Tofu Barley Soup with Spinach

The next time you are longing for a savory and satisfying soup, give this Thai-spiced recipe a try. The barley and tofu give it enough heft for you to use it as a fall or winter soup, but the spicing makes the broth light and flavorful. Spinach (or the fresh green of your choice) balances the flavors for an eating experience that will have them standing at the soup pot with bowl in hand looking for more.


These are the ingredients I used for this recipe. See the Tips section below for suggestions on substitutions.

  • 1 block of tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes.
  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach
  • 6-7 cups water
  • 3 tbsp vegetable broth powder
  • 1/2 cup barley
  • 1 medium onion, sliced into half-rings
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp canola oil


One nice thing about this recipe is that it can be done as a "one pot meal" that you can walk away from for long stretches of time, making for easy cooking and cleanup. Use a pressure cooker if you have one: it will cook the barley in about 1/2 the time of just boiling it.

  1. In a large soup pot or pressure cooker, saute the onion and garlic in the canola oil until the onion starts to turn translucent. Set aside in a bowl.
  2. Add barley and 4 cups of water to the pot. In a standard pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour. In a pressure cooker, cook under high pressure for 20 minutes, and let sit for 10 minutes (or until pressure is released).
  3. Mix broth powder with remaining 2 cups of water and add to pot. If you used a standard pot to cook the barley, you may want to add an extra cup of water to make up for what boiled off during cooking.
  4. Add all remaining ingredients except the peanut oil and sesame oil, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in the peanut and sesame oils and simmer for 5 more minutes.
  6. Serve with sesame seeds sprinkled on top.


  • You can use one or two vegetable bullion cubes in place of the broth powder.
  • If you like your soup spicy, increase the crushed red pepper to 1 teaspoon.
  • You can substitute fresh spinach or Swiss chard in place of the frozen spinach.
  • The peanut and sesame oils give this recipe a distinctive Thai flavor in combination with the spices and soy sauce, but if you don’t have them, olive or canola oil will do fine.

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 5-10 minutes.

Cooking time: 50 minutes (pressure cooker) to 90 minutes (standard pot).

Submitted by: James H. Byrd