This Slow Cooker Ham Barley Soup with Spinach Pesto is the perfect vegetable packed weeknight dinner of your dreams. It also has a make ahead option that will make those busy mornings just that much easier! AND… it’s on the list of Best of Healthy Seasonal Recipes!
I originally shared this recipe on October 28, 2011. I have updated the images and some of the text today.
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.
So when we got a giant bag of fall vegetables and a big bag of local barley from our 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.
Tips for Making Soup in a Slow Cooker
- Add longer cooking ingredients like lean cuts of meat, hardier veggies (think potatoes, onions, celery, carrots) and dry spices in the beginning of cooking to allow the flavors to meld.
- Add ingredients that need less time to cook like peas, greens, corn, seafood, fresh herbs and cooked grains towards the end of the the cook time, so they don’t get mushy and retain their fresh flavor.
- Cut all of your ingredients about the same size so that everything cooks at the same rate.
- If you have time, sautéing the veggies and searing the meat really does add an amazing depth of flavor.
- But if you are in a rush a spoonful of pesto, dollop of greek yogurt or sprinkle of grated cheese are a welcome last minute flavor boost to almost any soup!
The vegetable line-up in this Slow Cooker Ham Barley Soup with Spinach Pesto is no joke! It’s packed with leeks, carrots, celery and turnips. Check out my Ultimate Guide to Turnips, so you can find out why they are so awesome! I decided to use a little artistic-license (or what chefs call fusion) and 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.
Here are a few of my other slow cooker soup favorites…
This Slow Cooker Ham Barley Soup with Spinach Pesto is the perfect vegetable packed delicious weeknight dinner of your dreams. It also has a make ahead option that will make those busy mornings just that much easier!
- 8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve soup topped with a dollop of pesto.
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.
Here are the original images associated with this blog post.