slow cooker barley soup with spinach pistou

I love a good slow cooker recipe. I mean, what’s not to like about that smug feeling while you’re at work, knowing that you’ve hooked yourself up for later. I love arriving home to the house filled with the smell of dinner, all ready to go.


What I don’t love is a slow-cooker recipe that falls flat on flavor. As a result, I tend toward the recipes that involve a stove-top step first. I think caramelizing the vegetables or searing the meat goes a long way in intensifying flavors and building complexity. But I’m not always that organized, so that’s not always an option.

mis en place for slow cooker barley soup

So when we got a giant bag of fall vegetables and a big bag of local barley from our Pete’s Greens CSA this week, I knew it was time for me to bust out my slow-cooker. But I wanted to try to develop a recipe that wouldn’t require that stove-top step. I had to look elsewhere to bring on the flavor. That’s when I thought of Soupe au Pistou. Soupe au Pistou is a traditional summer Provencal soup where a dollop of pesto-like paste is spooned on top. As you take each bite you can gently stir in a bit of the pistou. It is a great way of giving a simple bowl of soup a big burst of flavor.

slow cooker barley soup with spinach pistou

Here the seasonal autumn produce from our CSA dictated the vegetable line-up in this slow cooker soup. I decided to use a little artistic-license (or what chefs call fusion) and decided to make the flavors more Spanish-inspired than Provencale. So I added smoky paprika and ham and brightened it up a splash of sherry vinegar. The pistou is an earthy blend of spinach and pumpkin seeds with a pungent pop of garlic, lemon zest and Asiago cheese. I didn’t have Manchego, but obviously that would have been great. If you happen to have a really good olive oil in your pantry, this is a great use for it. It really shines in the pistou.

slow cooker barley soup with spinach pistou
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Prep Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 45 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Serving Size: 2 cups soup and 2 Tablespoons pistou

Calories per serving: 305

Fat per serving: 19 g

Saturated fat per serving: 4 g

Carbs per serving: 32 g

Protein per serving: 20 g

Fiber per serving: 6 g

Sugar per serving: 6 g

Sodium per serving: 657 mg

Slow cooker barley soup with ham and vegetables topped with flavorful pistoou with spinach in it.


    For the soup
  • 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste, see freezing tip*
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon dry thyme
  • ½ cup barley
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups diced smoked boneless ham, about 10 ounces
  • 2 cups peeled and diced turnip, about 1 large
  • 2 cups chopped leeks (see how to clean here)
  • 1 ½ cup diced carrots
  • 1 ½ cup diced celery
    For the Pistou
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed and peeled
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach
  • ¼ cup unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • ¼ cup finely shredded Asiago or Manchego cheese
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup finest quality extra-virgin olive oil


    Make soup:
  1. Whisk broth, tomato paste, paprika, sherry vinegar, salt, pepper and thyme in slow cooker insert. Add barley, bay leaf and garlic. Top with ham, turnip, leeks, carrots and celery. Cover and cook in the slow-cooker 4 hours on high or 8 hours on low.
    Make Pistou:
  1. Fit food processor with the steel blade attachment. Cover and turn on motor. Drop garlic through the feed tube and process until minced. Remove lid and add spinach, pepitas, Asiago or Manchego, lemon zest and salt. Process until ground. While motor is running, drizzle the oil trough the feed tube and continue processing until the paste is evenly moist, scraping down sides if necessary.
  2. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve soup topped with a dollop of pistou.


25 mg Cholesterol, 0 g Added Sugars

To make ahead, place ingredients in slow-cooker insert and refrigerate overnight. Because the insert will be cold, you'll need to add 1 hour to the cooking time.