Lemony vegan white bean soup with barley and crispy kale

The world is grey and stormy this week – I’d say comfort soup is in order. The white bean soup simmering on my stove is a year-round favourite. With its fresh lemon flavour, garlicky punch and generous dose of fresh herbs it’s as suitable for summer as it is for winter. And packed with fresh veggies, creamy cannelini beans and soft barley, it’s sure to lift your spirits on a rainy day.

This white bean soup starts with the holy trinity of almost any soup – carrots, onion and celery, fried for extra flavour and then simmered to release their sweetness. They’re followed by a hefty dose of garlic. The six cloves used may seem like a lot, but once cooked, the garlic loses its sharpness and only adds delicious depth of flavour.

The soup turns out wonderfully fresh and uplifting by the use of a load of fresh herbs: chopped parsley, bay, fresh rosemary and thyme simmered along from the beginning, and then fresh basil added at the last moment. Lemon juice stirred in at the end balances the sweet flavours and adds that extra bit of sunshine.

Instead of finely chopping the onion, garlic cloves and parsley by hand, like it says in the recipe below, you can whizz the three of them to a purée with a stick blender. It’s a shortcut I usually take when I make this soup on week nights. Beside saving time, it also adds to the flavour of the soup. What’s good to know beforehand, however, is that it will turn your soup bright green instead of the yellow you see in the pictures!

When combined, grains and beans provide complete protein, and adding them turns this soup into a full meal in a bowl. I used cannelini beans and pearl barley, because I love the flavour and creamy texture of both. Instead of the cannelini beans, any type of white beans will work, though. And if you prefer, you can replace the barley with spelt, farro, whole-wheat orzo or brown rice. In fact, this white bean soup is a wonderful way of using up any left-over grains from a previous meal.

To up the veg content of the soup, I like to serve it with leafy greens, crispy kale being my first choice in winter. Giving chopped kale a quick roast in the oven – just 5 minutes, sprinkled with a bit of salt and olive oil – turns it bright green, just a bit crisp at the edges and wonderfully full-flavoured. It’s my favourite way of eating kale and I use it as a sprinkle on anything from soups to dal and stews and even pasta. Instead of roasting it in the oven, you can crisp up your kale by frying it with a bit of salt and olive oil in a frying pan. And if you’re short of time, you can simply let the chopped kale wilt directly in the soup at the end of cooking time. Fresh spinach leaves, added to the soup in the final stage of cooking, make a delicious alternative in summer.

white bean soup

Now enjoy the soup as is, sprinkled with a generous dose of freshly ground black pepper for good measure, or combined with crusty bread for extra crispness.

Have a wonderful week!

white bean soup

Lemony white bean soup with barley and crispy kale – serves 4


for the soup

  • 150 g uncooked pearl barley or other grain of choice
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 large carrots, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • large bunch (30 g) parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1½ litre vegetable stock, shop-bought or homemade
  • 2 400 g tins of cooked cannelini beans (equals 2 cups of cooked beans), drained and rinsed
  • small bunch (15 g) basil, leaves chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • generous dose of freshly ground black pepper

for the crispy kale

  • 150 g chopped kale
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • sprinkling of salt

white bean soup


Bring a small pan of water to a boil. Add the pearl barley and turn down the heat. Leave to simmer for the time stated in the instructions on the package, or until the grains are tender. Drain, then set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped carrot and celery. Stirring regularly, fry for about 10 minutes, until the pieces are tender and slightly coloured. Turn down the heat, then add the chopped onion, parsley and garlic. Stirring well, fry for another few minutes until the onion is translucent and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the bay leaves, rosemary and thyme, and pour in the vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then cover the pan and turn down the heat. Leave to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

To make the crispy kale, heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7.

Divide the chopped kale over a lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and mix well to coat evenly. Sprinkle with salt, then put the sheet in the oven for 5 minutes. Keep an eye out to make sure the edges don’t burn; if they colour too quickly, take the sheet out halfway baking time and stir through for even baking. Once bright green and crisp at the edges, take out the kale and leave to cool.

Remove the bay, rosemary and thyme sprigs from the soup. Add the drained beans and the barley to the soup and warm through. Stir in the basil and the lemon juice, then season to taste with salt and a generous dose of black pepper.

Serve the white bean soup topped with the crispy kale.

white bean soup