A bowl of this hearty Winter Vegetable Soup, brimming with seasonal root vegetables, is a delicious filling meal for the cooler weather. And the pearl barley adds a creaminess & richness to the broth without the use of dairy.
TOTAL TIME INVESTMENT: 1 HOUR 15 MINUTES
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I’ve never been very fond of vegetable soup, usually finding it thin and insipid. However, add a little barley to the soup pot, and it is a completely different story. Barley thickens a simmering broth, turning it creamy and luscious; perfect for winter. Toss in lots of finely chopped winter vegetables, and you have a satisfying and sustaining meal.
As a bonus feature, this hearty winter vegetable soup with barley freezes brilliantly. I like to portion my soup into two sizes for freezing: individual serves for my lunch and larger serves for family meals. You can get all my freezing tips in my post on how to freeze soup, and you can grab my free guide from my Resource Library so you can always have my tips on hand. Grab the guide by clicking the link below or requesting the password for my Resource Library at the end of this post.
I have a bad habit of using the same small range of winter vegetables at every meal. This soup takes me outside that comfort zone, and uses some of the vegetables I rarely cook with, like turnips, swedes and parsnips.
If I chop the vegetables into small cubes, about the same size as the swollen barley grains, I can pass them by The Princess (who is always suspicious of something new) with minimal moaning.
Table of contents
- Ingredient Substitutions for Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup
- Frequently Asked Questions About Hearty Vegetable Soup With Barley
- Tips And Tricks For The Most Delicious Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup
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Ingredient Substitutions for Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup
This soup can turn into a bit of a ‘fridge cleaner’ if you like. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand in place of those in the recipe. And try the following substitutions to make the soup your own:
- Use any root vegetable you like in this soup. Substitute the swedes (rutabaga), turnips and parsnips for more carrots, throw in some chopped sweet potato or pumpkin, or add potato if you like.
- Barley is not a gluten free grain, so if you wish to make this winter vegetable soup gluten free, use brown rice in place of the pearl barley. Or make my lentil and brown rice soup recipe instead.
- To keep this soup vegan, you do need to use vegetable stock. If this is not an important consideration, then chicken stock can be used instead.
- Use fresh herbs if possible. If you cannot source fresh sage leaves, omit the sage and use fresh or dried parsley instead.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hearty Vegetable Soup With Barley
Can I put uncooked barley in soup?
Uncooked barley is like any other grain, such as wholegrain rice or wheat berries. It will cook perfectly in the simmering liquid of the soup. Do keep an eye on the liquid level though, as the large grains can soak up quite a lot of liquid as it cooks.
Do you have to soak barley for soup?
It is not necessary to soak barley before adding it to soup, but soaking the grain has three significant benefits:
- It reduces the cooking time, which means your creamy winter vegetable soup will be ready sooner.
- It neutralises phytic acid in the barley grain. Phytic acid interferes with the absorption of minerals and nutrients, so soaking the barley will boost the nutrition of your soup.
- It eliminates growth inhibitors that are found in seeds and grains. Growth inhibitors, which prevent grains germinating prematurely, can cause digestion problems in some people. Soaking the barley improves its digestibility.
If you can (which for me translates to – if I remember), soak the barley overnight in a large bowl of water to which you have added a teaspoon of whey, yoghurt or lemon juice. However it is not the end of the world if you forget to soak your barley, and the resulting soup will still be both nutritious and delicious.
Does barley thicken soup?
As barley cooks it leaches starches into the surrounding cooking liquid. These starches thicken the soup, and add a delicious creamy texture to the soup broth without the need for dairy.
Should you rinse barley before cooking?
It is not necessary to rinse barley prior to cooking, however I do think it is a good idea to do so. A quick rinse will remove and dust and dirt clinging to the grain.
Rinsing is not necessary if you have soaked the barley.
What is the difference between barley and pearl barley?
Barley is the unprocessed grain, as harvested from the farm. Pearl barley is a “polished” barley grain that has had some of the husk surrounding the grain mechanically removed. The amount of husk removed from the grain will differ between producers, so if you want a more wholegrain barley look for an organic supplier.
All barley sold in supermarkets is pearled barley.
Tips And Tricks For The Most Delicious Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup
This winter vegetable soup is super easy to make, and even more delicious to eat, but I have a few tips for you to ensure complete success with the recipe:
- Do not be swayed by the glorious purple heirloom carrots you see at the farmer’s markets. The first time I made this soup, I had visions of finely chopped purple carrot providing flecks of colour and interest in my soup pot. In reality, the deep purple colour of the heirloom carrot seeped into the broth, turning everything a weird purple/grey colour. The carrot itself turned a pale orange colour, and the whole dish looked extremely unappetising. Thankfully it tasted good enough to be repeated. This time with plain old orange carrots.
- Chop all of the vegetables into 5mm cubes, or not much bigger than a swollen barley grain. This has a twofold effect; the soup looks great and fussy children find it hard to pick the vegetables out.
- Barley readily absorbs liquid, and the soup will thicken considerably upon standing. Should the soup thicken to stew by the time you are ready to serve it, add a little more stock or water as the soup reheats to thin it out again.
- The soup will last for up to three days in the fridge, and up to four months in the freezer.
- Frozen soup will be quite thick once defrosted. Just add a little more stock or water as you reheat it. And don’t forget to grab my handy freezing guide from the Resource Library. Just request the password in the form below.
Other Soup Recipes You May Enjoy
Have I mentioned how much I love soup? And how happy a tub of frozen soup in my freezer makes me? If you are as much of a soup fan as I am, then you may also like:
- Slow Cooker Vegetable Soup with soup mix
- Creamy Cauliflower Cheese Soup
- Red Lentil & Bacon Soup
- Easy Carrot Soup
- Lentil & Brown Rice Soup – gluten & dairy free
And if you are wondering what to serve with your bowl of soup, you can’t go past a loaf of fresh bread, some savoury feta & olive muffins or even just a few homemade croutons.
Made this recipe? Tell me how it went in the comments below.
And if you loved it, please don’t forget to rate it.
Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion finely chopped
- 1 carrot peeled and finely diced
- 2 sticks celery finely diced
- 1 swede (rutabaga) peeled and finely diced
- 1 turnip peeled and finely diced
- 1 parsnip peeled and finely diced
- 1 Tablespoon rosemary finely chopped
- 10 sage leaves finely chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 205 g (1 cup) pearled barley soaked overnight and drained
- 1 1/2 Litres (6 cups) vegetable stock
- Salt & pepper
- 2 Tablespoons finely chopped parsley.
- Place a large pot on a medium heat.
- Add the olive oil and onion.
- Saute the onion for about 5 minutes, or until it has softened and started to brown.
- Add the remainder of the vegetables, and saute for a further 5 minute or until the vegetables have softened slightly.
- Stir in the rosemary, sage, bay leaves and barley.
- Add the vegetable stock, season with salt & pepper, and bring to the boil.
- Reduce the heat, and allow the soup to simmer for about 40 – 50 minutes, or until the barley is cooked. Check the liquid level occasionally, and top up with hot water or more stock if the soup appears too thick.
- Stir through the chopped parsley, and check the seasonings.
- Serve with crusty bread.
- You can use any mix of root vegetables in this soup, although a larger variety makes for a tastier soup.
- Chop all of the vegetables into 5mm cubes, or not much bigger than a swollen barley grain.
- Barley readily absorbs liquid, and the soup will thicken considerably upon standing. Add a little more stock or water as the soup reheats to thin it out again.
- This soup freezes well, although it will be quite thick once defrosted. Just add a little more stock or water as you reheat it.
- The soup will last for up to three days in the fridge, and up to four months in the freezer.
Update Notes: This post was published on 31st August 2015. It was updated on 18th February 2019 to include FAQ’s, additional information on ingredient substitutions and information on freezing soup. A Table of Contents and links to additional soup recipes were added on 2nd July 2019.
Patricia @ Grab a Plate
Your photos are amazing, and this is one of my favorite types of soup! I just love barley! Funny story about the purple carrots, but will definitely keep that in mind 🙂
Thank you Patricia 🙂 I’m a barley fan as well, but the family not so much. I’m thinking the grey soup might make a decent Halloween dish 🙂
This soup looks very healthy and tempting, though I have a question on the ingredients. After celery, and before turnip, it says one swede? I don’t know what this is, not a swedish person I hope?
Thank you for any explanation!
LOL Caryn, that gave me a giggle first thing in the morning 🙂 A Swede would be a bad thing in a vegan soup 🙂 I have done a little research, and it would appear that a swede is also called a rutabaga in some parts of the world. I hope that helps a little. If you can’t find it, I would just boost the other vegetables in its place.
Thank you very much! I am glad to learn this term. I have definitely heard of rutabaga though I can’t say I use them very much I at least know what it is!
Tania I have just found your site and everything looks so good! I am a little upset that you only have one princess in your house as I have two. I am willing to offer you one if you wish? ps will be trying the soup this weekend.
Hi Jennifer. Thank you so much for the kind offer, however I am barely managing with one Princess. Two would tip me over the edge 😉 I hope you like the soup. The weather is perfect for it.
I made this soup and it was delicious m- tasted even better the next day I added a little lemon zest and a squeeze of juice at the end.
I’m glad you enjoyed it Karen. Love the idea of adding lemon. I will try that next time I make it.
WOW !!! This soup is just so tasty and amazing! I add one sweet patato !
Thank you so much. I’ll have the best winter lunch for tomorrow!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Noemie 🙂 Adding sweet potato is a great idea. I will have to try adding some myself next time I make it.
Have you tried this in a crockpot? I get home late and was wondering if I dump all the ingredients in a slow cooker if it will turn out just as good. Thanks!
I haven’t tried this one in the crockpot Sarah, but see no reason why it wouldn’t work. You could also try my slow cooker vegetable soup which I know does work in the crockpot 😉
My daughter-in-law is allergic to barley. Would rice thicken it as well?
Rice should work just as well as barley Donna. I have used it previously in this Brown Rice & Lentil Soup, and it has thickened up nicely. I personally would use brown rice over white, but if you wish to use white rice, I would use a fatter, short grain rice.
Delicious!!! I definitely had to add some extra stock, but I might have overloaded the barley a bit so that’s probably my fault. Admittedly, I’ve never even purchased rutabaga or turnips before, so this was an interesting change for me to experiment with and expand my veggie selection. 🙂 Wonderful flavor; I will definitely make this one again!
I’m so glad you liked it Anne. I am also guilty of overloading on the barley quite often, but I love barley in soup so am happy to just up the stock. I’m so glad you also went out on a limb and experimented with some new vegetables. That makes me so very happy to hear. Thank you for letting me know.
I was just browsing around for some healthy soup recipes because I have a sick kiddo at home, and came across this one. It looks incredible, and I love that it contains so much vitamin C. Thanks so much for sharing!
Pleasure Erin. I hope the sick one enjoyed it.
I thought it was bland so I added extra spicy seasoning lemon herb and fiesta lime. I like the root vegetables with the barley.
I’m glad you were able to tailor it to your palate Laura. You might need to add a little more salt as well, which would help round out the flavours. Thanks for sharing your additions.
I have made this soup multiple times and love it!
Could you please tell me what modifications would need to be made if I use hulled/hullless barley? I would like to get the extra nutrients from the whole grain.
Hi Brandie, I am glad you loved the soup. As pearl barley is hulled, I am assuming you mean unhulled barley? Whilst you can use unhulled barley, I wouldn’t recommend it. The hull is really just a husk to protect the seed, and is of little nutritional value. Although it will provide additional fibre. If you do wish to use unhulled barley, do not skip the overnight soaking as this will soften the husk prior to adding it to the soup.
If you wish to maximise the nutritional value of the whole grain, look for an organic barley that has been lightly pearled. The grain will look brown rather than the shiny cream you commonly see. Lightly pearled barley has had only the husk removed and retains a lot of the bran. It will have more nutrients than a heavily pearled variety.
I hope that answers your question, but if not please get in touch and I will try to help you further.
Hi! I love this soup! Sometimes I want to make it, but don’t have fresh herbs. Can you tell me what the dried herb equivalents would be? Thanks!
Hi Nisha, the standard substitution is to use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for 1 Tablespoon of fresh herbs. Just be aware that the taste of fresh herbs is quite different to that of dried, so the dried will taste slightly different in the soup. I would probably start with 3/4 teaspoon of each herbs and taste the soup. Then add additional herbs if you want more. Hope that helps.
I would like to make this with no grains (barley) should I reduce the liquid amount & what to?
Should I also reduce the cooking time? What to please?
Hi Lorrae. If you want to omit the barley, I would reduce the liquid to 1l (4 cups). If you cut the vegetables into small pieces, as I have in the soup, the soup should be ready in 15 to 20 minutes. Just check the vegetables, and if they are cooked to your liking the soup will be done. The cooking time will depend on which vegetables you use. I hope this helps, but let me know if you need anything else.
That’s great thanks so much Tania, I greatly appreciate your help. I’m not the best cook, I even fail at soup & it tastes terrible. Would you reduce the herbs too?
I’m low fodmap, so for flavour would you use any spring onions or leek tops instead of onion or I love ginger would this taste terrible & how much would you use?
When you simmer it, do you leave the lid on or off?
Thank you very grateful
Hi Lorrae, Soup is all about building flavour, so if it tastes watery or lacking in flavour I would either add a little more salt or add some chicken or vegetable stock powder to boost the broth. I wouldn’t reduce the herbs, even if you are omitting the barley, as they will provide flavour. However it is also down to your personal taste, so if you don’t like a lot of herbs then absolutely reduce them. You have to go by your tastebuds.
I wouldn’t add ginger to this soup, I don’t think it will play well with the other ingredients and you will end up with a strange tasting soup. I usually keep ginger for more Asian based soups. As to fodmap, I would absolutely use spring onions in place of the onions, and I would also use some leek tops. Both would work well here. What you could do is simmer some whole leek tops with the soup, and then fish them out of the soup just before serving.
And I always simmer with the lid on but slightly ajar so the soup doesn’t evaporate too much. I hope that helps.
Absolutely LOVE this recipe. Since finding it a few years ago, I make it every fall/winter with an added twist. I love having mini turkey meatballs in my veggie soups at times and this soup is perfect for it. So if you want a little extra protein in your dinner, go for it! I use 1 pound of ground turkey, some breadcrumbs, Italian spices, and an egg and after mixing together, I make about 60 tiny meatballs and add them into the soup with about 20 minutes left in the cooking process until they’re cooked through. Just remember to add a little more chicken/veggie broth for more liquid. Thank you for sharing this recipe! I can’t wait to make it again this year!
I’m so glad you like it Casey. I love the idea of adding the mini meatballs to the soup. I will have to give that version a go. Thanks for the suggestion.
We first tasted soup with pearl barley in Milton just last January (2020) when.on holiday in New Zealand. It was so delicious i immediately went looking for a recipe (online) as soon as we got back home in Australia, and the photo here just looked as delicious and as close to the soup that i can still picture in mind that we tasted in NZ. I’m really glad i found this recipe because since then i have been using this and loving it. Even my daughter and husband, who are a bit picky when it comes to soup loved it! I made this soup a few times now and at one point i thought i’d try butternut pumpkin (finely diced) because i could not find any parsnip and it turned up as good and as delicious! THANK YOU FOR THIS RECIPE!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it Mary. I love the creaminess the pearl barley gives to the soup.
And thanks for letting me know that butternut pumpkin works. It is always good to have ideas for substitutes that work.
Hello Tania! This soup looks super healthy and tasty. Thank you so much for the recipe.