Old-fashioned beef vegetable soup with barley, just like grandpa used to make! Easy one-pot prep: put everything in a pot and let it simmer. (Plus Pop's pro-tip for picky eaters!)
What's the Story Behind this Recipe?
When I was a little girl, my parents and I spent most Sunday evenings at my grandpa's house. The four of us - Dad, Mom, Pop and I - would eat dinner and then settle in to watch Lawrence Welk and The Wonderful World of Disney together before Dad drove Mom and me home. On cold winter nights, dinner was (more often than not) a piping bowl of Pop’s homemade beef vegetable soup, served with as many Saltines as I could eat.
Pop was my maternal grandfather and I was his only granddaughter, so we had a pretty special relationship. Anyway, back then I was not much of a vegetable lover (I still have no love for cooked peas), and until I was about four, I would not eat more than a few token bites of Pop’s soup, subsisting Sunday nights almost entirely on crackers and milk.
Pop's Pro-Trick for Picky Eaters
But then Pop pulled a trick out of his sleeve – he started adding a can of Campbell’s Alphabet Soup to his own soup just for me, and those mushy little pasta letters changed everything.
I loved to hunt for the letters to spell my name, or the dog’s name, or anything really. I’d collect letters on my spoon, read them to everyone, and then gobble them up in one bite. Spell a word, eat a bite. Spell another word, eat another bite. In the process, I completely forgot to be picky about what surrounded them, and before I knew it, I was eating Pop’s soup like it was going out of style.
To this day, I still include a handful of alphabet pasta, or that silly little can of soup, and every overcooked letter on my spoon reminds me of my sweet Poppy.
Why this Recipe Works
This one-pot vegetable soup recipe is easy, reliable, and flexible. If you don't have all the ingredients, just use the vegetables you like and have on hand.
It's also an extremely budget-friendly meal. The recipe, as written, makes about 5 quarts of soup; enough for a large family, with plenty leftovers to freeze for future meals.
Our barley beef vegetable soup recipe adheres closely to Pop's original, which explains the inclusion of a turnip. Pop insisted that any respectable vegetable soup should include a turnip, and though I'm not usually much of a turnip fan, but it does seem to add something extra, so I always include it.
Nevertheless, any of the vegetables suggested in the recipe can be omitted, different ones can be added, and amounts adjusted to suit your personal tastes.
You can even make this soup vegetarian; just leave out the soup bone and use some good vegetable stock instead.
Like most soups, Pop's beef vegetable soup is much better the day after, so plan for leftovers. And always serve some Saltines on the side.
What Goes into this Recipe
Ingredient Notes & Substitutions
★ Soup bone: We like to use a beef shank for this recipe, but you can use any beef soup bone. (Knuckle bones work particularly well.) You can also substitute beef soup base for the beef stock.
★ Vegetables: The suggested vegetables can be omitted, different ones can be added, and amounts adjusted to suit your personal tastes.
★ Barley: This recipe could easily be titled Beef Barley Vegetable Soup instead. The barley gives the soup a nice texture and a good bite.
★ Canned tomatoes: During tomato season, fresh tomatoes can be substituted.
★ Alphabet pasta: As mentioned, the alphabet pasta (or a can of Campbell's Alphabet Soup) is totally optional, but it's also kind of fun.
We find alphabet pasta in the Hispanic section of our grocery store.
How to Make Beef Barley Vegetable Soup
Heat a large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat.
Brown the Beef Shank
You can skip this step if your soup bone is already cooked, or if you are using soup bones with no discernible meat of them.
Add enough olive oil to your soup pot to barely cover the bottom. Season the beef shank with a little kosher salt salt brown it on both sides.
Cover the browned soup bone with 2 quarts of water, and add 2 bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours.
Remove the beef bone and bay leaves from the beef stock. Set the beef bone aside to cool.
When the beef bone is cool, remove any meat from it. Discard the bone (or give it to your dog!). Cover and refrigerate the meat while the soup simmers.
Simmer the Soup
Add all remaining ingredients to the soup stock (except the optional Campbell's Soup or alphabet pasta) and simmer for 2 more hours.
When the soup almost done simmering, add the meat and the alphabet pasta (or Campbell's soup). Continue to simmer until the pasta is done; about 8 minutes.
Taste the soup and season with additional salt, pepper, and hot sauce as desired.
Vegetable soup is always better the next day when the flavors have had a chance to blend.
FAQs & Expert Tips
It's easy to cook this soup recipe in a slow cooker. Cook on Low for 6 hours, or High for 3 hours.
To make this soup vegetarian, just leave out the soup bone and use some good vegetable stock instead. You can also use a vegetarian soup base.
Old-fashioned Beef Vegetable Soup
- 1 Medium Stock Pot 8-10 quart
- 1 beef shank or large soup bone
- 3 tablespoons oil canola, olive oil
- 2 quarts water
- 2 whole bay leaves
- 4 medium carrots sliced
- 4 medium potatoes peeled & cubed
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 1 medium turnip pared and chopped
- 3 stalks celery chopped
- 2 cans cut tomatoes We use Petite Cut with Onions & Garlic
- 2 cups chopped cabbage
- 1 cup corn
- ½ cup peas
- ⅓ cup pearl barley
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1-2 teaspoons hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ cup alphabet letter pasta optional; or 1 can Campbell's Alphabet Soup
- Additional salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste
- Heat a medium stock pot over medium-high heat.
Make the Beef Stock
- You can skip this step if your soup bone is already cooked, or if they have no discernible meat of them.Add enough olive oil to your soup pot to barely cover the bottom. Season the beef shank with a little kosher salt salt brown it on both sides.
- Cover the browned soup bone with 2 quarts of water, and add 2 bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours.Remove the beef bone and bay leaves from the beef stock. Set the beef bone aside to cool.
- When the beef bone is cool, remove any meat from it. Discard the bone (or give it to your dog!). Cover and refrigerate the meat while the soup simmers.
Simmer the Soup
- Add all remaining ingredients to the beef stock except the optional Campbell's Soup or alphabet pasta, and simmer over low heat for 2 more hours.
- When the soup almost done simmering, add the meat and alphabet pasta (or Campbell's soup). Continue to simmer until the pasta is done; about 8 minutes.
- Taste the soup and season with additional salt, pepper, and hot sauce as desired.
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Originally published January 5, 2015. Post has been updated with new content, images, and recipe instructions to improve reader experience.