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A Spring Soup

A spring soup, with pearl barley, roasted pumpkin, fresh tomato and herbs

I want to call this Spring Soup but the fact remains that it features pumpkin and pearl barley rather than tender greens like asparagus and peas. This concerns me. I deeply feel that this soup wants to be called Spring Soup because, despite the presence of starchy winter staples, its essence is overwhelmingly light and fresh. The base vegetable is lightly cooked courgette. Herbs are scattered by the fistful. The fresh tomato is added directly before serving, so that it remains uncooked and vital. This soup couldn’t be further from stodge.

Roasting the pumpkin intensifies the flavours, providing nuggets of sweetness through the soup

But still, I’m perplexed. It’s spring right now, here in Brisbane, so why is it that I can easily buy vibrant pumpkin, firm young courgettes and fat Roma tomatoes? I always avoid imported produce, but am I buying hothouse vegetables grown out of season? Maybe I’m still not in tune with the seasons here? I know that the sudden appearance of strawberries in May continues to surprise me – in New Zealand the plants don’t even go into the ground until June. Whatever the reason, it’s really my own fault. I haven’t been going to the farmer’s market each Saturday like I used to, and without access to a garden where I can closely observe the changing seasons, I’m all out of whack with what should be available and when. I’m just going to have take a stand: this soup cleanses and nourishes mind, body and soul. Without question then, this is a Spring Soup.

Courgettes (zucchini) are chopped into small dice to form the base of the soup

Spring cleaning was at the forefront of my mind when I made this soup. It was the Labour Day long weekend and I had initially thought I would use the time to undertake a detox. After mulling on this idea for a while I decided that, rather than shocking my body with deprivation and purges, I would opt instead for a gesture towards lightness and purity. So, there was yoga each morning after lemon juice and water, no alcohol (except one cocktail), no coffee (well, only one per day), no sugar (except for a little dark chocolate), and a delicious diet of fresh vegetarian food (oops, the soup has chicken stock in it, but hey, it was homemade).

Roma tomatoes are the best for this soup as their flesh will stay firm in the warm soup

There are so many competing views of what healthy food means, it’s quite tiring. Strict dietary rules rarely interest me anymore, but the one view I hold rigidly and unapologetically is that food, “healthy” or “unhealthy”, “good” or “bad”, must taste delicious otherwise I simply won’t eat it. This soup met all my needs. Its delicate flavour allowed the homemade stock to sing. The chewy pearl barley and bright orange pop of pumpkin provided beautiful textural and visual contrast. The chèvre added such a divinely tangy creaminess that I instantly forgot how much it hurt my wallet at the store. I enjoyed this soup for three days straight, for lunch, dinner, lunch, dinner and lunch and launched into the week feeling as fresh and vigorous as a newly sprouted daffodil. This blissful state lasted precisely until Friday when I ate pie and chips for lunch; also delicious, but inciting a very different tenor indeed.

Spring soup - finished with fresh parsley and dill and topped with chèvre

Spring Soup with Barley, Tomato and Herbs

  • Servings: 4 as a meal; 6 as an entree
  • Print
Adapted from Ginny Grant, Cuisine issue #116

1/2 cup pearl barley
500g pumpkin, peeled and roughly diced into 1-2cm cubes
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 medium courgettes, roughly diced into 1/2 cm cubes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 litre chicken stock, homemade if possible
Handful of parsley and another of dill, roughly chopped
4 medium tomatoes, preferably Roma, roughly diced into 1/2 cm cubes
To garnish: mild goat’s cheese (such as chèvre) or toasted pine nuts

Rinse the barley well until the water runs clear. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until just cooked, about 35-40 minutes. Drain and set to one side.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 360°F. Sprinkle the diced pumpkin with 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Tumble onto a baking sheet and roast until soft and beginning to colour a little, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set to one side.

Heat the remaining oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and sauté over a medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add the courgettes and sauté until they have also softened. Finally add the garlic and sauté for a further minute. Add the chicken stock and the cooked barley to the pot. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

When ready to serve, add the fresh tomatoes and herbs and stir to combine. Test for seasoning and add salt and black pepper as required. Place a few cubes of pumpkin in each bowl then ladle over the soup. Top with more pumpkin and garnish with chèvre, or pine nuts, or simply with a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper.



  1. Pingback: Old news, new memories | Chez Moi

  2. i’m jealous that it’s springtime for you now.

    it’s soup season for us here, and this soup is the most perfect thing to want to consume now, as most of the ingredients are readily available to us right now, but it does seem to invoke a lightness and Spring, which i’ll gladly take!

    • Maybe I need to re-name it “Change of Seasons Soup”! I keep thinking that it would be perfect in autumn as well, because while it’s comforting, the lightness and freshness saves it from being wintery. In autumn I would perhaps leave out the chèvre and use pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil as toppings instead.

  3. This soup definitely looks like a spring soup and sounds delicious! And even though it’s fall where I live, I really want to try it. Fresh zucchinis/courgettes and fresh tomatoes are still locally available, so I definitely have to give it a try before that changes!

    • That’s exactly it, “healthily satisfied”. It’s a kind of a multi-dimensional contentment – tastebuds, stomach and your head, because you know you’ve done something good for yourself. It’s similar to the feeling after a good yoga class – endorphins!

  4. Hi Chez, sounds good to me too. And don’t worry too much about the hard-and-fast seasons. Brisbane (and places north) have less definite seasons. Queensland blue pumpkin seemed to be always around when I lived there (it is a good keeper as well) and those strawberries are always earlier than the rest of Australia’s and very delicious! Your images are inspiring, thanks. Philippa

    • Thanks Phillipa I am relieved! The temperate QLD climate must be the source of my confusion. I had temporarily forgotten that you can grow basil all year round here, so yes, it is very different to what I’m used to.

  5. dinnerbysusan

    I have a sugar pumpkin sitting on my countertop. This looks like a perfect way to use it! Thank you!!

    • Hi Susan, this sounds perfect! It could easily be reconfigured as an Autumn soup, emphasising the warming elements like the pumpkin. I hope you like the recipe.

  6. I agree wholeheartedly about loving the food you eat…nourishing our bodies should a pleasure! I think food choices can become tricky if we start to overthink things because there is so much information out there. So much easier to keep it simple by just eating fresh, seasonal, whole foods…and enjoying it!

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