Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup in a bowl with spoon.

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

I grew up with soup, and for me, it’s the pinnacle of comfort foods. Anyone can crack open a can of Campbell’s (and sometimes I still do), but you can make your own special, extra-tasty version of Vegetable Beef Barley Soup at home, using even that freezer-burned round steak you found in the back of the fridge.

The Secret to Good Vegetable Beef Barley Soup – Fond

The secret to this Vegetable Beef Barley Soup is the fond. Fond is a French term for “foundation” or “bottom”, and it’s just the word used to describe the browned bits of protein that stick to the “bottom” of your pot after browning meat. Heat breaks down proteins into a highly flavorful compound that greatly enhances anything you make on a stove.

The trick to good fond is to encouraging the meat to stick. Yeah, that’s right. You want the meat to stick to the surface of the pan. For this reason, you cannot use a non-stick surface to create a fond. You’ll need a cast-iron or stainless steel metal pan with no non-stick coating. (For a good, inexpensive stainless steel stock pot, Click Here).

Add just a small amount of oil to the pan and heat it just until shimmering, but not smoking. Add the meat and spread it about until you have an even layer and it’s good and “stuck.” Don’t worry – it won’t stay stuck. Once the heat does it’s work and the proteins break down, the meat will release from the pan, leaving behind the very top layer which will turn to fond.

Because we’re using small bits of beef, you can brown it until it’s very dark for even better flavor. And because we’re making the soup in the same pot as you use for browning, you’ll capture all of that in your soup.

Time to Deglaze the Pan

You’ve seen the term “deglaze”, and maybe it’s a bit confusing. But all it means is that you’re releasing that fond from the bottom of the pan, using some sort of liquid. It can be just about anything – but in this case, I use red wine. I like the full flavor it brings to this soup. But you can use beef broth or even water. Just bring up the heat and use a wooden utensil to scrape up all the fond while the liquid bubbles.

What Veggies to Use?

The most traditional vegetables for Vegetable Beef Barley Soup are the “Holy Trinity” of onion, celery and carrots, and I use those here. But I also add garlic, canned tomatoes, turnip and a few potatoes. Turnip is a very overlooked root vegetable that adds a bit of “peppery” flavor to your soup, while potatoes make it a bit more filling. Optionally, a cup of frozen peas gives some color contrast as well.

And for the Herbs

Thyme is an herb you’ll often see associated with beef, and for good reason. It’s inherently savory nature pairs well with it. Bay leaf is an aromatic spice that lends a surprising amount of flavor to many soups, and should not be skipped (but you’ll want to remove it before serving.)

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup

Stretch an inexpensive cut of beef into a hearty meal for the whole family. With a rich base of red wine and a deep fond, this Vegetable Beef Barley Soup never disappoints.
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time2 hours
Total Time2 hours 30 minutes
Course: Main Course, Soup
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Vegetable Beef Barley Soup
Servings: 5 Servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp Oil or Bacon Fat
  • 1 lb Beef Cut into very small pieces, 1/4"
  • 1 med Onion chopped fine
  • 3 cloves Garlic minced
  • 2 stalks Celery chopped
  • 3 medium Carrots chopped fine
  • 4 tbsp Flour
  • 1 1/2 cups Red Wine Cabernet is good
  • 2 1/2 cups Beef Broth
  • 1 1/2 cups Water
  • 1 16 oz Canned Tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp Dried Thyme
  • 2 Bay Leaf
  • 1 medium Turnip cubed
  • 2 medium Potatoes Peeled and cubed
  • 3/4 cup Pearl Barley
  • 1 cup Frozen Peas optional

Instructions

Preparation

  • Chop your meat into fine pieces, no more than 1/4"
  • Mince garlic and finely chop the onion and place together in a small bowl
  • Chop celery and carrots and group together
  • Peel and cube potatoes and turnip and set aside.

The Soup

  • Add 1 tbsp oil or fat in a non-stick stainless steel or iron stock pot and heat on high until shimmering.
  • Add just enough beef to cover the bottom of the pot, reserving the rest for the next browning. Brown the beef thoroughly, until almost crunchy. Remove to a bowl and proceed with the next batch until all the beef is browned.
  • Lower heat and add onion and garlic, and cook for a few minutes.
  • Add 1 tbsp of oil or fat and allow to heat for a minute, then add the flour. Stir and cook until it releases a nutty aroma – about two minutes.
  • Carefully add wine and deglaze the pan, scraping all the browned bits off the bottom of the pot.
  • Add beef broth, water, turnip, potatoes, canned tomatoes, barley, bay leaves and thyme. Add the beef back in the pot, cover and simmer for 1 hour, or until potatoes are done.
  • (Optional: after 45 minutes, add 1 cup of frozen peas and cook for 15 minutes).
  • Remove bay leaves. Season with pepper and salt if necessary. I use regular salted broth, so salt is usually not necessary, but a good dash or two of pepper is great.

Notes

Beef: This recipe is perfect for a tough cut of round steak or London Broil cut. The smaller you chop it, the more tender it will be in the end.
Red Wine: I use Cabernet, but any dry red wine or wine blend will work. A non-alcoholic option would be 1 1/2 cups water with a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.
 

Try My Other Soups

If you’d like a quicker version, try my Instant Pot Beef and Barley Soup. Or, for a creamy hearty soup, try my Potato and Leek Soup with Sausage.

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