Barley Soup with Hearty Greens

Bites of chewiness combined with bites of silkiness make for perfect texture.
TIME 45 to 55 minutes
MAKES 4 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pearled barley
7 cups chicken, beef, or vegetable stock or water
About 2 pounds hearty greens (like kale, collards, or chard)

1 Put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more.

2 Add the barley and cook, stirring constantly to coat every grain in the fat, until it starts to toast and stick to the pot, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the barley is almost tender but still with a tiny bit of crunch, 20 to 25 minutes. Add up to 1 cup water if the soup looks too dry.

3 Meanwhile, separate the leaves of the greens from the stems using a knife or shears. Keep the leaves and stems separate and roughly chop both.

4 When the barley is just tender, turn the heat to medium-high, uncover the pot, and add the stems. Bring the soup to a boil, add the leaves, then lower the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily again. Cover and cook until the barley is fully tender but not mushy and the greens are bright colored and tender, another 5 to 10 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning, add another 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil if you like, and serve.

  • Mushroom-Barley Soup: Skip the greens and add 1 pound cleaned and roughly chopped mushrooms along with the onion in Step 1. Cook until they’re tender before adding the garlic and continuing with the recipe.

  • Water works fine here, but as always you’ll get deeper flavor with stock. You can cheat by adding a couple bay leaves or a chopped-up medium celery stalk and carrot along with the barley. (Remember to fish out the bay leaves before serving.)
  • The stems of hearty greens are predictably tougher than the leaves, but they have great flavor and texture, so instead of throwing them away, add them to the pot a few minutes before the leaves to give them ample time to get tender. You can also use spinach, beet greens, or mustard greens, treated in the same manner if they have thick stems.

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