Mexican Barley Soup (adapted from Mexican Recipes, 1967)

Mexican Barley Soup is a hearty beef soup that’s easy enough to cobble together on a weeknight.   I have adapted it gently from the 1967 cookbook Mexican Recipes.  Mexican Barley Soup exemplifies the simplicity and accessibility of the selection in Mexican Recipes.  This recipe is nestled in with a bunch of more obviously traditional recipes, including an excellent albondiga sopa and menudo, but I suspect that Mexican Barley soup is a modern invention.  I’m no expert, but I’ve lived my entire life out West and had friends from all over Mexico and the only time I ever encountered barley on the menu was the cerveza.   This is more likely a nod to the hearty beef and barley soup that was a winter staple for mid-60s Americans, gussied up with Mexican seasonings.

And it’s an inspired combination.  From the ingredient list this looks like it has all the makings of a goulash or chili, but there are a couple of extra spices that give this a distinct south-of-the-border appeal.  It’s just a smidge of oregano and coriander but it carries the dish.   There’s also a little bit of fresh mint, which may be a proxy for Mexican epazote, that adds a lot to the final product.  The first time I made this I doubled the recipe, on account of my family being pigs, and ended up with enough soup to feed the whole basketball team.  I’ve scaled it back to make eight servings, but fair warning that these are hearty, entree sized servings.   You might consider serving this with sliced avocado or fresh fruit, but it’s a complete meal on its own.

If you’re willing to wash two pots afterwards you can cut the cooking time down considerably by making the beef and veggie base and barley in parallel.  I’ve included instructions for both options below.

Mexican Barley Soup (adapted from Mexican Recipes, 1967)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 1 h
  • Ready in: 1 h 15 min
  • For: 8 hearty servings
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One pot method (about 1 hr 15 minutes)

  1. In a large dutch oven or stockpot, brown ground beef in olive oil over medium-high heat. When meat is mostly browned, add celery, pepper, onion, and spices and saute for five minutes until onion is translucent and the spices have released their fragrance.
  2. Open the cans of tomatoes. Using kitchen shears chop the tomatoes coarsely while still in the cans. Add both cans, including juice to the ground beef mixture. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is somewhat reduced and mixture has thickened.
  3. Add water or broth and barley. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barley is puffy and tender. For a thicker soup, simmer uncovered until desired texture is achieved.

Two pot method (about 45 minutes)

  1. In a large stockpot bring water or broth to a boil. Add barley - reduce to medium heat and cook, uncovered.
  2. Once barley is cooking, prepare ground beef and vegetable mixture in a separate dutch oven as described above. Allow to simmer 10-15 minutes after adding tomatoes.
  3. Add ground beef mixture to barley mixture. Stir well and continue to simmer over medium heat until barley reaches desired texture, about 45 minutes total.

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