Barley, Onion and Tomato Soup

If the challenge is to use whatever we have in the pantry and make a meal with it, this Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe fits the bill. My freezer is filled with grains of all kinds: hulled or dehulled, whole or cracked, ancient or generic. I made a barley soup with the pearl barley and cooked them with a roasted tomatoes puree.

First, roast fresh tomatoes in a single layer in a roasting pan, sprinkling on top with some thyme, bay leaves and crushed garlic. How timely it is that I’m reaching to the bottom of a bag of lemon thyme which was harvested at the end of last season. Now the plant is coming back in full force, unleashed by the spring showers.

Roasting tomatoes takes an hour in the oven, until the tomatoes are completely soft and starting to caramelize. You may be tempted to skip this time-consuming step and reach for a can of tomato puree. Don’t. You’ll be missing the most flavorful component of the soup. The scent of the caramelized tomatoes is so fantastic; taking in the aroma of roasted tomatoes is almost as satisfying as tasting a spoonful of this soup.

Barley is used extensively in soups and stews for a good reason. The soup is not only hearty and full flavored, the high fibre content of barley promotes healthy digestion, all the while not dramatically elevating your blood sugar; barley has a low Glycemic Index.

This barley soup is doing double duty: using basic pantry ingredients to make a hearty meal that’s both delectable and nutritious.

Hugh gives us a suggestion of using arborio rice to make a risotto, instead of a soup. I’m sure the risotto would be just as hearty and flavorful, given the awesome star power of the tomato puree. The puree will go with grains, rice or pasta, and elevates the dish — effortlessly.

Barley, Onion and Tomato Soup

Print Recipe
Serves: 4-6 Cooking Time: 2 hours


  • 2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 150g pearl barley or pearled spelt, rinsed
  • 750ml good beef or chicken stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the roasted tomato purée:
  • 2 kg / 4 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2–3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil



If you’re making your own tomato purée, preheat the oven to 350°F.


Lay the tomato halves, cut side up, in a single layer in a large, deep baking pan. Scatter over the garlic and thyme, tuck in the bay leaves, trickle over the oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about an hour, maybe a bit longer, until the tomatoes are completely soft and pulpy, and starting to crinkle and caramelize on top. Remove and leave to cool off for half an hour or so. Then tip them into a large sieve and rub through with a wooden spoon. Discard the skin and pips. Your sauce is now ready to use. If you haven’t produced the full 750ml you need here, just increase the quantity of stock to compensate.


To make the soup, heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté for 8–10 minutes until soft. Stir in the pearl barley or spelt, then add the stock and 750ml tomato purée. Bring to a simmer and cook very gently, uncovered, until the barley or spelt is tender. Barley should take 30–40 minutes; spelt will only need 20–25 minutes.


Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed, then ladle the soup into bowls and serve. A trickle of good extra virgin olive oil on top will not go amiss.


You can make a risotto version of this dish, replacing the barley with arborio or carnaroli rice. ~ Adapted from


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  • Reply
    April 20, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    I made the same recipe from Three Good Things on a a plate, but made it with rice instead. I was out of Arborio so I used a paella rice…very good and the next day it was a delicious bowl of risotto. I highly recommend that book…

  • Reply
    April 23, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Roasting the tomatoes is such a great way to bring out the best in them and add lots of flavour to this delicious looking soup. Using them in a risotto also sounds very appealing.

  • Reply
    April 23, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Barley reminds me of my childhood. I should use it more often. Thanks for reminding me

    • Reply
      Shirley @ everopensauce
      April 23, 2017 at 3:39 pm

      Barley is such a good ingredient. I should be using it more often too.

      • Reply
        April 23, 2017 at 4:31 pm

        I think that I need to use it more often as well, my favorite beef, barley and mushroom soup is call me for a rainy day dinner!

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