Swiss Barley Soup

Graubünden (the Grisons in English) is one of my favorite cantons in Switzerland.
It is also the largest and one of the most rural and underpopulated. It is the place where my husband’s grandfather and father were raised. So Graubünden is not just a favorite place to indulge in mountain winter sports but a place, we like to call home.
“Bündner Gersten Suppe” is a traditional barley soup made in this region of Switzerland and a favorite soup which is also found all over Switzerland in mountain inns and huts and rustic Swiss style restaurants.
I have been cooking Bündner Gersten Suppe for many years now.
I have lived here almost 11 years and I am sure a good number of those I have cooked this hearty meal for me and my husband. So it is for me an honored duty to introduce anyone who might have never heard of this delicious wholesome meal from this special canton.
 It is certainly my very favorite Swiss soup. And if I am not mistaken, a local version of it was made at the mountain hut I ate at, half way up the Säntis, on my  very first hike up a mountain.  A nice thick soup is the perfect comfort food, for bruised and battered feet and muscles and will certainly satisfy your hunger until you have reached your destination. And sometimes it is the destination.
Yes, I do tend to sample whatever Gerstensuppe I can find on any menus in a number of cantons. The problem with restaurants is that for them soup, is simply an appetizer and not a meal, except for those mountain inns, huts and guesthouses I was telling you about, so it is no surprise that it is mostly cooked with little love and attention to tradition.
When I first started making this recipe, I used a very simple but very delicious, more modern style of this soup, everything cut up into tiny pieces, so that it would appeal to the most fussiest of eaters.
Now, I prefer the more rustic, traditional ingredients and methods to preparing this hearty meal.
 This recipe I have been using off and on,  and this week I rediscovered it and cooked up what I would say is the most delicious version of this recipe I have ever had. The recipe is from a blog called Simple Healthy Homemade, but of which I can no longer link to as the blog seems to no longer exist. As I have however made some changes, I will write my version.
  • 2 green onions
  • 1/2 cup of barley
  • 1-2 leeks, depending on size, white and light green parts only, cleaned and cut
  • 3 to 4 carrots, cut into rounds
  • 1 small package of cubed, smoked bacon (ca. 3 oz)
  • 1 /2 cups (or 1 can rinsed) red kidney beans
  • 4 cups of Beef or vegetable broth. (This can be substituted for a ham hock)
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of milk or half and half cream to finish the soup (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: 2 ‘Wienerli’ (Franks)


  1. Heat olive oil in a large soup pot, add the green onions and cook over medium high heat until translucent.
  2. Add the cubed bacon and cook until onions are soft.
  3. Add barley, leeks, stir to coat, then add the broth and about 2 cups of water. (If using a ham hock, you can put this in here.)
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered until barley is almost tender. (This generally requires 1 hour and 15 minutes.) Add additional water or broth as needed.
  5. Add the beans and cook until barley is tender but not falling apart.
  6. Season the soup with salt and pepper as needed.
  7. Add the milk or cream.
  8. Make ahead: This soup can be frozen in portions before adding the milk or cream. To reheat, let it defrost in the fridge then heat stirring frequently, add the cream or milk just before serving.
 If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear from you.

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