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Close up of a bowl of mushroom and barley soup next to a spoon.

Caramelized Onion, Mushroom and Barley Soup

A soul-warming vegetarian soup featuring sweet caramelized onions, savory mushrooms and hearty pearl barley. Perfect for cold winter days!
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Course: dinner, lunch, soups and stews
Cuisine: Nordic Scandinavian
Keyword: mushroom soup recipe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 252kcal
Author: Kristi


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil divided
  • 2 onions diced small
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup water + more if necessary
  • 4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • ¼ cup dry sherry
  • cup pearl barley
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  • Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until onions are golden brown and melty, about 20 minutes. (If the bottom of the pot is getting too dark while the onions cook, add a splash of water, scrape up the brown bits and keep cooking.) Add 1 cup of water to the pot, scraping up the brown bits that have formed on the bottom with a wooden spoon. Transfer the onions and liquid to a bowl. Set aside.
  • Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in the now empty pot over medium. Add mushrooms and a pinch of salt and cook until mushrooms are browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook for one more minute. Add sherry and simmer until bubbly and reduced slightly, about 1 minute. Add broth, barley, and caramelized onions/liquid mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to a simmer. Continue to cook until barley is tender, about 35 minutes, adding additional water as needed if soup becomes too thick. Add soy sauce, sherry vinegar and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve.


  • If the bottom of the pot is getting too dark while you are caramelizing the onions, simply add a splash of water, scrape up the brown bits with a sturdy wooden spoon and keep cooking. The brown bits or fond that forms on the bottom of the pan is pure gold. We don't want to let it burn, and we don't want to waste all of that delicious flavor by failing to scrape the bottom of the pot.
  • Be sure to use pearl barley.  Barley comes in several different forms and they all cook at different rates. Pearl barley (also known as medium barley) is the one you want for this recipe.
  • Test the barley to make sure it is tender. Depending upon the age of the pearl barley you are using or how it has been stored, cooking times can vary. The only way to know for sure that it is pleasantly tender and ready to eat is to taste it.


Calories: 252kcal | Carbohydrates: 40g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 8g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 1207mg | Potassium: 555mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 786IU | Vitamin C: 12mg | Calcium: 53mg | Iron: 2mg