Another delicious dish inspired by a random pantry find – in this case, the forgotten remains of a bag of pearled barley. Yay for pantry discoveries that turn into easy, tasty meals!
Loaded with satisfyingly chewy grains of barley, winter veggies, tomato paste for added richness, and green peas and spinach for green goodness, this soup is hearty, earthy, and perfect for a cold winter night. A spoonful of bright, lemony herb pesto stirred into each bowl makes for the perfect finish.
I love that this recipe is flexible and can be customized around the ingredients you have on hand: use brown rice or farro as the grain, add cubed sweet potato or winter squash for a sweet and starchy element, use veggie stock or homemade bone broth as the liquid (or water plus a cube of good veggie bouillon, such as Rapunzel), sub in shelled edamame or frozen corn kernels for the green peas – you get the idea! I had about a cup of leftover cooked vaquero beans in the fridge, so I added those in for extra protein — cooked lentils would also be a nice addition.
The lemon-herb pesto is more rustic in texture than the usual pesto — it actually leans in the direction of a gremolata, but with the addition of olive oil. Rather than use a food processor or mortar & pestle, I finely chopped the leafy herbs and used my microplane to finely grate the garlic clove and zest the lemon into a small bowl, then stirred in a couple of glugs of olive oil to bring everything together.
You might want to consider making a double portion of this pesto-gremolata hybrid, since it’s amazing as a bright finish for any wintry soup, and would also be perfect slathered on crostini and topped with crumbled chèvre, added to a veggie sandwich or used to enrich a dressing, vinaigrette, or dip (I’m thinking hummus – definitely!). Feel free to use the fresh, leafy herbs of your choice: I imagine it would be delicious with dill, basil, or a bit of marjoram or oregano (and since those last two are quite pungent I would use just a teaspoon or so as a flavor accent, along with another herb).
Barley vegetable soup with lemon herb pesto
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed
kosher or Celtic salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 stalk of celery, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 fennel bulb, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 carrot, peeled and diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
pinch of red chile flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence
6 cups stock of your choice (or water)
1/2 to 1 cup cooked beans or lentils (optional)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cups baby spinach
juice of 1 lemon
optional seasonings/garnishes: lemon herb pesto (see below), grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, radish sprouts or microgreens
for the pesto:
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 garlic clove, peeled and grated
grated zest of 1 small lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
Combine barley with 4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, uncovered, until barley is al dente, about 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, fennel, carrot, garlic, and chile flakes along with a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low until vegetables soften and begin to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Clear a spot in the middle of the pan and stir in the tomato paste. Cook for 1 minute more.
Add herbes de Provence, stock or water, cooked barley, and cooked legumes (if using). Simmer, partially covered, until vegetables and barley are tender, about 30 minutes. (While the soup simmers make the pesto – see below.)
Add peas and cook for 5 minutes to heat through, then turn off heat and stir in the baby spinach. Add lemon juice and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into warmed bowls, adding a spoonful of pesto and garnishes of your preference.
To make the pesto, stir together cilantro, parley, garlic, lemon zest, and olive oil in a bowl. The pesto can be made one day ahead; store chilled in a tightly sealed container and stir well before using.