or bouillon cubes instead.
- You can also substitute 4 cups of broth with a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes if you like.
- Buy fresh pre-peeled and cut butternut squash.
- Use frozen 1-teaspoon cubes of garlic and/or basil.
- Use the food processor for chopping the vegetables (as per recipe). Of course you can chop by hand if you don’t have a processor.
- This vegetable barley soup can be kept in the fridge for a week and freezes well for a few months. I freeze it in smaller portions in zipper lock bags or containers.
- The soup thickens quite a bit on standing as the barley absorbs the liquid, so add extra broth or water if you want to thin it out a bit when you’re reheating it in the microwave or on the stove.
Other healthy vegetable soup recipes you might like
- curried lentil soup (instant pot)
- root vegetable soup with barley
- hearty ratatouille soup
- red lentil soup recipe with vegetables
- vegetarian split pea soup
How to make vegetable barley soup
Vegetable Barley Soup
- large soup pot
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 -3 cloves garlic
- 3 medium carrots, peeled, Note 1
- 3 ribs celery
- 2 cup butternut squash, peeled
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 8 cups vegetable broth, Note 2
- 1 cup pearl barley, Note 3
- 1 cup canned white kidney beans, Note 4
- 3 cups packed fresh baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried basil (or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh basil)
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 bay leaf (optional)
- PREPARE VEGETABLES AND SAUTE: Cut onions, carrots, celery and butternut squash into 2 inch pieces. Vegetables will be processed in two batches in food processor. (Alternatively, all vegetables can be chopped by hand.) °First, process garlic until finely chopped, then add onions and pulse into small pieces. In large pot, heat oil on medium heat. Add onions and garlic to pot and sauté for 3-4 minutes. °Second, pulse carrots, celery and butternut squash into a small dice (it's fine if a few pieces are larger). Add to pot and sauté another 5 minutes.
- COOK SOUP: Stir in tomato paste. Add broth, barley, beans and all seasonings. Stir. Bring to boil. Cover, then lower heat and simmer for 50-60 minutes until barley is tender and fluffy.
- FINISH AND SERVE: Add baby spinach (I tear it up as I add it to pot). Stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasonings. Sprinkle on chopped fresh herbs if you like. Soup will thicken upon standing or in fridge the next day. If too thick, add additional broth or water. Ladle into bowls and serve with warm crusty bread and butter or garlic croutons if desired. Keeps in fridge for a week. Soup freezes well in a freezer-safe container.
- Vegetables: In addition to (or to replace) the carrots, butternut squash and spinach in the recipe, other good options are parsnips, celeriac, green beans, pumpkin, sweet potatoes. You can also sauté mushrooms or celery with the onions. Or add cauliflower or zucchini about 10 minutes before the end of cooking.
- Vegetable broth: Good brands for flavorful broth are: Brodo, Zoup, Better Than Bouillon soup base (mixed with water) and Swanson’s Organic Vegetable Broth. If you’re not a vegetarian, you can use chicken broth or bouillon cubes instead. You can also substitute 4 cups of broth with a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes if you like.
- Barley: Instead of pearl barley, you can use hulled barley but the cooking process will take 20-30 minutes longer (or more) to make the barley tender.
- Beans: Use any cooked beans for this recipe. I prefer white beans like white kidney beans or cannellini, but chick peas, pinto beans and red kidney beans would be good too.
- Make Ahead: Store leftovers in the fridge for a week and freezes well for a few months in zipper lock bags or an airtight container. It thickens quite a bit on standing as the barley absorbs the liquid, so add more broth or water if you want to thin it out a bit when you’re reheating it in the microwave or on the stove.
This vegetable barley soup, originally published in 2018, has been updated with new information and edits.