This hearty vegetable barley soup with potatoes is one of my favorite soups to make. It’s a vegetable packed soup that is based on the Slovenian beef barley soup, but made vegetarian. It is comforting, filling and can be made ahead and even frozen.
If you look through my soup archives, you’ll notice just how much I love soup. I could eat it every day. It’s my favorite meal to cook because it’s impossible to mess up and it always fills me up.
My barley soup recipe is inspired by the classic Slovenian barley stew. Traditionally, it is made with barley, carrots, onions, tomatoes, beans and cured pork, pork ham or sausages. Basically some type of meat – it’s a mandatory ingredient if you want to make a classic old school barley soup.
I skip the pork and use plenty of potatoes instead to make a potato barley soup. Potatoes add flavor and bulk to the soup, make it more affordable, accidentally vegetarian, vegan and incredibly delicious.
In my humble opinion this version is the best vegetable barley soup you can possibly make. You won’t miss the pork at all, the vegetables make up for it in an incredible way.
About the recipe
Everything you want from a dish is in this soup. The base flavor is that of onions, leeks, carrots and celery. All cooked in a mix of oil, garlic and tomato paste. Followed by satisfying potatoes and barley. The latter is super filling and adds some bite to the soup.
I top everything with vegetable stock and a can of diced tomatoes. They nicely round up the whole soup with their acidity and color. Once the soup is done, I mix in some beans which are the cherry on top of what is already a very hearty soup.
This is a thick soup on purpose. However you can always add more vegetable broth to loosen it up.
I also always serve barley vegetable soup with crusty bread on the side. There’s something very natural and essential about dipping fresh bread into a thick soup, I need to do it every time without question or reason. Truly food for the soul.
How to make barley soup
Like any soup this vegetarian barley soup is really simple to put together. The whole process is made up of three parts.
First you need to rinse and soak the pearl barley. Barley is pretty dusty and you can’t see it until you actually soak it. I place it in a glass bowl, cover it with water, stir it with a spoon and then drain the murky water. I keep replacing the water until it’s almost clear. Another option that’s a bit faster is rinsing it in a fine mesh sieve.
Once you’ve rinsed your barley well, cover it with water and soak for 30 minutes. This is a step you could skip if in a hurry, but I like to do it anyway. It cuts the cooking time and makes me 100% confident that I’m going to end up with perfectly tender barley every time.
As the barley soaks, you can prepare the vegetables. 30 minutes is plenty of time to do all the prep work you need to do before you actually start cooking. Once you have your barley and vegetables all ready to go, the cooking part is easy and quick.
You begin with sautéing onions in oil and continue by adding tomato paste, leeks, celery and carrots. Then you add the rest of the vegetables and allow them to cook in that oniony mix for a minute or so. This part will give you so much flavor.
And then you add the barley, vegetable stock and diced tomatoes. Cover the pot and let the soup cook for about 40 minutes. You want to occasionally check if the soup is still simmering and give it a stir, but it’s pretty much just a waiting game at this point.
Once the potatoes and barley are tender, the soup is done and this is when you fold in the beans and taste if you want to add more salt and some pepper. And then your perfect, easy vegetable barley soup is done.
A note on cooking with beans
As you read through the recipe you’ll notice I’m using canned beans. I like canned beans because they’re super handy and I always have some at home, for making soups like this or pizza beans on toast. But if you have a habit of cooking your own beans, feel free to use those instead.
You can soak the beans overnight in salty water and add them to the soup with the rest of the ingredients. If you’re not sure they’ll be done on time (and some do take quite a bit) you can still cook them separately and add them at the end when the soup is done.
If you want to cook your own beans ahead of time, you can get a bit more info in this NY Times article by Melissa Clark. It covers different cooking methods and types of beans.
I’m using a combination of cannellini and borlotti beans. Also known as white kidney beans and cranberry beans. You can use just one of these two varieties or a different one completely. I love a combination for a slight variety in texture and taste.
If you don’t have beans on hand, not even canned beans, you could use frozen green beans. They’re a bit less traditional, but still a fantastic choice.
How to store
Keep leftover soup in the refrigerator and eat it within two days. Alternately, you can portion it into freezer-safe containers and freeze it for up to 3 months (for best flavor, although it can last longer).
Thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. Warm it up in a pot on the stove, set over medium heat. If the soup is too thick because the potatoes soaked up all the liquid, add some vegetable broth and bring it to a simmer. Then adjust the seasonings as needed and serve.
More vegetable soup recipes
- Easy butternut squash soup with Gruyere croutons (A smoky, sweet squash bisque that is so comforting and delicious, even without any cream! And homemade croutons to top it off.)
- Winter green soup (My cruciferous vegetable soup that takes the best winter has to offer and makes a creamy, filling soup.)
- Potato sauerkraut stew (Another vegetarian take on a Slovenian classic.)
- Creamy broccoli soup (With homemade semolina dumplings.)
Hearty vegetable barley soup
- 1 cup (195 g) pearl barley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
- 2 large carrots, halved and sliced into disks
- 1 medium leek, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 1 celery rib , finely chopped
- 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
- 1.2 pounds (550 g) potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 can (400 g) diced tomatoes
- 3 cups (720 ml) vegetable stock
- 1 can (400 g) cannellini beans, rinsed
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, more to taste
- pepper, to taste
- Place barley in a sieve and rinse it thoroughly under water. Transfer it to a bowl, cover with 2 cups (480ml) of water and let soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare all the vegetables.
- In a large pot heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until tender (takes a few minutes, some browning is okay). Stir in tomato paste and let it cook for 1 minute. Toss in the carrots, leeks, and celery. Cook until leeks are softened, then add the garlic, potatoes and parsley. Stir the vegetables a few times and cook for about a minute, until the garlic is aromatic.
- Add the soaked barley along with the water, diced tomatoes and 3 cups vegetable stock. Stir until evenly distributed and make sure all potatoes are submerged. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium and cook covered for about 40-50 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and barley tender.
- Stir soup occasionally as it cooks and check to see if it’s simmering.
- Turn off the heat and fold in the beans. Taste to see if the soup needs more salt or pepper. Add more vegetable stock if it's to thick for your liking. Sprinkle with some parsley (optional) and serve.Store leftover soup in the refrigerator for up to 2 days or freeze it for up to 3 months.
- Both the can of tomatoes and beans are standard size 14.5 oz or 400g cans.
- I like a mix of beans (white and Borlotti for example), but use whatever you have on hand. Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans.
- Instead of using canned beans, you can cook beans at home. Personally, I would cook beans separately and not with the soup, because the beans will probably need more cooking time, even when soaked overnight.
- If the soup is too thick for your liking simply add more water or stock in the end and put it back on the stove just until it starts to simmer.
- If you’ve added too much water or stock and want to thicken the soup, let it cook over low heat until some of the liquid cooks down and thickens.
Recipe was first published in April of 2016, completely revised in February 2021, last updated on December 8, 2023.