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Old Fashioned Vegetable Pot Barley Soup

by on November 7, 2022
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This old fashioned pot barley soup is one of the Sunday night staple meals in our home during the Winter months. The barley gives you that stick-to-your-ribs feeling while the fresh dill brightens the entire dish. Plus, this is a spicy, garlic-y soup that is sure to kick any tickle in your throat. 

The Best Vegan Barley Soup

If you’ve never cooked with barley before, don’t panic! Though barley is a traditional grain used in many authentic soups and dishes, it isn’t an ingredient you see in many recipes these days.

But I’m of the belief it’s time to change that. Barley is in fact really easy to cook with, incredibly nutritious and budget friendly.

A big bag of dried pot barley at the grocery store won’t cost you more than $3.00! And it will last you months.

Before I tell you more about how to cook pot barley in soup, I need to credit my husband, Justin for this recipe.

Maggie's husband Justin with sunflower in one hand and glass of red wine in the other

Justin is the soup expert in our home. It’s his tradition to make a big pot of soup every Sunday night. It kicks off our week on the right foot and provides us a healthy meal for lunch the next day too.

Over the years he’s “tweaked” his soup recipe (or so he tells me…lol). But what he says is essential to the recipe is adding the garlic at the very end.

Why You Should Wait Til The End Of Cooking To Add Garlic To Your Soup

Basket of cured hardneck garlic and flowers

When you add the garlic at the end of cooking your soup, it maintains more of its beneficial properties and flavour.

Garlic is antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial. Garlic looses these properties when you cook it, which is why it’s best to instead add it at the end once your soup is ready to serve.

So you heard it here first! The secret to Justin’s famous pot barley soup is adding the garlic at the end.

What Is Pot Barley

Pot barley is considered a whole food as it has not been processed or refined. It is barley with the outer husk removed.

Pot barley has a nutty flavour and is rich in both soluble and insoluble fibre, making it fantastic for your gut health.

The other type of barley is called pearl barley. Pearl barley is more refined and has been processed. This makes it less nutritious than pot barley.

The other major difference between pot barley and pearl barley is cook time. Pearl barley cooks much quicker than pot barley.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Pot Barley

traditional vegetable barley soup vegan

Because pot barley is un-refined, it requires a longer cook time. Typically pot barley takes anywhere from 45-55 minutes to cook on the stovetop. If cooking in the oven with liquid, it takes closer to 35 minutes to cook.

For best results, use about 3 1/2 parts liquid to 1 part pot barley. Pot barley will absorb most of the liquid it is cooked in.

I find pot barley is most flavour when cooked in vegetable broth with a bay leaf.

What Are The Health Benefits Of Pot Barley

Wow — pot barley really has SO many health benefits!

Aside from it being packed with fibre, the health benefits of pot barley are:

  • Rich source of molybdenum, manganese and selenium.
  • Contains many vitamins, including copper, vitamin B1, chromium, phosphorus, magnesium and niacin.
  • Can reduce hunger and promote feelings of fullness.
  • High source of antioxidants.
  • Adds bulk to your stool and accelerates intestinal movement.

And those are only a few of the benefits. Healthline has a fantastic article with even more information on all the benefits of pot barley.

Can You Grow Barley At Home

Yes! You can absolutely grow your own barley at home. Barley is a fast growing annual grass that is typically used as a cover crop to rebuild soil health.

For example, home gardeners will plant barley in a section of the garden where the soil has been depleted.  Once it’s matured, they will then cut it back and work the barley root into the soil. This adds nutrients and organic matter to the soil, improving its structure.

The other cool thing about growing barley in your home garden is you can also use it to brew your own beer!

How To Grow Barley In The Garden

Gardener raking soil in zone 3 garden

To grow barley in your home garden, direct sow the seeds in early Spring when the soil is workable. Barley grows best in a location where it can receive full sun.

Barley will be ready to harvest around 60-70 days after planting, or when it has started to dry and turn golden. Farmers suggest waiting to harvest until the moisture content of the barley is around 12%. To harvest by hand, simply pick the ripe heads off the stalks. You will then need to process it before cooking with it.

Is Barley Grown In Canada

Yes! Barley is grown across Western Canada.

In 2017, the Canadian Grain Commission estimated that a total of 7,891,000 tonnes of barley was produced in all of Canada.

Canadian farmers classify barley into three categories:

  • General purpose
  • Malting
  • Food

The majority of Canadian-grown barley is actually used to feed livestock, while another large quantity of it is used for malt in the beer industry.

What’s In Pot Barley Soup

Here’s the ingredients you’ll need to make the best old fashioned vegetable pot barley soup.

  • Vegetable broth — You can either make your own vegetable broth for this recipe or purchase it from the grocery store. Alternatively, you can sub out the veggie broth in this recipe for water mixed with Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base. I actually prefer this approach and find it gives the soup a richer flavour.
  • Root vegetables — This recipe calls for carrots and potatoes, however you could absolutely sub them for other root veggies such as parsnips or sweet potatoes.
  • Green cabbage — The cabbage gives the soup its traditional flavour. Plus, cabbage is full of fibre and adds even more nutrients to this dish. Be sure to wait and add it at the end so it doesn’t lose its texture.
  • Pot barley — Purchase a bag of dried pot barley at your local grocery store. Be sure to rinse it before using. This makes it easier to digest. If using pearl barley instead, cook for less time — see cooking instructions in recipe for more details.
  • Alliums — This recipe calls for onions and garlic. These aromatic ingredients add a ton of flavour to the dish, so don’t sub them out! Add the onion at the beginning, but wait until the very end to add your garlic.
  • Spices —This is a spicy soup! My old fashioned pot barley soup recipe calls for red pepper chilli flakes, fresh ground black pepper, and cayenne. Plus, you’ll want to add a bay leaf and Old Bay seasoning to make the flavour really savoury.
  • Fresh Dill — Add fresh dill to your soup when it is done cooking. I also use it as a garnish when serving. It adds a fresh flavour to the soup and brightens the entire dish. You can substitute the dill for parsley or thyme as well.

How To Make Old Fashioned Pot Barley Soup

What I love about this recipe is that it’s a one-pot dish, so requires minimal clean-up.

Start by rinsing your pot barley under cold water. Let it sit in the strainer as you prepare the other ingredients.

Chop your onion, carrots, potatoes and cabbage into bite sized pieces. Then, add the olive oil to a large soup pot and pour in your onions.

Stirring regularly, cook on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes or until onions are fragrant and translucent.

Next, add in your pot barley, vegetable broth, bay leaf and water. Let your pot barley pre-cook for 15-20 minutes. From there, add in your carrots, potatoes and spices.

Let cook on medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes or until vegetables soften. Next, reduce heat to low and add in cabbage, dill and garlic.

Taste and adjust with additional seasoning as needed. Garnish with more fresh dill and serve with fresh sourdough bread.

This old fashioned pot barley soup is the perfect Winter meal!

More Soup Recipes

Try my other easy, vegan soup recipes!

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traditional vegetable barley soup vegan

Old Fashioned Vegetable Pot Barley Soup

  • Author: Maggie
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 4-5 1x


traditional vegetable pot barley soup packed with flavour and completely vegan.


Units Scale
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion finely diced
  • 1/2 cup of pot barley rinsed under cold water
  • 5 cups of vegetable broth or sub for 5 cups of water with 2 heaping tbsp of Better Than Bouillon Seasoned Vegetable Base
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 carrots peeled and chopped
  • 2 large potatoes chopped (peeling optional)
  • 1 tsp of red pepper chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp of ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp of Old Bay
  • 1 cup of roughly chopped green cabbage
  • 1/2 cup of fresh chopped dill
  • 4 cloves of crushed garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large soup pot, add olive oil and chopped onion. Let simmer over medium-high heat until onion is fragrant and translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add in rinsed pot barley, vegetable broth, water and bay leaf. Stir and cover for 20 minutes, checking occasionally to ensure pot doesn’t boil over. You want to pre-cook your barley before adding in the vegetables so all ingredients are the same texture and tenderness.
  3. Once barley is pre-cooked, add in carrots, potatoes, red pepper chilli flakes, black pepper, cayenne and Old Bay. Stir and let simmer over medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. After 20-25 minutes of simmering, vegetables and barley should be fully cooked. The barley will have absorbed about 1/3 of the liquid. Remove a small amount of barley to sample. It should be soft but still chewy. If needed, simmer for another 5-10 minutes to cook more.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add in cabbage, dill, garlic and salt and pepper to taste. Let cabbage cook down for 3-5 minutes.
  6. Garnish with additional fresh dill, salt and pepper.

Serve with sourdough bread and enjoy!


  • If using pearl barley instead of pot barley, reduce cooking time to a total of only 35 minutes. Eliminate the pre-cooking and add vegetables and barley to the pot at once to cook together.
  • This is a fairly spicy soup. If serving to kids (or adults who don’t like spice), omit the cayenne and red pepper chilli flakes.
  • The fresh dill really brightens the flavours in this soup. However other fresh herbs that would pair well include fresh parsley or thyme.

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Latest Comments

  1. January 19, 2022

    Yummm! My only experience with barley soup was my grandma’s beef barley soup, which never appealed to me. This is such a great recipe, and I appreciate Justin’s tips!

    — Riley Chervinski
  2. January 20, 2022

    I appreciate your comments!!

    — Maggie