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Vegetable and Pearl Barley Soup

By Amelia Freer

We are all becoming more aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy gut to help prevent a multitude of health issues from low mood to chronic disease and there are some really simple steps you can take to support your gut health. One of the easiest ways we can promote good gut health is to eat a varied and balanced diet that includes plenty of fibre and plant polyphenols – these are compounds found in colourful fruit and vegetables, especially in leafy greens, and are thought to have particularly beneficial effects on gut health.

I have devised this warming autumn soup recipe to include a wide range of vegetables, grains and beans so it is bursting with fibre and polyphenols, as well as tasting really delicious – we shall be eating this regularly over the colder months. If you haven’t tried pearl barley before – do give it a go, it adds a lovely nutty flavour as well as plenty of texture to ensure this is a really filling and satisfying dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. olive oil
2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, diced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 courgette, chopped
1 leek, sliced
2 large handfuls of seasonal greens (kale, chard, cabbage etc), leaves sliced and stalks finely chopped
400g tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
400g tin plum tomatoes
200g pearl barley
600ml chicken or vegetable stock
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
Fresh parsley and seeds to serve

Method:
1. Heat the olive oil in a large casserole or saucepan then add the bacon. Fry for a few minutes to release the fat then add the onion and garlic. Fry for 3-4 minutes until the onions are starting to soften.

2. Add the carrot, courgette, leek and chopped stems of the greens and cook gently for 15 minutes or until the vegetables have softened and start to caramelise.

3. Add the cannellini beans, tinned tomatoes along with a tin full of water, and the stock. Tip in the pearl barley and thyme sprigs and give everything a good stir. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 45 minutes or until the pearl barley is tender and the soup has thickened. Check every 15 minutes or so and top up with boiling water to achieve your desired consistency. Add the sliced greens and cook for a few more minutes until tender

4. Serve topped with fresh parsley and crunchy seeds, I like pumpkin and sunflower seeds on mine but use whatever nuts or seeds you have to hand.

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