Persian vegetarian barley soup prepared with beans, herbs and spices is so delicious and hearty. It is wholesome and can be served as a main course or side dish.
Vegetarian Barley Soup
Persian soups are known as “Ash” in Farsi, and are cooked with a variety of beans, grains, greens, herbs, spices, onions and meats. Hence these soups can be considered a complete meal.
These nourishing soups are thick in consistency and very rich in flavor. And are routinely served in Persian households.
Restaurants in the West sometimes serve Ash-e Jow (barley soup), prepared with and without meat. We already have a Persian style beef and barley soup and now wanted to share a vegetarian version.
This is a family recipe shared by my father-in-law who got it from his niece, famous for her barley soup. Slow cooking is the optimal method for Persian soups, but I also have some short-cuts and tricks below.
The wholesome ash-e Jow is finally topped with tangy liquid whey (kashk), fried onions and mint oil.
Enjoy this cozy comforting ash-e jow in winter and year round.
- Onions: Slice the yellow onions very thin. I often use my mandolin slicer for consistent results.
- Cooking Oil: I prefer olive oil for shallow-frying or sautéing onions. But if you want to fry the onions in bulk as we do it for koshari, then be sure to choose high smoke point oils.
- Chickpeas and Kidney Beans: Usually I soak dried beans overnight in water for cooking ash recipes. That is what works best for the traditional slow cooking method. But you can easily make this soup with canned beans. Check the recipe below to learn how to use these.
- Barley: Pearl barley will work very well. If using hulled barley, then soak it overnight in water, drain, and rub the grains in a kitchen towel to remove the hull.
- Herbs: I prefer to use fresh parsley, cilantro, green onions, leeks and dill. Check recipe for how to sub with dried herbs.
- Spinach: Fresh or frozen spinach will work.
- Kashk (liquid whey):
- Persian soups are topped with kashk, a creamy fermented yogurt product that is tangy, salty and has a cheese like flavor.
- It is available at Persian grocery stores or online as a liquid or in a dry form that can be reconstituted.
- To make a homemade substitute, blend together rich yogurt/sour cream or creme fraiche with parmesan cheese and feta cheese.
- Some people may not like the taste of Kashk. Alternatives are sour cream, lemon juice or vinegar.
- Turmeric and Dried mint: Get these in bulk quantities at Indian and middle eastern stores for a good price.
- Fresh ginger
- Salt and Pepper
How To Make Vegetarian Barley Soup
Brief overview below. *Full recipe at the end of blog post.
- Soak: Soak the beans overnight in water.
- Beans: Cook the beans with water or broth until soft and mash it a bit.
- Barley: Add barley and cook until soft.
- Onions: Meanwhile sauté onions in oil until golden brown. Stir dried mint and set aside.
- Ginger: Stir grated ginger in the simmering soup.
- Greens: Add chopped herbs, spinach and cook.
- Spices: Then add spices and simmer. Adjust consistency and seasonings to your taste.
- Serve: Top the hot soup with kashk or sour cream and mint-fried onions.
- The onions should be sliced very thin and fried crisp. Try using a mandolin slicer for consistent results and check the crispy fried onion instructions in the koshari recipe post.
- For more flavor, cook the soup with vegetable broth instead of water.
- Add small pasta or broken noodles for more texture.
Cook the beans until soft for a creamy soup base.
How To Serve Ash-e Jow
- Ladle the hot soup into a large tureen. Top it with kashk or sour cream and mint-fried onions.
- Be sure to serve extra fried onion topping, kashk or sour cream, lemon juice and vinegar on the side.
- If using plain fried onions, serve some mint-oil on the side.
What To Serve Along
When you make a soup like this, all you need is a big bowl of that wholesome soup itself. But for variety, here are some suggestions.
- Serve with bread: Persian barbari, Whole wheat naan or Honey wheat rolls.
- Add a salad such as Kale quinoa salad with lentils.
- Beverage options are Doogh, Ayran or Saffron tea.
This barley soup is vegetarian, egg free, nut free and soy free.
- Vegan: Substitute kashk or sour cream with vinegar, lemon juice or vegan sour cream.
- Dairy Free: Skip kashk or sour cream. Use only lemon juice, vinegar or dairy-free sour cream.
- Gluten Free: Substitute barley with any of the following: buckwheat, corn, quinoa, sorghum, wild rice, brown rice or gluten-free rolled oats.
- Other Barley Substitutes: You can try small pasta (pastina, acini di pepe and such), wheat berries, spelt berries and farro. Be sure to check the cooking times for these alternatives.
- Soak and cook the beans ahead. Chop the herbs and vegetables earlier. These can be frozen as well.
- Cook the soup one day ahead and enjoy. In fact this vegetarian barley soup tastes better the next day.
Storage and Leftovers
The soup can be refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Store in small containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Reheat in microwave or on stove top, adding water as needed and serve with toppings.
Ash-e Jow is a very healthy and satisfying soup that is made with a variety of beans, herbs and grains.
Chickpeas and kidney beans are a good source of soluble, insoluble fiber, vitamins and minerals. Both barley and beans are also a great source of cholesterol lowering soluble fiber.
This Persian barley soup has plenty of herbs which are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidant nutrients. Almost all ingredients in this soup are good sources of fiber. And dietary fiber is beneficial for heart health, the gut and weight management.
More Soup Recipes
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Vegetarian Barley Soup (Ash-e Jow)
- ¼ cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight and drained, see note for canned versions
- ¼ cup dried kidney beans soaked overnight and drained
- 10 cups water or vegetable broth, start with 6 cups and adjust
- 1½ cups pearl barley
- 1 cup chopped parsley see note for dried herbs
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- 1 cup chopped dill
- 1 cup chopped spinach fresh or ¼ cup frozen
- ½ cup chopped leeks
- ½ cup chopped green onions
- 2 teaspoons grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon salt adjust as needed
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup kashk (liquid whey, see note) or sour cream or ¼ cup vinegar/lemon juice
- In a large cooking pot add chickpeas, kidney beans, and water or broth. Raise the heat and bring to a rolling boil. Then reduce the heat, cover and let it simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are soft, about 60 minutes. Mash up the beans a bit with the back of a wooden ladle.
- Next add barley and continue to cook until the grains are soft but not mushy, stirring in between, about 30 minutes. Add water or broth as needed.
- Meanwhile, prepare the fried onions. Heat oil in a large cooking pot (5 to 6 quart) and sauté onions over medium heat until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Stir in the dried mint and set aside.
- Tip: You can fry the onions separately following the method used for koshari. If you choose this, then just add the mint to some hot oil and stir it back into the soup or serve on the side.
- Add spinach, parsley, cilantro, dill, spinach, leeks, green onions, and grated ginger. Cover and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then stir in turmeric, salt, pepper and allow it to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- The soup is ready when the beans are well done and barley is soft but still retaining some texture. For a thicker soup consistency, blend some of the ingredients and stir it back into the soup. Adjust the seasonings and consistency to your taste.
- Serve the hot ash-e jow topped with kashk or sour cream and mint-fried onions.
- Canned Beans: If using canned beans, cook it for about 15 minutes, mash it up a bit before adding barley.
- Dried Herbs: Use one-fourth in volume of fresh herbs. Soak the dried herbs in water for 20 minutes. Drain the water before adding soaked herbs to the soup.
- Fried Onions: If frying onions as in Koshari, then you will need more oil, and choose high smoke point oils for that.
- Readymade Crispy Onions: You can buy fried shallots at Asian stores and fried onions in cans at American supermarkets.
- Make Ahead: Chop herbs and vegetables earlier. Soak and cook the beans ahead. The cooked beans, chopped herbs and spinach can be frozen as well.
- Storage and Leftovers: Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Reheat before serving, adding water as needed.
- Kashk: Traditionally, Persian soups are topped with a creamy fermented yogurt product known as kashk, which is sour and has a cheese like flavor. More information in the blog-post above.
- Mint-oil: To make this, heat some oil and stir in dried mint. Turn off the heat and don't let it burn.
- Slow Cooker or Instant Pot: This soup can be cooked in either of these.
- Nutrition facts: Does not include kashk. The suggested amount of salt is just a guideline and may need to be adjusted.
- For more information on ingredients, variations and serving suggestions, scroll up the page to the blog post.