Thick onion soup with grains and gooey melted cheese

A thick and delicious meal-in-a-bowl, this wonderful onion soup enriched with nutritious grains, is topped with melted cheese for an indulgent winter treat.

Regular readers will know that DH is not a big soup eater. In fact, he considers soup to be a waste of time and vegetables. I disagree, vehemently, but for the sake of domestic harmony I tend not to make too much in the way of soup. So when he’s away for a week, as happens from time to time, soup-making is GO!

Onion soup with barley and melty cheese.

Student days

This onion soup was inspired by something I used to make when I was a student. I was living in a freezing basement flat, and having a pan of delicious soup burbling away on the stove for hours was one way to heat the place up a bit! Of course it also had the benefit of a delicious dinner at the end.

The soup was essentially slow-cooked onions and barley in stock, occasionally with mushrooms added. The longer it cooked, the more delicious it got. It was also perfect student food as the ingredients – onions and pearl barley – are cheap to buy and create a warm and filling meal. Win win!

Onion soup with barley and melty cheese.

Updated and improved

I updated the onion soup with a 5-grain mix, instead of plain barley. This added more texture and a lovely depth of flavour, too. The mix I used contains barley, wheat, spelt, rice and oats, but I’m sure you could use other mixes, or just use pearl barley if that’s what you have to hand.

Cheesy options

The finished soup is thick and satisfying and extremely yummy. To transform it into a meal, I added a handful of grated cheese to the top of each bowl and zapped it with a blowtorch to create a gooey, melty, crusty cheesy topping that was amazing once you stirred it into the rest of the soup. This didn’t even need bread with it – it was thick, filling, and incredibly tasty.

Onion soup with barley and melty cheese.

Of course you could just flash the bowls under a hot grill, but I quite enjoyed the theatricality of the blow-torch, and my daughter Kipper was pretty excited about it too – usually we only use our kitchen blowtorch to light the barbecue! 

The cheese is optional, of course. If you’re vegan, or otherwise dairy-avoiding, you can certainly do without it, or substitute a non-dairy alternative. 

A meal in a bowl

Kipper and I ate this thick onion soup for dinner, and I had a huge bowlful the next day to finish it off. I’d say this made 4 starter-size servings, 2-3 main-course size servings.

Onion soup with barley and melted cheese. A thick and delicious meal-in-a-bowl, this wonderful onion soup enriched with nutritious grains, is topped with melted cheese for an indulgent winter treat.

5-grain onion soup

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Onion soup with grains and melty cheese topping

Course Lunch, Soup
Cuisine Vegetarian
Keyword barley, cheese, onions
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 3
Calories 496kcal
Author Helen


  • 700-750 g onions (approx. 4-5 medium/large onions)
  • 4-5 tbsp olive oil
  • 125 g mixed grains or pearl barley (approx. 5/8 cup)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt & pepper, to taste

To serve

  • 1-2 handfuls of grated cheese (approx. ½-1 cup)


  • Peel the onions and slice finely. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat, and cook the onions, covered, for around 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • When the onions are very soft and starting to caramelise, add the barley or grains and stir well to coat in the oil. Pour in the stock, and add the bay leaf. Simmer, covered, for at least 1 hour on a very low heat.
  • Once the grains are thoroughly cooked and everything is very soft, remove from the heat. Remove the bay leaf and discard. Transfer half the soup to a large bowl and liquidise using a stick blender, then return to the pan and combine with the unblended soup.
  • Heat through, and serve piping hot. If the soup is too thick, add a little hot water or stock to reach the desired consistency.

To serve

  • Pour the soup into serving bowls and add a generous handful of grated cheese to the top. Melt and scorch with a blowtorch, or flash under a hot grill until melted, brown and bubbling.


You can leave this soup simmering on a very low heat for several hours if you like. The flavour will only improve, and as the grains disintegrate they thicken the soup beautifully.
Approx. per serving: 496 calories, 26g fat, 12.5g protein, 57g carbs

Other delicious filling soups to try include chunky mushroom soup with freekeh, creamy vegan parsnip and pea soup with fennel seeds, comforting sweet and sour cabbage and tomato soup with rice, and delicious roasted butternut squash soup with lentils.

Since this soup can happily cook away for hours I’m entering it into the Slow Cooked Challenge, hosted by Farmersgirl Kitchen.
I’m also entering this soup into No Croutons Required, a vegetarian soup and salad challenge hosted by Jacqueline at Tinned Tomatoes and Lisa at Lisa’s Kitchen



  1. Just about every other week I do a very easy barley and mushroom soup..Yum.

  2. Pingback:From Pies to Puddings: The February Slow Cooked Challenge Round Up | Farmersgirl Kitchen

  3. I think if I were to have dinner at your house every night I would be a very happy, and very full, person. I have pinned so many meals from your site and those that I have tried have been lovely =)

  4. I agree, there is nothing more comforting than a pan of soup bubbling away. This is a really simple recipe but full of good things and the five grain mix sounds like a really interesting way of upgrading student soup! Thanks so much for joining me for the Slow Cooked Challenge.

  5. This looks lovely! I’ve never made soup before I really must start x

  6. Oh I remember those chilly student days well! This recipe would have been ideal. With snow still on the ground I think this could be a contender for tonight’s dinner! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  7. suzanne3childrenandit

    Ooh I love french onion soup and this seems to be a slight variation of it. Looks so delicious – I can almost smell it!

  8. I do like a good soup and this looks tasty. Very filling with the grains I bet. Yum!

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