Mushroom and Barley Soup – A Vegetarian, Filling Fall Feast

finished mushroom and barley soup
The finished mushroom and barley soup gets a parsley garnish and some fat sourdough slices for dipping.

This mushroom and barley soup recipe came to me shortly after Fall mushroom season opened up in the Pacific Northwest. I headed out to find some chanterelles but came home empty handed. I was left with two options. One, I could try to grow enough mushrooms with my lion’s mane mushroom log. However, I think I stored that log too long and it only produced a few snacks of mushrooms. The second option was to simply buy some mushrooms and go for it.

I settled for the simple, store-bought white mushrooms, which still made a delicious, healthy soup.

A Vegetarian Twist on a Traditionally Meaty Dish

Life with a vegetarian member of the household provides a consistent challenge for me as a carnivorous cook. So I look for ways to create vegetarian versions of dishes that normally contain meat. I did something similar with this lobster mushroom bisque. This mushroom barley soup comes directly from a favorite dish of my father’s, the venerable beef and barley soup. But how do you replace the beef and beef broth that impart so much flavor?

ingredients for mushroom and barley soup
Simple ingredients make this dish a quick, easy, and satisfying lunch or dinner.

Mushrooms, Mushrooms, More Mushrooms

In my house we have a saying: When using mushrooms, double the number you think you need. Of course we all like mushrooms. AND, since water provides about 90% of the weight of fresh mushrooms, they cook down into a fraction of their original size. During this cooking process they impart the liquid with a ton of mushroom flavored liquid. In reality I could add even more mushrooms to this recipe than the 24oz I already had.

mushroom detail
I used plain white button mushrooms for this dish. You can find them anywhere and can buy them whole or sliced.
lions mane mushroom slices
I also added a couple of slices of lions mane mushrooms to the pot from my growing kit.

Using a Stock for the Mushroom Barley Soup

The second way to add more mushroom flavor is to use a mushroom broth or stock. Pressed for time, I used a store-bought mushroom broth. It’s passable and infused the soup with a lot of flavor. I could certainly do better with more time and more mushrooms by making my own mushroom stock. If you prefer to buy it and can’t find it at you local grocer, here’s some mushroom broth on Amazon. You also could substitute regular veggie stock as well, although you will dilute the mushroom flavor.

mushroom broth
a store-bought mushroom broth tasted just fine and brought extra flavor to the pot.

Barley, the Fiber Powerhouse and Weight Loss Assistant

In additional to Fall mushroom hunting season, this dish also draws inspiration from a story I  read recently about barley’s ability to suppress appetite due to its high soluble fiber content. Long story short, barley breaks down in your large intestine, so its effects in suppressing snacking urges last for many hours, making it a perfect lunch meal for me. I hope it will keep me out of the bagged popcorn during the afternoons!

pearl barley
Barley contains soluble fiber that helps lower cholesterol and fights food cravings later in the day.

Mushroom Barley Soup Needs Some Secret Ingredients

As with all things for my cooking, Julie Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking provides the clues to drawing out the flavors of the mushrooms and then balancing them with a little acid.

In this mushroom barley soup recipe I’m adding white pepper instead of the black pepper. White pepper is the seed of the peppercorn, sans the fruity wrinkled exterior. It’s pungent and earthy. Much like cumin, if you take a big whiff of it you’ll question whether to actually use it. Do it. Its flavors match well with mushrooms and indeed Julia uses it as a base seasoning for her mushrooms. You can find white pepper at nearly every grocery store  or you can buy it online.

Second, add a little dry white wine or some lemon juice. Both of these options add a hit of acid that balances against the extreme earthiness of the mushrooms and livens the flavors. Again, thank Julia for this tip.

Ground White Pepper Detail
White pepper gives an extra earthy kick to any dish. Just don’t get a big whiff of it!

The Family Loved This Soup So I Win Dinner

I paired this soup with a fresh loaf of sourdough we bought at the local farmer’s market. It was a hit with the family and I’ll take it as a win. Suburban Feast conquers another meal!

mushroom and barley soup detail 2
You can see how the barley has opened in this bowl.
finished mushroom and barley soup

Mushroom and Barley Soup

This mushroom and barley soup is a quick-to-table vegetarian riff on the classic beef and barley soup.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Course Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine American
Servings 4 people
Calories 150 kcal


  • 1 Large Soup Pot


  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion white or yellow
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 24 oz white mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup dry pearl barley use more for a thicker soup
  • 32 oz mushroom broth substitute vegetable broth
  • 1 cup green beans sliced 1/2 inch pieces. Skip the green beans if you want to have a really full mushroom flavor.
  • 1 tsp lemon juice You could also use 1/4 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp white pepper secret ingredient!
  • 1 tsp rubbed thyme of sub 2 tbsp fresh thyme


  • Prep veggies: Dice carrots and onion, slice mushrooms and green beans
  • Heat large stock pot on medium high heat, add 1 tbsp olive oil to hot pan, then dump in carrots and onion and saute until onions are translucent - about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and saute about 30 seconds.
  • Add mushrooms, mushroom broth, salt, black pepper, white pepper and thyme and bring to a boil. It should look like you have too many mushrooms but they will cook down quickly.
  • Once boiling, add barley and lower heat to low and simmer until barley is tender, about 30-45 minutes. At this point decide if the soup is too thick for your liking and add more broth (vegetable broth is fine) or even a little water if you're out of broth.
  • Add green beans and simmer another 10 minutes (You can skip the green beans for an uninterrupted mushroom flavor.)
  • Before serving, add parsley and add more salt and pepper to your taste.
  • Enjoy with some good bread if you have some.
Keyword barley, mushrooms, vegetables, vegetarian

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