Vegetable Barley Soup

An easy and delicious recipe for Pearl Barley Soup with step-by-step photos. It is a popular soup in the Swiss alps, called Gerstensuppe in German. The pearl barley thickens the soup as it cooks, making the soup quite substantial and comforting.

vegetable barley soup in plate with blue pattern

A Weekend in Kandersteg

A trip to the Swiss mountains usually guarantees good, hearty, winter fare. After a day of heavy duty winter sports, the body is likely to crave something substantial, something loaded with calories.

On a recent weekend away in the picturesque Swiss village of Kandersteg, my husband and I found it difficult to hold back when it came to mealtimes, despite the fact that neither of us had engaged in any strenuous outdoor activity which would have explained our hearty appetites.

But as my husband likes to put it, some dishes taste best when served in the appropriate surrounding environment; a fondue somehow tastes better when served in the mountains in an old wooden hut where everyone is rugged up in their winter woollies.

kandersteg 1.collage
{Cheese fondue at the Landgasthof Ruedihus}

Other typical alpine dishes include the skiing classic of Swiss Macaroni and Cheese with an accompanying serve of apple compote.

{Macaroni & Cheese at Hotel Victoria Ritter}

Also popular is the Käseschnitte, the heart-stopping Swiss version of a Croque Monsieur sandwich.

{A Käseschnitte (toasted cheese and ham sandwich) at Hotel Victoria Ritter}

And once you are done tucking into one of these delicious cheese dishes, you must absolutely make room for some apple fritters for dessert. These fritters have all the reminders of a hot cinnamon donut, but with a sweet apple interior.

{Apple Fritters with a Crème Anglaise at Landgasthof Ruedihus}

We found the variety of restaurants in Kandersteg to be somewhat sparse. In fact, compared to the more touristy Grindelwald, the village of Kandersteg was eerily quiet during our stay.

It was only when we ventured into the forests for a hike that we were quiety relieved to find other signs of life, namely people doing cross-country skiing or tobogganing.

Perhaps it is a popular destination for snow sports but not necessarily a popular place to stay?

vegetable barley soup in plate with blue pattern with bowl of croutons on the side

Where to Eat in Kandersteg

Landgasthof Ruedihus The streets in Kandersteg might seem awfully quiet at night but this hotel restaurant is always bustling with activity inside. The downstairs area has an informal menu of classics such as fondue and raclette, whilst the section upstairs houses a fine-dining restaurant, both serving amazingly, delicious food.

Hotel Victoria Ritter We were lured to this restaurant by the “Tea Room” sign outside, indicating a warm and cosy place to escape the blistering cold outside. Sadly, there was no such tea room inside but the restaurant nevertheless had a very nice menu and the food did not disappoint.

Hotel Restaurant Oeschinensee A visit to the Oeschinen Lake is a must if you are in Kandersteg. It is an incredibly picturesque lake in the summer, nestled between the huge walls of the surrounding snow-capped mountains. In winter, the entire lake is frozen over, making for an impressive scene in itself but you can also try ice fishing if you are keen. You can reach the Oeschinen Lake by foot from Kandersteg, or by taking the cable car part of the way up and walking the remaining 30 mins or so. It is a fairly easy walk (I managed with a baby in a carrier!), although you will be walking across ski slopes and sledding runs, so it is best to have your ski or winter hiking gear on during the winter. The restaurant overlooks the Oeschinen Lake and is a welcome sight if you are tired and hungry after your walk.

One particular dish from the mountains which is neither rich nor fattening, yet very restorative, is the Gerstensuppe, or vegetable barley soup. After hiking through the pictureque forest to the Oeschinen Lake, we arrived at the Hotel Restaurant Oeschinensee for some much-needed sustenance, and their simple pearl barley soup served with a smoked sausage was enough to revive the body and prepare it for the trek back down (after a generous serving of dessert and some Glühwein!).

{Pearl Barley Soup with a Smoked Sausage at Hotel Restaurant Oeschinensee}

Vegetable Barley Soup

Vegetable barley soup is not particular to Switzerland, although it is a popular dish in the Swiss mountains.

The pearl barley takes a good 30 minutes or so to cook and soften, but it has a wonderful way of thickening the soup as it cooks, adding some body and texture and consequently making the soup more substantial.

In fact, it’s a good way to bulk up any plain vegetable soup.

If you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table, you could even speed up the cooking process by using a pressure cooker.

vegetable barley soup with croutons in bowl with blue pattern

Vegetable Barley Soup Recipe

The recipe below for Vegetable Barley Soup comes from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg Everyday, a lovely book of robust, vegetarian meals.

Similar to most recipes which I lean towards, this one is easy to prepare and is full of flavour. The cayenne pepper provides a nice kick to this vegetable soup, but feel free to leave it out if you are serving young children.

If you’ve been out show-shoeing or hiking in the mountains in sub-zero temperatures, this is the soup you want to come home to. Instant comfort in a bowl.

How to Make Vegetable Barley Soup

For a printable version of the recipe, please scroll down.

ingredients for vegetable barley soup

step by step photos for making vegetable barley soup

step by step photos for making vegetable barley soup

step by step photos for making vegetable barley soup

step by step photos for making vegetable barley soup


Vegetable Barley Soup

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5 from 3 reviews

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 20 mins
  • Cook Time: 40 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Serves 3-4
  • Category: Soup
  • Cuisine: Swiss

An easy and delicious recipe for Vegetable Barley Soup with step-by-step photos. It is a popular soup in the Swiss alps, called Gerstensuppe in German. The pearl barley thickens the soup as it cooks, making the soup quite substantial and comforting. Recipe adapted from River Cottage Veg Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall


  • 2 carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 small brown onion
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • few sprigs of thyme
  • 3.5 oz (100g) pearl barley
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • pinch of ground mace
  • 6 cups (1.5 litres) chicken or vegetable stock
  • flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • croûtons for serving


  1. Finely dice the carrots, celery, and onion.
  2. Peel and chop the potatoes into large chunks.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat.
  4. Gently sauté the carrots, celery, and onions, together with the bay leaf and thyme. Cook until the vegetables have softened slightly.
  5. Stir through the potatoes and pearl barley.
  6. Add the ground coriander, cayenne pepper, and ground mace.
  7. Add the stock.
  8. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes, or until the pearl barley is very soft and the potatoes are cooked.
  9. Taste for seasoning, and add some sea salt and freshly cracked pepper.
  10. Serve with chopped parsely and croûtons.

Kitchen Notes

The original recipe calls for parsnips instead of potatoes. Use whichever is available to you, but potatoes will make this soup a little bit more filling.

To make the croûtons, simply slice some stale bread into 2cm (1 inch) cubes. Heat some olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and fry the bread, turning them frequently so that all sides become golden and crisp. The croûtons hardly take any time to cook so don’t leave the pan unattended as they can burn very quickly.

To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.


  • Serving Size: 1
  • Calories: 505
  • Sugar: 12.2g
  • Sodium: 1946.9mg
  • Fat: 14.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 73.6g
  • Fiber: 12.1g
  • Protein: 21.1g
  • Cholesterol: 45.6mg

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  1. Silver Magpies 12 March 2013

    That all looks delicious…and very filling. Love the photography accompanying the soup recipe.

    – Nan

  2. Paula 12 March 2013

    Nice to see you again!! I see you two still traveling, being mom is not going to change that!!

    Not being a great lover of soups, this one ‘screams calling me’. I think it’s for the barley!

    This summer perhaps I’ll visit Switzerland, maybe only Austria, we’ll see. But if I do, I hope to eat half as weel as you!!

    Now, I think I’m going to dream with a fondue in the Swiss mountains, even if the Käseschnitte looks good, and I love apple fritter (I tried in Austria and Germany). No matter if we haven’t done extreme sports before 😛

    • eat, little bird 13 March 2013

      Hi Paula!
      Yes, still travelling 😉 Having a baby has thankfully not altered our lives too much in the way of socialising and travelling. Of course, it’s different travelling with a baby but not impossible!

      Switzerland is a beautiful place to visit in summer – it’s really lovely and warm here, almost mediterranean. Do let me know if you visit and I can recommend to you some places to eat!

      • Paula 14 March 2013

        Oops, I thought you’d never say (just kidding, :P), of course I’ll ask you for advice!

        We’ll visit Alsace, Black Forest, and then may visit Switzerland (Rheinfall and that are) or we go Austria (although we’ve been there, if we return Spain from München, it’s more easy we go to Austria).

        If we see that it will be “little of Suitzerland”, we’ll leave for another year (we love to rent a car and go through a country, and we thinkg it can be beautiful with Switzerland).
        I’d love to visit any site recommended by you, so don’t hesitate, be afraid, I’ll ask you for advice with my rough English, jajaja.
        Thank you!! 😉 If you don’t say, I don’t dare to say, only to search what already is in the blog.

        And, by the way (what pain in the neck I’m today), I’ve received rhubarb thanks to a friend blogger, now I can make your rhubarb custard cake!!! In love with that Bee Sting 😉

  3. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom 12 March 2013

    Are you kidding me? all of this food looks absolutely fantastic! Especially love your barley soup and the Macaroni & Cheese from the Hotel Victoria Ritter. It’s a work of art!

    • eat, little bird 13 March 2013

      Yes, the food was really well presented at the Hotel Victoria Ritter. Not what you would expect in the mountains but nice all the same!

  4. Eileen 12 March 2013

    This has to be one of those dishes that is far more than the sum of its parts. I love the idea of bulking up a simple vegetable soup with chewy barley!

    • eat, little bird 13 March 2013

      Oh I agree. Simple vegetable soups rarely get a mention but they are always so comforting to eat.

  5. Toni 13 March 2013

    I made the very same soup a couple of months ago and loved it. Isn’t it funny how exactly the same recipe can look so different 🙂 xx

    • eat, little bird 13 March 2013

      Indeed! Your soup is much darker than mine, although I suppose that has to do with the stock that you used. I’m glad to hear that you also enjoyed this soup!

  6. Rushi 13 March 2013

    Thanh, what gorgeous pics and that mac & cheese reseambles a work of art 🙂

    I love soup, veggie or otherwise and I think this would be a great fall back recipe. It is rather cold here and I have most of the ingredients (except the parsley) so I might give this a go tonight, thanks for sorting out my dinner menu 😀

  7. Claire 13 March 2013

    That sounds completely yummy – I am going to have to try that recipe soon – thank you!

  8. Caroline 13 March 2013

    Amaaaaazing pictures as usual! You are such a talented photographer! I love this soup too and just realized that I have never made it at home somehow. I will try one of these days with your recipe.

  9. Not Only Sugar 14 March 2013

    Beautiful photos!!! I love Macaroni & Cheese… 😉

  10. Hello!
    I just love your step by step photos and this soup is definitely on the “must try” list once the cold weather sets in here in Sydney.

    • eat, little bird 26 March 2013

      Oh thank you 🙂 This is definitely a comforting soup to have in winter. We are currently experiencing the coldest winter in Zurich in 30 or so years which means that soups and stews will still be on the menu for a few more weeks …

  11. the treat truck 26 March 2013

    Healthy. Wholesome. Delicious. Can’t wait to try this recipe 🙂

  12. The Food Sage 17 April 2013

    You have kick-started my lunch appetite and it’s not even 10.30am. How unfair of you! I have to say the macaroni cheese (long-time fave) and Käseschnitte (never come across it in my life, but have it’s love at first sight) both look amazing, as does your pearl barley soup, which is right on the money as we edge into autumn here in Sydney. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Sonia 13 January 2015

    What an amazing blog! My daughter stumbled upon your blog when she was looking for a recipe I should make for her après ski. She found this Pearl Barley Soup and I found a great blog 😉 I can not wait to make this on the weekend.

    • Eat, Little Bird 19 January 2015

      Thank you for your lovely feedback 🙂 I hope you enjoyed this recipe – I think it’s perfect after a long day on the snow. And I hope you will enjoy your future visits to this website 🙂

  14. Vee 24 January 2015

    At what point did you add your potatoes?

    • Eat, Little Bird 24 January 2015

      Oops! I added the potatoes just before the spices. I’ll update the recipe accordingly. Thanks for bring this to my attention!

  15. Nadine 10 December 2015

    Where in the world did you find pearl barley in Zurich? I love it but can’t find it!

    • Eat, Little Bird 10 December 2015

      I find pearl barley quite easily at Migros and Coop. It’s often sold alongside the rice, couscous, polenta, etc. It’s called Rollgerste in German. They definitely sell it in Zurich – it’s an essential component for Gerstensuppe! 🙂

  16. Deborah Santos 9 January 2016

    Thank you for shared the Pearl Barley Soup. I went to Switzerland last summer and I tried this soup after a day of hiking the Motherhorne Mountain. I am from a Puerto Rico, a tropical island in the Caribbean and I didn’t find barley in the supermarkets. Yesterday, I found a box of Barley in Marshalls Store, I found your delicious recipe and a I did it today. I love it. Yummy.

    • Eat, Little Bird 10 January 2016

      That’s wonderful to hear that you got to try this soup in Switzerland and make it at home 🙂 It’s a great soup to make in winter, although I imagine it doesn’t get too cold in Puerto Rico! We recently stayed in a holiday apartment in the mountains and this was a really simple soup to make from scratch with minimal ingredients. I’m glad you found this recipe!

  17. Stacy 9 October 2017

    Thank you for this recipe, it was delicious! I added some mini turkey meatballs that I made using the same spice profile and it was amazingly good. Your pictures are gorgeous, by the way!

    • Eat, Little Bird 9 October 2017

      Thank you, Stacy! I love the sound of adding meatballs to this soup – I will have to try this myself. Glad you enjoyed this recipe 🙂

  18. Madeleine 11 April 2018

    Excellent recipe! We always order this soup in winter and I love being able to make it at home now. The croutons were delicious by themselves too! Thank you for the recipe.

  19. Julia 12 April 2018

    I am going to try this out! Yummy! This made me drool.

  20. Rhian Awni 15 September 2018

    I made this the other day and my family LOVED it. It was delicious, and will make again and again! I did not have barley so I used wheat berry. Otherwise followed the recipe to the T. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Carol Pandis 11 December 2020

    Made this today and it was wonderful, full of flavor. I did end up putting a full cup of barley in it because it wasn’t thick enough for me. Oh and added some chopped up spinach. Yum!

    • Eat, Little Bird 11 December 2020

      Hi Carol,
      So glad you enjoyed this soup recipe! I love the changes you made too – spinach sounds lovely.

  22. Suzanne 26 May 2022

    This looks so good! What a healthy and hearty lunch meal prep for the week!

  23. Vanessa 26 May 2022

    Thanks for sharing! Does it keep long?