Mushroom Barley Soup

I was on a college road trip when I had my first taste of Mushroom Barley Soup. My friends and I stopped at a roadside deli—I wish I could remember the name of the place. What I do remember is that piping hot bowl of delicious soup. It was love at first bite.

You can find this soup on most Jewish deli menus. The dish has roots in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Mushrooms were popular in these cold-weather countries because they could be harvested, dried, and stored for later use. In my friend Etti Hadar’s family memoir, her Polish uncle Dov Levin talks about how his mother used to string up rows of mushrooms with a thread and needle in the attic. They would hang the mushrooms near the chimney; the heat of the stove would dry them out faster that way.

Barley was also plentiful and easy to grow in the Eastern European climate, making it a common addition to hearty winter dishes like soup and cholent. Barley’s history goes back even further; in fact, it is arguably the world’s first and most ancient cultivated grain. It is also one of the Seven Species mentioned in the Bible.

Ever since that fateful college road trip, I’ve worked on creating my own soup recipe to achieve what I consider the perfect balance of mushroom barley flavor. I’ve stuck to simple, natural ingredients. Inspired by Uncle Dov’s memoir, I added dried mushrooms with their soaking liquid to the broth, along with fresh mushrooms seared golden brown. The combination adds complex flavor to an otherwise simple soup. A long, slow simmer reduces the broth, making the soup thick and rich.

This robust, filling soup makes a hearty lunch or dinner on a chilly autumn day. Despite being “comfort food,” it is surprisingly healthy. Barley is rich in dietary fiber and selenium. The grain also contains beta glucan, a complex sugar that can help to lower cholesterol. Enjoy!

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Mushroom Barley Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 qts (12 cups) chicken or mushroom stock (low sodium okay)
  • 1 1/4 cups pearl barley
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 dried shitake mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped celery, including leaves
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 lb white mushrooms, scrubbed and sliced
  • Salt and pepper

You will also need

  • Large stock pot, timer, small saucepan, skillet, paper coffee filter or clean mesh coffee filter
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 2 Hours 15 Minutes
Total Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes
Servings: 6-8
Kosher Key: Meat or Pareve depending on stock
  • Pour chicken or mushroom stock into a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir in the barley, add the bay leaves, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered. Set your timer for 2:15 (2 hours 15 minutes) starting now.
  • While the soup simmers, place dried mushrooms in a separate small saucepan. Add 3 cups of water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water boils, remove saucepan from heat and let the mushrooms soak for 20 minutes.
  • Drain the mushroom water by straining it through a coffee filter (use a mesh strainer or colander to hold the filter). Reserve the mushroom water.
  • Chop the soaked, softened mushrooms into small pieces and reserve.
  • Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion to the skillet and sauté till softened.
  • Add the celery and carrots and sauté for 5 more minutes till everything is browning and starting to caramelize.
  • Add the soaked chopped dried mushroom pieces and crushed garlic, sauté for 2 more minutes. Your kitchen should smell really good right about now!
  • Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Pour the strained mushroom broth into the skillet, bring to a boil, stir. Cook for 2 more minutes till mixture is hot and bubbly. Add the contents of the skillet to the simmering stockpot with the broth and barley.
  • Without rinsing the skillet, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat, tilting to coat the bottom of the pan. Spread half of the sliced white mushrooms in a single layer at the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and turn heat to high. Let the mushrooms sear without stirring.
  • After 2 minutes, stir the mushrooms continuously for another 1-2 minutes until they are seared golden brown and shrink to about half their size.
  • Pour the seared mushrooms into the soup pot. Heat the last 1 tbsp olive oil in the skillet and repeat the process for the remaining mushrooms. Add the rest of the seared mushrooms to the soup pot, stir to blend all ingredients.
  • Reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the soup cook uncovered until your timer goes off (2 hours 15 minutes total cooking time), or until the barley is completely tender and the soup is nicely thickened. Add water during the simmer if the soup becomes overly thick. At the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

Other Great Recipe Ideas

In Erika’s Kitchen: Winter Greens Soup with Mushrooms 

The Pioneer Woman: French Onion Soup Stuffed Mushrooms 

Simply Recipes: Mushroom Risotto

Kalyn’s Kitchen: Chicken Barley Soup 

Weelicious: Barley, Chicken and Broccoli Salad

Comments (106)Post a Comment

  1. I have what may be a silly question, but perhaps others might have it too. Can dried shiitake mushrooms be TOO old? I have some that look perfectly fine and no different than ones I purchased about six months ago. Any advice/experience greatly appreciated!

  2. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    SERIOUSLY this is ABSOLUTELY DELISH!!! I used Ghee instead of oil, and I used chanterelle, crimini and white button mushrooms from FM and homemade stock… AMAZING!!! I can not stop eating it! haa! Thank you! I write Gluten Free recipes for FoodFanatic.com … I’d love to hear your take on one of mine someday! Thanks for all the delicious things you’re doing… I’m totally hitting the coffee and rum roast recipe next week! xoxo Mama Love Grub

  3. I made this today and just wanted you to know how yummy and warming it is on this winter’s day. I did most of the work cutting and sauteeing yesterday so all I had to do today was heat the broth with barley. After I let it cook for an hour, then put in the cooked mirepoix and sauteed mushrooms. SO easy!

  4. I made this last night. At the end of the cooking time, although delicious, the barley didn’t seem soft enough. It was late & I had to cool it off & refrigerate it. Will the barley soften when I reheat it? Any other suggestions?

    1. Hi Teri, no problem. Just give yourself some extra time when you reheat the soup and simmer it a while longer, the barley should soften up with time. Sometimes older barley can take longer to soften. If the soup appears to be getting dry or overly thick, add some water or broth to revive it. Enjoy!

  5. Dreamt about mushroom barley soup I ordered at Katz’s Deli 10 + years ago in Austin before it (sadly) closed. Have been searching for a recipe and your photo looks magically as I remember it. Will hunt down the pearl barley this week and recreate it as faithfully as I can. Thanks so very much, and for your lovely website and posts!

    1. You’re welcome Tina. Many delis add a marrow bone or a few short ribs to the broth for a meaty, savory depth, so if you’re not a vegetarian you may wish to add one or the other to the pot. Enjoy!

  6. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Tori, know I am terribly late with a reply, but have to say this is a FABULOUS soup! I recenty took some food to a friend in need, all frozen in 1 qt bags out of my freezer and THIS is the recipe she wanted! What she loved about it was that it was so soul and body satisfying that it kept her going for a long time!

    Blessings to you for sharing such a wonderful recipe-it’s a treasure, as are you!

    1. DebD thank you so much for taking the time to write! I can’t tell you how it warms my heart knowing my recipe helped out your friend at a time when she needed some comfort. Comments like these make it all worthwhile!

  7. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    This is a perfect recipe, one of the few I don’t tweak at all. Sophisticated and homey at the same time. I serve this soup with a very good loaf of rye bread and a salad of mesclun greens, beets, purple onion, walnuts and goat cheese. Unbelievably good.

  8. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    I chose to make this recipe after looking through several others because it seemed simple and authentic. Well, I made it tonight, and it turned out wonderfully, exactly as I would have hoped, and exactly like your photos! I love how the brothy part thickened the perfect amount as it cooked (I left it on the stove a little bit longer than you suggested in order to get the carrot pieces just a tad softer). The only thing I had to alter was the mushrooms; I couldn’t make it to the store to get dried mushrooms, so I just used two packages of fresh white mushrooms. I will definitely try with dried mushrooms next time.

    It’s FREEZING here in Chicago tonight, and this soup is indeed savory, comforting, and, for me, nostalgia-inducing. Also, my two year old son LOVED it. NOM NOM NOM. Thank you! Had to share on Facebook. Happy Holidays. 😀

  9. Very good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 starsVery good - 4 stars
    Dear Tori,
    I must thank you for this delicious soup, which now takes place in my own collection.
    I just slightly modified it : in a first version, I soaked the barley overnight to reduce the cooking time, and cooked it as a risotto, (this is actually not a soup anynmore :-) ). In a second version, I used barley flour instead of pearled barley to make a “velouté” (it’s much faster :-)) and, as a genuine french cooker, I also added some cream (which of course wrecks any cashrout :-( ).
    In both versions, I omit garlic and bay leaves.

    Thank you again for all your yummy dishes – and sorry for the broken english.

  10. Excellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 starsExcellent - 5 stars
    Hi Tori,
    I followed your recipe very closely – the only changes I made were vegetable stock to make it vegan, and nearly doubling the vegetable quantities so it would be heartier.

    Wow! What a great soup! I’d never before worked with dried mushrooms but felt confident using them because of your photos and detailed instructions. (For some reason I thought they would be expensive, hard to find and difficult to work with – they were none of those… I got them at Trader Joe’s for $1.99 and prep was a breeze.)

    Thank you for a Keeper Recipe!

  11. Is it possible to use quick cooking barley instead? I have not had good luck with regular barely and don’t want to spend a lot of time and barely isn’t soft enough. Thank you.

    1. Wanda quick cooking barley should work fine, although it might end up softer in texture depending on how long it is supposed to cook. I would say prepare the soup as written but without barley, then add the quick cooking barley to the broth towards the end of cooking and cook it for the time recommended on the box, but not much longer than that (otherwise you might end up with mushy soup).

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