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Pearl barley broth

This is a substantial soup – serve it with a salad and some bread and it’s a meal in itself. As the barley simmers with the vegetables, it thickens the broth and gives it a creamy texture. You can certainly use pearled spelt in place of pearl barley.


Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and gently sweat the onions with the bay leaf and thyme for about 15 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot and parsnip and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the coriander, nutmeg, cayenne and mace.

Add the barley or spelt, pour in the stock and add some salt and pepper. Simmer gently for 25–30 minutes, or until the grain is very soft. Remove the bay leaf.

You can serve the broth like this or, to make it a little thicker, scoop out a couple of ladlefuls and purée them in a blender or food processor, or with a stick blender, until smooth, then return the puréed soup to the pan and warm through. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Keep over a very low heat if you are making croûtons.

For the croûtons, cut the bread into 2cm cubes. Heat the olive oil over a medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the bread and sizzle gently until golden, turning occasionally, then drain on kitchen paper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and scatter the hot croûtons on top to serve.

Serving suggestions

Alternative finishes

Instead of serving the soup topped with croûtons, sauté some sliced mushrooms in a little butter or olive oil until they give up some of their moisture and start to take on some colour. Scatter the fried mushrooms over the soup just before serving.

The soup is also very good simply served with a trickle of cream and chopped parsley scattered over the top.

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  • 15g butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 small parsnip, finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
  • A few gratings of nutmeg
  • A good pinch of cayenne pepper
  • A pinch of ground mace
  • 100g pearl barley (or pearled spelt), rinsed
  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock
  • A small handful of parsley, finely chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the croûtons

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • About 200g slightly stale white bread

This recipe is taken from...

River Cottage Veg Every Day!

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