There is nothing like a bowl of hot soup on a freezing cold evening, or dark and dreary day. This barley soup is extremely comforting and pretty healthy with loads of dark-green kale inside (in case you’re trying to fight a cold like I am at the time of writing this post). I know… you’re probably thinking: “but there’s nothing comforting about barley and kale!”, or: “who would want to eat boring healthy beige and green food on a dark and gray day?”. I hear you, but I am going to ignore it and will try to convince you with just a few sentences that this soup is totally great, very delicious, and surprisingly hearty.
Using a nice homemade vegetable broth as a base for this soup really helps to lift it to another level – I simply make mine by boiling leek, celery stalks, parsley, carrots, onion, bay leaf and lots of garlic in a large pot for about an hour. I usually make a lot and keep batches frozen in the freezer for days when I don’t feel like making broth, or need to save time. The real comforting element of this dish, however, comes from little cubes of smoked bacon which are boiled together with all that other healthy stuff. Adding just a little bit of bacon really goes a long way and infuses the soup with a bone-warming smokiness that is so welcome on a cold day – even if you choose to use a quick bouillon cube instead of homemade broth the bacon will add a little something extra. To finish, I sprinkle a small handful of Parmigiano Reggiano shavings on top of the soup right before digging in in order to add that final satisfactory savory note (that good ol’ umami!). Healthy kale, chewy barley, smoky bacon, and zesty cheese – need I say more?
This soup may not be as boring and basic after all: while it’s healthy enough to get you through the winter months, it’s got just that little bit of naughtiness inside to keep you satisfied. If I still haven’t convinced you that this hearty soup will definitely help you stay warm and cozy during the winter months, I suppose you’ll just have to try it out for yourself and prove me wrong!
Tip #1: This soup can easily be turned into a vegetarian meal by replacing the bacon with about three handfuls of thinly sliced button mushrooms. Simply add the mushrooms to the pot instead of the bacon listed in the recipe and follow the recipe as is. Remove the cheese to make it fully plant-based!
Tip #2:To save time, make vegetable stock some days ahead and keep it frozen in batches for lazy days. If you have a pressure cooker, prepare a quick homemade vegetable broth in a couple of minutes by using any vegetables available in your refrigerator (onions, celery, carrots and garlic usually do the job).
Barley and Kale Soup (With Bacon and Parmesan Cheese)
- 300g kale (weight is without the stems, use a bag of 300g pre-cut kale, or start off with about 400g of kale if yours comes uncut with thick stems)
- 150g pearl barley
- Olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 125g smoked bacon, diced
- 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1.7l good quality vegetable broth (preferably homemade)
- Salt to taste
- Generous amount of freshly cracked black pepper
- Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved
- Finely dice the onion and finely chop the garlic cloves. Dice the bacon into 1cm cubes. If you are not using a bag of pre-cut kale, cut your kale along the large stems and discard the stems. Chop the leaves into pieces of about 3cm until you have about 300g without the stems (a bit more or less is fine). Set the kale aside until needed.
- In a Dutch oven, or soup pan heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, chopped garlic and diced bacon to the pan. Sauté for about 7 minutes until the onion turns translucent and starts to brown slightly and the bacon starts to brown slightly as well.
- Add the pearl barley and sprigs of thyme to the pot and sauté for a minute to cover with the oils. Add the vegetable broth and simmer the soup on medium heat for 35 minutes for a slightly chewy barley, or a little bit longer until the barley turns soft. Stir occasionally.
- When the soup is almost done, add the chopped kale to the pot and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the kale has wilted slightly. Taste the soup and add salt to taste and a generous amount of freshly cracked pepper.
- Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle on some olive oil and shave some Parmigiano Reggiano on top.