This basic greens and grains soup recipe sets the stage for all kinds of experimentation. The combination of barley or farro and chard is a particular favorite at my house, where we almost always add the optional beans and ancho chile powder or pepper flakes (see variations below). Seriously, any green you can cook works in this recipe, which is more template than formula; just adjust the total cooking time. I like to cook the grains separately so the broth doesn’t get starchy, but feel free to cook the grains in the soup—just add an extra 1 to 2 cups (240 to 480 milliliters) broth and cook until the grains are just tender to the bite before adding the greens. If you want to use quinoa or bulgur or another quicker-cooking grain, add it at the end along with the greens.–Molly Watson

LC X + Y = Z Note

We see this greens and grains soup recipe as a practical application for algebra. It’s as simple as X + Y = Z, with the X variable standing in for the greens component and the Y variable representing grains and the Z—well, the Z is the soothing and satiating bowl of soup you get to sit down to for supper and, if you’re fortunate, for lunch the next day. Whatever hearty greens and whole grains you’ve got on hand will work. So after you breathe a sigh of relief at finally finding a use for high school algebra, let us know in a comment below exactly what you solved for in terms of X and Y.

Three stacked white bowls and the top one filled with greens and grains soup, and finished with Parmesan.

Greens and Grains Soup

5 / 4 votes
This greens and grains soup is hearty, healthy, easy to make, and endlessly customizable with your favorite sturdy greens and whole grains.
David Leite
Servings4 to 6 servings
Calories232 kcal
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time1 hour


  • 1 cup whole grains, such as barley, farro, spelt, wheat berries, or any type of brown rice
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 10 ounces greens, such as Swiss chard, kale, or bok choy
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 cups homemade chicken stock or vegetable broth
  • Freshly ground black pepper


  • Rinse the grains and place them in a medium pot along with 2 teaspoon salt and enough water to generously cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and maintain a gentle but steady simmer until the grains are tender to the bite. The exact amount of time will depend on the grain used, from 15 minutes for quinoa to 60 minutes for wheat berries. Drain the grains and set aside.
  • If using greens with thick stalks, such as Swiss chard or kale, cut the stalks from the leaves. Finely chop the stalks, then cut the leaves into thin ribbons, keeping the stalks and leaves separate. If using greens without thick stalks, simply chop the leaves into ribbons or bite-size pieces.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the stalks, if using, and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the chicken stock or vegetable broth plus the drained, cooked grains and bring almost to a boil. Add the greens (stalks and leaves), stir to combine, and cook until the greens are wilted and tender, just 1 or 2 minutes for spinach, 5 minutes for chard or bok choy, and up to 10 minutes for hearty kale.
  • Season with salt and a grind or two of pepper and, if desired, a drizzle of oil. Ladle it up while warm. Leftovers will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months.


Greens And Grains Soup Variation

Beans, Greens And Grains Soup
Add 2 cups (430 grams) or one 14- to 15-ounce (400- to 430-grams) can cooked, drained beans such as white beans, chickpeas, or cranberry beans to the soup when you add the cooked grains.
Umami Greens And Grains Soup
Drop a Parmesan cheese rind into the soup while the greens simmer and garnish with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
Eat Your Veggies, Greens, And Grains Soup
Use chopped onion, chopped celery, and/or chopped carrot in place of or in addition to the greens’ stalks.
Hot Greens And Grains Soup
Spice things up by adding 1 teaspoon ancho chile powder or 1/2 teaspoon crushed pepper flakes with the garlic.
Citrusy Greens And Grains Soup
Squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon at the end and/or a bit of grated lemon zest.
Greens and Grains Cookbook

Adapted From

Greens + Grains

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 1 bowlCalories: 232 kcalCarbohydrates: 43 gProtein: 5 gFat: 5 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gSodium: 2621 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 4 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2014 Molly Watson. Photo © 2014 Joseph De Leo. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is a very good “blank canvas” soup that can accommodate many different twists, depending on what you’re in the mood for. My greens and grains soup took no time to make, as I used quinoa for the grain (which took just 15 minutes after the water came to a boil), and prewashed chopped kale in a bag for the green (5 minutes to wilt). While the quinoa cooked, I prepared everything else, including measuring the chicken stock and sautéing the garlic. Once the soup was done, we tried different variations for individual servings. Grated Parmesan made a great garnish, and lemon zest was fantastic. But the two ad-lib Asian variations were big hits—a squeeze of lime juice and chopped cilantro for a Southeast Asian flare, and a few drops sesame oil and a dash soy sauce for a Chinese/Japanese flavor. I don’t think the amount of greens is so critical. My kale came in a 12-ounce bag, although most prewashed/chopped greens come in a 16-ounce bag—no point in taking out a few ounces of the leaves for the sake of being precise.

Healthy, light, and restorative is what I would call this greens and grains soup. Prep time is mostly chopping or snipping, so my hands-on time was about 15 minutes. I used a blend of rice, lentils, and oats for the grains part of this soup, a blend of baby kale and Swiss chard for the greens, and a light homemade chicken broth. The grain blend took 15 minutes to cook. I added a diced onion and diced celery stalk, and I sautéed them with the garlic. Since there were no tough stems to deal with, I just snipped the baby leaves into bite-size pieces and added them to the soup for the last couple minutes. The soup was delicate, almost bland, which made the greens the predominant taste. One taster added a tablespoon soy sauce to her soup, as she wanted more flavor in her broth. The rest of us loved it as is. We served this soup with open-face avocado and cucumber sandwiches. It was just as nice the next day for lunch. It’s certainly a great soup to restore yourself after the excess of the holidays. I can’t wait to try other greens and grains in it.

I’ve made a number of different iterations of this greens and grains soup since I first tried it. It’s a wonderful blueprint for a number of fantastic dishes. Though many might find the taste “too basic,” this recipe gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get my healthy on early in the year. I’ve been really sick with a sinus infection for a couple of weeks now, and this has been wonderful—it’s the only thing I’ve felt like eating, really. I used pearl barley and wheat berries. (My wheat berries took about an hour to cook.) I used a mix of chard and kale. My kale must have been hearty because it took about 10 minutes to be tender enough for my taste. I used 4 cloves of garlic and feel even more could be added, as I couldn’t taste it much (though that could be due to my being ill!). I loved the Parmesan rind in the broth and freshly grated Parmesan on top of the soup. I’ve added, on separate occasions, a poached egg and a poached chicken breast with grated lemon zest, both of which were excellent additions and gave the recipe a boost of protein.

I used this greens and grains soup recipe as a chance to support a group of ultra runners doing a 100-mile trail race. This was perfect. I was able to make a vegetarian broth and add the greens. I cooked the barley separate and added it as the runners wanted soup so it didn’t get soggy. I used bok choy, cooking the thicker parts of the stems first and then adding the green tops later just to wilt them a bit. Once they were done, I added them to the vegetable broth. The quick squeeze of lemon when you serve it gives just a touch a acidity and a real fresh zing.

This greens and grains soup is a very simple and easy-to-use template for getting more whole grains and greens during a time of year where we all are resolving to be healthy. For the most part, it also can be a pantry soup, except for the fresh greens, and kale is looking beautiful this winter. I cooked the grains in the soup, wanting to really focus on the umami combination of mushrooms and barley, so I used half mushroom broth, half vegetable broth, and cooked the barley in it for about an hour. At the beginning, I tossed in some dried sliced ginger and a couple dried chile de arbol peppers then added dried sliced porcini mushrooms halfway through the cooking, along with a small Parmesan rind. No added garlic or onions were needed, and the Parmesan rind gave a nice mouthfeel to the broth. I had beautiful baby Russian kale and placed it in the bowl, ladling the hot barley mushroom soup over it and wilting it as I stirred. The soup made a healthy and comforting lunch for the soul. I added a light splash of white balsamic vinegar to my bowl. For dinner, I will slice the kale into ribbons, but either way works, and the brilliant green color and barely-cooked texture match nicely with the toothiness of the barley. Barley is a grain I forget I have, and it seems so homely until you use it and remind yourself why you have it! The Parmesan rind really made this sing along with the rich porcini.

This greens and grains soup was simple, hearty, and satisfying. I used farro and Swiss chard and made the variation using chopped onions (actually, I used leeks), celery, and carrot to add additional depth of flavor. The farro took 25 minutes to cook (it used up all the water, but the farro was tender to the bite). I needed to add an additional 2 cups broth, as otherwise it was a bit too thick.

If you’re looking for a fantastic vegetarian soup, you need to look no further. This greens and grains soup has everything needed to satisfy even the most carnivorous member of the family. How can this be?  First, using a grain in the soup makes for a very satiating meal. I used barley, which took 5 minutes to boil and an additional 45 minutes to reach a perfect, chewy texture. This soup was also wonderful for using up the greens I had in the refrigerator. The best part of the soup is how quickly it comes together. Outside of the preparation of the grains, the soup itself is ready for dinner in about 25 minutes. This is perfect after a long day of work. I did top my soup with a touch of Parmesan cheese. It was delicious. There was also enough left over for lunch the next day.

The most basic version of this greens and grains soup recipe produces a satisfying and hearty, but not too heavy, soup that can then be customized to suit one’s preferences. I used pearled barley and curly kale plus the chopped kale stems. I was intending to add some black-eyed peas I had in the refrigerator, but the soup was thick enough that it would really have required more broth to maintain a good consistency with the beans added, and I didn’t want to make an enormous vat of soup. I do think beans would be good in this, though, as would the Parmesan that I forgot to include. I used homemade chicken stock that had been simmered with bay leaf, onion, celery, and carrot, but there wasn’t a lot of oomph to the soup, seasoning-wise. While it was fine as is, this soup probably would benefit from the addition of some flavor enhancers beyond a little garlic, salt, and pepper, so it’s worth exploring the “variations” listed at the end of the recipe. It took 40 minutes for my barley to become tender to the bite. I prepped the other ingredients while the barley was cooking, cutting down on the total time.

This greens and grains soup recipe is the one to go to if you want an easy and delicious as well as good-for-you soup. I used kale and a Parmesan rind in my version and sprinkled grated cheese over the top when serving. Prep time is about 5 minutes, and the cooking time for the farro was 10 minutes after it came to the initial boil. All totaled, it was between 20 and 25 minutes from start to finish. This soup has a warm, hearty, earthy, nutty flavor that is perfect with a dusting of Parmesan. I imagine that you wouldn’t even have to be a kale lover to enjoy this soup. I used chicken broth fresh out of the pot from a roast the night before, so everything was good to go. The soup was even better the second day after all the flavors had the chance to fully develop. I would definitely make this again and again.

Easy to put together and healthful, this greens and grains soup recipe is a winner. It gives you a chance to use what’s in your pantry along with whatever greens look freshest in the market. I used farro and kale. I keep vegetable soup base concentrate in my house, and it was the perfect paring with the other ingredients. It was interesting to use the stems of the greens….they cooked up nicely and were not tough or chewy. I added a can of chickpeas to the soup and thought it was a great variation on the basic recipe. This is a delicious basic recipe with several options for experimentation. My taster thought that the broth part of the soup was too thin. I did not agree, but I think it could benefit from a few spins of an immersion blender to play with the texture. Additionally, perhaps if the grains had been cooked in the broth, the added starchiness would have added to the soup texture. I’ll have to try that next time.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. Hearty, satisfying and vegan… I had fun with this recipe. I had some mixed grains (farro, barley and spelt), some roasted vegetables (carrot, potato, green beans) and also some cooked white beans (tepary) that were in my fridge from meal prep earlier in the week. I wanted to make a soup or stew and found this recipe that I tweaked just a bit. I added some dried guajillo chiles, fresh fresno chili and onion with the garlic and greens’ stalks in the saute then added some broth and blended that up before added the rest of the broth, roasted vegetables, beans and grains. I also added a few other herbs and spices (oregano, celery seed, cumin seed and dried chili powder). Cooked that for about 10 mins before adding the greens’ leaves and some lemon juice and salt. Yumm!