Kale, Barley and Cumin Soup, 37p [VG/V/GF*]


Barley is one of the cheapest grains currently available in shops and supermarkets, and my mum made pearl barley soup for us when I was a child, loaded with tiny chopped spring vegetables, carrots, spring greens and nutty pearl barley. I’ve taken her Northern Irish heritage and added some of my favourite spices for a warming, wholesome soup. Soaking your barley overnight isn’t essential, but it softens it a little, which shortens the cooking time needed. If you forget to soak it, or decide to cook this off the cuff, just add half an hour to the cooking time from when you add the barley.

Ingredients (Serves 4 generously and costs 37p per person, see below for how I worked that out!)

200g pearl barley, rinsed and soaked for an hour, 22p
3 small onions, red or white (300g), 19p
6 fat cloves of garlic, 11p
2 tbsp oil for frying, 4p
one teaspoon cumin (2.5g), 5p
two large carrots, grated (300g), 17p
1.5l good vegetable stock, 4p
one tablespoon sugar (13g), 1p
half teaspoon turmeric (1.5g), 3p
one tablespoon red or white wine vinegar, 3p
zest and juice of a lemon, 22p
a good handful of kale (50g), 25p

100g natural yoghurt, (optional)

First, rinse your barley, then cover with cold water and leave to soak for an hour or so, ideally overnight. When soaked, drain and rinse it, and set to one side.Then grate your lemon zest – it’s easier to do it with a whole lemon than one that’s been halved and squeezed, so do it now and set to one side – you’ll need it later.

Finely slice two of your onions, peel and chop your garlic, and toss into a saucepan with the oil or butter, cumin, and a pinch of salt. Cook on a very low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to cook evenly. When the onion and garlic are softened, grate one of your carrots and add to the onions and garlic, and stir. Add the barley, pour over the stock, squeeze in the lemon juice, and bring to the boil.

Cover the pan and reduce to a simmer for 40 minutes, checking every now and again that there is enough liquid – if the soup starts to dry out, add a cup of water and stir well.

After half an hour, start to prepare your garnish for the top. Finely slice your last onion and grate your carrot, and pop into a frying pan with a little oil. Fry on a medium heat until soft. Add the sugar, cumin and vinegar and crank the heat up high to caramelise, stirring all the time to stop it sticking and burning.

To serve, chop the kale and stir through. Ladle into bowls, and top with sour cream, spiced carrots and onions, and a pinch of lemon zest. Enjoy!

All prices based on Sainsburys, and the Basics range where available, correct at time of blogging but subject to change as these things do… Pearl barley, 55p/500g. Basics Garlic, 35p/2 bulbs. Basics onions 95p/1.5kg. Ground cumin £1/46g. Basics carrots 85p/1.5kg. Basics vegetable stock cubes 25p/10. FairTrade granulated cane sugar 90p/1kg. FairTrade Turmeric £1/48g. Red wine vinegar £1.15/500ml. Basics Lemons, £1.10/5 lemons. Basics Natural yoghurt, 50p/500g. Kale £1/200g.

Jack Monroe. Follow me on Twitter @MxJackMonroe


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  1. I used to work with a client that bought a haggis at this time of year, broke it into pieces and froze them, using chunks to spice up their winter soups. This would work with this soup.

  2. You are a throwback to even more austere times Jack, but love your posts because they are so relevant to everyday living in 2015. We know the top 1% own almost everything & perhaps we can do something about this, when the vast majority of the human population realise it also . But, in the interim, we can live fulfilled lives by using the wonderful natural things this world has provided. Go Lass!

  3. We’ve still got a lot of Cavolo Nero (Tuscan Kale) growing in the garden here in County Leitrim in Ireland, barley, and cumin that ought to be used up sooner rather than later. So this is a very timely recipe. Thanks, Jack!

  4. Any tips on how to make this coeliac-friendly? Used to love pearl barley in the pre-diagnosis days

  5. This looks lovely have kale and most ingredients but just need the barley and will give it a go. Thanks Jack and keep on doing what you do x

  6. Lentils or split peas would probably be best, to make it gluten free. Lentils don’t need pre-soaking (split peas do, usually) but also soak up more water, so you’d need more water/ stock for your soup with lentils, depending how thick you wanted it. As well as making sure your stock, vinegar is gluten free etc.

  7. Made this tonight and it was awesome. If you make this don’t skip the garnish as it really takes it to another dimension. My husband is a real foodie and loved this too.

  8. Is there a typo in recipe? Cumin is mentioned again in garnish..is it supposed to be turmeric? Thats how I will be making it, so hopefully will be ok!

  9. Made this tonight with bulghar wheat instead of pearl barley, and spring greens for the kale. 150g of bulghar wheat made the most enormous hearty pot of soup. I noticed the double cumin in the recipe, just used cumin and turmeric in the soup part and the topping part and it tastes fine to me! Fragrant but not overpowering. I quite like the idea of having a bowlful for breakfast. This is my first comment on your blog, but I read it practically every day and I think you are absolutely brilliant 🙂

  10. fantastic soup !! have just made it for my family and added some very finely sliced leek & celery !
    thank you xx

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