Split pea soup with barley and butternut squash - the underdog of the soup world. It's not as fancy as a bisque or as popular as tomato soup, but it's hearty, healthy, vegan, and delicious.
Few people wake up and say, "Man, I can't wait to chow down on some split pea and barley soup today!"
Let's face it, split pea and barley soup isn't exactly the sexiest dish on the menu for most people. But despite your impressions, this split pea and barley soup with butternut squash is delicious. Give this soup a chance, and it'll surprise you with its depth of flavor and hearty texture. Together, these ingredients make a tasty soup that is good for you, tastes delicious, and satiates you.
Why You'll Love This Soup
- High Protein: Both split peas and barley are excellent plant-based protein sources.
- Rich in Fiber: This soup is high in fiber, making it great for digestion and offering a feeling of fullness.
- Creaminess Without Dairy: The nature of split peas, when cooked down, creates a creamy texture, making the soup feel indulgent without using dairy.
- Chunkiness: The butternut squash and barley add a satisfying chew, offering a multifaceted texture that makes every bite interesting.
- Meal Prep Friendly: This kind of soup generally stores well, making it ideal for meal prep or freezer meals.
- Easy to Prepare: While you need to cook this soup for about an hour, it is super easy to put together and beginner cook-friendly.
- Diet-Friendly: The plant-based nature of this dish makes it accessible to those following a vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore diet.
- Comfort Food: The heartiness of this soup taps into the universal love for comfort food, especially during colder seasons.
The Benefits of Split Pea and Barley Soup
Not only is this soup great for batch cooking, but other benefits include:
- Split peas are an excellent source of plant-based protein.
- Barley is high in fiber and can help regulate blood sugar levels.
- Vegan split pea soup is low in fat and cholesterol-free and can be healthy for those looking to lose weight. This soup is high in protein and fiber, which can help keep you full and satisfied for extended periods. Additionally, it is low in calories, making it an excellent option for those looking to reduce their calorie intake. Look at this NIH article on how eating soup can help you feel more satiated.
- Split pea and barley soup contain essential nutrients such as iron, zinc, and potassium.
Ingredients and Substitutions
One of the best things about this delicious split pea and barley soup with butternut squash is that it is effortless and a one-pot meal. Here is a visual of the easy-to-find ingredients:
- Olive oil: If you are avoiding oil or want an even lower calorie version of this soup, substitute sautéing in oil with vegetable broth.
- White or yellow onion
- Carrots: Frozen or fresh works well.
- Celery stalks: Substitute with ½ teaspoon of celery salt. Adjust salt as needed.
- Garlic cloves: Three garlic cloves equal ⅜ to ¾ teaspoons of dried garlic powder or about a tablespoon of minced garlic.
- Butternut squash: Sweet potatoes are also delicious in this recipe, but you can substitute with gold or russet potatoes, too - it just won't have that bit of sweetness that pairs well with the barley and split peas. I buy the precut or frozen butternut to save time.
- Spices: Thyme, oregano, cumin, and bay leaf are delicious in this recipe. You can adjust the amounts and add coriander or smoked paprika for variety.
- Barley: I use regular dried barley in this recipe. The time spent simmering helps develop a deep, rich flavor, so if you want to use quick-cooking barley, you will want to add it towards the end of the cooking process to let the other flavors develop and prevent the barley from becoming too soft.
- Green split peas: Dried split peas are better if you have the time and prefer a heartier texture. Canned split peas can be a good choice if you're short on time (and use the quick-cook barley, too) or if you like a smoother texture. Adjust the time on this recipe if you use canned split peas and quick-cooking barley to avoid an overcooked and mushy stew.
- Vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper
- Bay leaf
Here are the 'visual hors d'oeuvres' or process shots. See the recipe card for more details.
First, prep the split peas by sorting, rinsing, and soaking for 20 minutes while prepping other ingredients.
In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium. Sauté onion, carrots, celery, and garlic until soft (5-7 mins).
Add butternut squash and sauté for another 5 minutes.
Stir in thyme, cumin, and oregano and sauté.
Add drained split peas, barley, broth, and a bay leaf. Mix.
Bring to a boil, then simmer on low, covered, for ~60 mins or until tender. Stir occasionally.
Remove bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Adjust as needed.
Use an immersion blender for the desired soup texture.
Top with chives or scallions and serve with crusty bread or croutons.
- If you use butternut squash, save yourself a lot of time and buy it pre-chopped in the refrigerated vegetable section of your store.
- Remove any stones, discolored, or broken split peas.
- Wash and rinse the peas until the water runs clear, then soak them for about 30 minutes to reduce cooking time and improve digestibility.
- Add your favorite vegetables to this soup recipe. You can use whatever you have on hand, such as a variety of potatoes (gold, Idaho, cubed pumpkin, sweet potato), zucchini, spinach, or kale.
- Use a flavorful veggie broth for the best taste.
- For a creamier soup, I use an immersion blender to puree some or all of the split peas and barley before serving. Remember to remove the bay leaf first!
- This soup will thicken in the refrigerator. It is much thicker the next day and still delicious.
Why Aren't The Split Peas Softening?
If you've been simmering your split peas for a while and they're still not softening, there could be a number of reasons why this is happening. Here are some common factors:
- Old Peas: The age of the split peas can make a huge difference. Older peas have lost more moisture and can take much longer to soften, sometimes never fully softening.
- Salt and Seasoning: Adding salt or salty seasonings (like bouillon cubes) too early can also interfere with softening. It's better to season later in the cooking process.
- Cooking Temperature: Cooking at too high a temperature can sometimes cause the outer skin of the peas to "seal," making it hard for the water to penetrate and soften them. A low, steady simmer is usually best.
- Insufficient Cooking Time: Sometimes split peas need more time on the stove. If you've followed the recipe and they're still not soft, try extending the cooking time.
- Competing Ingredients: Other ingredients in the pot can compete for the available water, making it more difficult for the peas to absorb enough to soften. This is especially true if you have a lot of starchy or absorbent ingredients. If you added more vegetables or potatoes to this recipe, make sure to add more broth to compensate.
- Stirring: Failing to stir the pot occasionally might lead to uneven cooking, causing some peas to soften while others remain hard.
- High Altitude Locations: Altitude can definitely be a factor in why your split peas aren't softening as expected. At higher altitudes, the boiling point of water is lower due to the decreased air pressure. This means that foods cooked in boiling water will cook at a lower temperature and therefore may take longer to soften.
- Crusty bread: Serve with a slice of crusty bread or a dinner roll for dipping in the soup.
- Toppings: Add vegan bacon bits or chopped fresh herbs for added flavor and texture. Red pepper flakes are also delicious in this split pea soup.
- Salad: Pair with a fresh green salad like this Arugula and Pear Salad with Pumpkin Vinaigrette for a delicious seasonal meal.
- Sandwich: Serve alongside a vegan grilled cheese sandwich for a comforting lunch.
- Hot sauce: Add a few drops of hot sauce or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for a spicy kick.
- Vegan sour cream or yogurt: Add a dollop of vegan sour cream or yogurt on top of the split pea soup for a tangy and creamy contrast.
- Lemon: Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the soup for a bright and refreshing flavor. I do this to almost all my soups.
- Crispy fried onions: Add some crispy fried onions to the top of the soup for a satisfying crunch
- Croutons: Vegan Homemade Croutons are my favorite topping for any hearty soup.
Yes, follow the same steps as the stovetop version, but cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.
Yes. Saute the aromatics first, then place the rest of the ingredients and seal the pressure cooker. Cook for 20 minutes and let it naturally release for 20 minutes.
Yes, split pea and barley soup freezes well. Let the soup cool completely, transfer it to an airtight container or freezer bag, and freeze for 2-3 months. To reheat, thaw the soup overnight in the refrigerator and then heat it on the stovetop or in the microwave.
Not only is this soup delicious and nutritious, it is also incredibly versatile. You can easily add vegetables like kale or swap out the seasonings for something different. You can also adjust the consistency of the soup to your liking, adding more or less broth as needed.
Barley contains gluten, but you could easily swap it for a gluten-free grain like quinoa or rice to cater to people with dietary restrictions.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional (or saute with vegetable broth))
- 1 onion (large white or yellow)
- 3 carrots (chopped)
- 2 celery stalks (chopped)
- 3 cloves garlic (or 1 ½ tbsp minced)
- 2 cups butternut squash (cubed; optional sweet potato, Yukon golden, russet potato)
- 1 tablespoon thyme
- ½ tablespoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 cup dried green split peas (rinsed and drained)
- ½ cup barley
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 1 bay leaf (large)
- ½ tablespoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- Sort, rinse, and soak the split peas for about 20 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are soft.
- Add the butternut squash. Saute for another 5 minutes.
- Add the thyme, cumin, oregano and saute for 1-2 minutes.
- Add the split peas, barley, broth, and bay leaf. Stir to combine.
- Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and let it simmer for ~60 minutes or until the split peas and barley are tender. Stir it occasionally, making sure it does not stick to the bottom.
- Remove the bay leaf and discard it. Add the salt and pepper to taste.
Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as needed.
- Use an immersion blender to partially puree the soup or all the soup until you reach your desired consistency. Alternatively, use a blender.
- Serve the soup with a piece of crusty bread, croutons, or on its own. See other serving suggestions in the post.
- If the soup is too thick, add more veggie broth or water; stir and decide if more is needed. Remember that the soup will thicken further as it cools.
- This soup will thicken in the refrigerator overnight. Add a little veggie broth before reheating if you want to thin it out the next day.
- Sautéing the onions with veggie broth is a great option if you are trying to reduce calories or go oil-free.
- Substitute butternut squash with pumpkin, sweet potato, Idaho, or gold potatoes.
- If the split peas are not softening after 60 minutes, check the post for possible reasons.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
- Category: main course, soup
- Cuisine: American, European-Inspired
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Calories: 201
- Sugar: 6
- Sodium: 1166
- Fat: 4
- Saturated Fat: 1
- Carbohydrates: 34
- Fiber: 10
- Protein: 8
- Cholesterol: 0 mg
Keywords: barley, batch cooking, split peas, weight-loss