If I had to pick my favourite soup, it would be this Italian soup recipe which combines lentils, barley, buttery yellow potatoes, and a host of other nourishing vegetables. This soup is like a big warm hug on a chilly winter day.
You'll love adding this soup to your meal rotation during those cold winter months because it is hearty and easy to bring together for a quick meal. For an added level of comfort, pair this soup with my recipe for Grilled Cheese with a Twist and if you really enjoy vegetables my silky sweet potato and broccoli soup might be just was is needed on a cold winter day.
I like serving this meal in a bowl with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and a sprinkling of parsley for a fresh burst of flavour.
Gather the Ingredients for Lentil and Barley Soup with Vegetables
- extra-virgin olive oil
- kosher salt
- unsalted chicken broth
- brown lentils
- pearled barley
- yellow potatoes such as Yukon Gold
- bay leaf
- cayenne pepper
- parmigiano-reggiano cheese
See the recipe below for specific quantities and details.
How to make Lentil and Barley Soup
Sauté. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add onions, carrots, celery, whole garlic and kosher salt. Cook stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. This should take about 5-8 minutes.
Simmer. Add in the chicken broth, lentils, barley, potatoes, bay leaf and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer with the lid on for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir. Discard the bay leaf and retrieve the garlic cloves (they usually float to the top). Do not throw away the garlic, but rather smush the cloves against the inside of the pot and give the whole pot a good stir.
Add spinach. Wilt the spinach, this will take 30 seconds.
Serve. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.
Secrets for Success
- yellow potatoes are the best variety for this recipe because they are not as starchy as Idaho/Russet potatoes and will remain intact during the cooking process.
- sort through the lentils and barley to remove any small fragments of stones or particles. I like to put my lentils and barley on a tea towel and inspect them to ensure that there are no nasty surprises when serving.
Substitutions & Variations
- Green lentils/lentilles du Puy may be substituted for brown lentils; however, they will require an additional 10-15 minutes to cook.
- Red potatoes may be used instead of yellow potatoes.
- Pot barley may be used instead of pearled barley; however, it will take roughly 15 minutes longer to cook.
- Pecorino Romano may be substituted for the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
- If spicy food is not your thing, then omit the cayenne pepper.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can use water to make this recipe, but it may be less flavourful.
Although lentils are a legume/pulse, they do not require soaking like other legumes because they cook within 1 hour. Other legumes, such as chickpeas/garbanzo beans, would require soaking overnight because they take much longer to cook.
Yes, by all means, use kale! Just be aware that it will take a little longer to wilt versus using spinach.
No, I don't recommend using red lentils in this recipe because they will break down, i.e. not hold their shape, as they cook, and the soup will have a different consistency.
Yes, the store-bought broth is fine, in fact, this is what I used for this recipe. My only recommendation would be to purchase a no-salt version to better control the salt content.
Leftover soup will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. And remember to refrigerate leftovers promptly.
You can freeze this soup, but I don't recommend it. The potatoes will not hold up well and will become mushy once thawed. I would omit the potatoes if you wanted to freeze this recipe.
📖 Recipe Card
Italian Lentil and Barley Soup with Vegetables
- cutting board
- sharp chef's knife
- measuring cups and spoons
- heavy bottomed pot
- wooden spoon
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 1 cup carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, left whole
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 5 cups unsalted chicken broth
- ⅓ cup brown lentils, picked over (see notes below)
- ⅓ cup pearled barley, picked over (see notes below)
- 1 cup yellow potatoes, peeled and diced
- 1 bay leaf
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
- drizzle extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
- ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
- Sauté. In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, celery, whole garlic and kosher salt. Cook stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent. This should take about 5-8 minutes.2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 cup onion, 1 cup carrot, 1 cup celery, 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Simmer. Add in the chicken broth, lentils, barley, potatoes, bay leaf and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer with the lid on for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.5 cups unsalted chicken broth, ⅓ cup brown lentils, ⅓ cup pearled barley, 1 cup yellow potatoes, 1 bay leaf, ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Stir. Discard the bay leaf and retrieve the garlic cloves (they usually float to the top). Do not throw away the garlic, but rather smush the cloves against the inside of the pot and give the whole pot a good stir.
- Add spinach. Add spinach to the pot to wilt, this will take 30 seconds.2 cups spinach
- Serve. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.