Roman Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens is an ancient recipe typical of the inns of the Eternal City. It’s full of great ingredients.
Roman Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens

The modern word “restaurant” comes from the French term for restore, which is the principle reason for Romans to go to their inns – to restore their health through eating soup, believed to contain all the nutrients needed daily.  In a time when most citizens were not patricians or slave-owners, the average person could not dine out.

Soup has been a standard fare of every civilization since Mesopotamia, where clay pots were invented.  As mankind realized they could cook more ingredients than simply roasting meat over a fire, the clay pot became the perfect tool to feed families.  Meat could be stored and consumed, with its scraps and bones adding flavor to water, grains and vegetables, stretching out meager resources for several days.  With grains like barley, wheat and oats available, it was grain soups that became the standard for millennia, with beans, root vegetables and others slowly becoming part of the communal soup pot.

As time passed and clay pots were themselves, fired in kilns, and from those kilns, which were worked by men, the women baked bread in the evening, when the kilns were cooling. Bread was a natural extension of this, combining the grains with leavening agents.  Eventually, the grains became beers and ales, one thing leading to another.

Today, Nam Pla, or Thai fish sauce is fundamentally the same thing as Roman Garum.

Roman Barley Soup with Legumes and Greens
Recipe type: Soups and Stews
Cuisine: Ancient or Historic
Serves: 12
  • 1⁄2 Cup pearled barley
  • 1 Cup yellow split peas
  • 1 Cup tan lentils (supermarket type)
  • 10 Cups water
  • 1 (14-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground celery seed
  • 2 Tablespoons Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce or Liquamen or Garum
  • 1 large or 2 smaller leeks, white part and 3 inches of green part, split, rinsed carefully and chopped
  • 3 Cups coarsely chopped Savoy cabbage, packed
  • 1⁄4 Cup chopped cilantro, packed
  • 1⁄4 Cup chopped fresh dill, packed
  • 1⁄4 Cup chopped fennel leaves, packed
  • 1⁄2 Cup olive oil
  1. Place barley, peas and lentils in a heavy pot. Rinse and drain. Add water and bring to a boil. Skim off foam. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are becoming tender. Add a little water if too thick.
  2. Add chickpeas, salt, oregano, ground spices and fish sauce. Simmer 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare leeks, cabbage and greens. In a frying pan, cook them gently in olive oil until bright colored and wilted. Stir mixture into soup. Simmer, stirring frequently, just until cabbage is tender, 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Taste, and add salt as needed to make slightly salty, since the vegetables will absorb more salt.


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