Weed it and reap: a soup that makes the most of abundant spring greens

To make it more palatable for children blend the soup until it is creamy and smooth

Spring greens minestrone with barley soup

More than ever now we have time to really take stock of our surroundings. This time of year our garden is bursting with wild organic greens (aka weeds) that are ripe for picking and full of nutrients. Leaves such as dandelion, three-cornered leeks, wild garlic and nettle are all rich in antioxidants and vitamins.

A great way to use them is in soup like this spring greens minestrone. Baby spinach or shredded older leaves, finely sliced leek, green cabbage, broccoli and asparagus can all be added to this dish.

The young nettle tops bring an earthy flavour and they can be picked wearing gloves, then finely chopped. Once plunged into the hot soup they no longer sting. The dandelion leaves too should be picked young and the leaves finely sliced.

Wild garlic leaves do dominate, with a definite strong pungency, so the milder three-cornered leek may be a better bet here, especially for kids. You can remove a few cups of this soup and blend it till creamy and smooth. It seems more palatable for younger children to have a smoother soup and avoids them dissecting it during mealtimes.


A soup like this is also a good way to use up any mixed bags of pasta that may be lurking. The ends of bags of fusilli, little conchiglie shells, and macaroni can all get thrown in for a surprise soup where each spoonful is different.

I’m using barley for this soup. I love barley and associate it with slow-cooked beef stews and warming soups. There is something very comforting about the texture and it soaks up flavour so well. Barley is very affordable, nutritious and versatile. You can use barley in a myriad of ways from meatloaves to stews, salads and as a rice alternative in pilau, risotto and even desserts like rice pudding.

A salad created by Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my favourite ways to use barley. He dresses the cooked grains while they are still warm with allspice, vinegar and plenty of dill, parsley and pomegranate seeds. It’s bright and fresh, with a delicious crunch of finely chopped celery.

I often douse barley in lemon juice and olive oil while it is still warm then fold through roasted red onion wedges, lots of herbs, roasted vegetables and feta. It’s a wonderful way to pull lots of ingredients together.

If you happen to have the leftover rind from a wedge of Parmesan at hand then add it to the soup while it simmers. It gives great flavour and depth.


Serves six

Olive oil 
2 onions, finely chopped 
2 sticks of celery, finely diced 
1 clove garlic, crushed 
1 Parmesan rind, optional 
200g pearl barley 
2 litres stock 
80g frozen peas 
300g baby spinach or kale, cabbage, broccoli  
200g seasonal greens such as nettle tops or dandelion leaves, washed and finely chopped


1 Finely chop the onion and celery. Saute them in a large lidded pan over a medium heat with a tablespoon of olive oil.

2 After five minutes add the garlic and stir for a minute or two to cook it. Be careful it doesn't burn. Pour in the stock and add the barley. Add the Parmesan rind if you have it.

3 Stir well to combine then bring to the boil. Lower the heat and half cover the pan with the lid. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the barley is just done. Add the shredded greens and simmer for a further five to 10 minutes until all of the vegetables are cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the Parmesan rind.

4 You can blitz a cup or two of the soup and stir it back through the rest for a creamier, smoother texture, or serve it chunky as is. Scatter with freshly grated Parmesan, a drizzle of olive oil and a twist of black pepper.