Bean, barley, cabbage stew with bear garlic pesto

April 12, 2014 at 10:21 pm (101 cookbooks, B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, Beans and greens, Derek's faves, Grains, Miso, One pot wonders, soup, To test on plan, Vegetable dishes, Yearly menu plan)

I found some small red beans in the Turkish store near my house last week. I snapped them up, excited to add something a bit different to my usual rotation (black beans, cranberry beans, kidney beans, white beans, lentils, various kinds of dals, chickpeas, and split mung beans). I cooked up a big pot of red beans, then had to figure out how to make a full dinner out of them. I searched all my cookbooks for recipes for red beans (with the convenient website) and found this 101cookbooks recipe for a farro and bean stew. Amazingly, I had (almost) all the ingredients.

The recipe looked pretty plain. It’s just veggies and beans and grains without any spices or herbs, not even garlic—the only seasoning is salt. So I decided to use the Bärlauch I had in the fridge to make a Bärlauch pesto. I tried to look up what Bärlauch is called in the states, and found a number of translations. Wikipedia says “Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear’s garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia.” It’s a broad, bright green leaf that tastes strongly of garlic, and (as I discovered this week) lasts quite a long time in the fridge! I had it in a plastic bag in the fridge all week and it didn’t seem at all the worse for the waiting.I had to make a few changes to the original recipe. I didn’t have any onions so I used two leeks instead (all but the darkest green parts), as well as a quite large spoonful of chopped garlic. I was out of farro so instead of 2 cups of farro I used about 1/4 cup of barley and 3/4 cup of Grünkern, a green (unripe) spelt that’s quite popular here in Germany. I didn’t have any kale so I used the leaves from one medium bunch of chard. I halved the oil since I was planning on serving the soup with pesto. Also, I used much less water than the recipe called for, and didn’t cook the stew with the beans. Instead I made the stew separately and just ladled the beans over the top of each bowl. Instead of adding salt I added some yellow miso right before serving.

The stew was good. It was plain but filling and wholesome tasting, and a sprinkle of parmesan and a spoonful of my Bärlauch pesto really jazzed it up. Derek loved the combination, and asked me to add it to “Derek’s faves.” He said the dish was very satisfying and the pesto was particularly good.

Without the beans the stew completely filled my 4-quart pot.

Update Oct 2019:

I made this again with farro this time, and with some small red Rancho Gordo beans from my Mom. The beans were great. I could them in the instant pot for about 10 or 12 minutes I think, and let them cool but they were a tad underdone, so I had to do them for another 0 or 1 minutes I think. Again I cooked them separately and just added them at the end, although I did use a lot of the cooking liquid in the stew.

Derek and I thought it was tasty as always, but a little low on veggies. Again it made a ton. We had it for dinner and Alma ate a small bowl (without enthusiasm). Derek and I ate a lot. And then we had it for lunch the next day. Then we served it as a first course at a dinner party with 6 adults. (I added more cabbage and kale at this point, since the stew had turned a dull brown and I wanted some crunch and bright green.) I also added some spicy chilies, and Derek said he really liked my additions. But even after our dinner party there was still enough stew left for at least two more lunches! I wonder if it freezes? Does the farro freeze well? The potatoes wouldn’t freeze, but maybe if I leave them out? I’m going to have to try it next time. I don’t love the potatoes in this stew. They’re fine but unnecessary, since there is so much starch from the beans and farro. Maybe I should just leave them out.

I think next time I will try:


  • 1 pound / 16 oz / 453g red beans (I would make the full pound but maybe not add all of them to the stew)
  • 10 cups / 2.5 liters water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (If you serve with pesto I might reduce this to 2 Tbs.)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 28 ounce / 800g can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped (increase to 2 carrots)
  • 3 small-med (1/2 pound / 8 oz) new potatoes, chopped (optional)
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cups / 13 oz / 370 g pearled farro (I would reduce this to 1.5 cup I think, and eventually maybe even 1 cup? I need to try it and see)
  • 1 – 2 cups water or vegetable broth
  • fine grain sea salt to taste (at least a teaspoon, maybe more)
  • 1/2 head / 9 oz savoy cabbage, chopped (I would increase this to 1 head)
  • 1/2 bunch / 4 oz kale, de-stemmed and chopped (I would increase this to 1 bunch, but maybe only add half and then steam the other half fresh when you’re eating the leftovers, to brighten them up)
  • Parmesan and olive oil and pesto to serve (optional)


  1. Cook the beans in a large pot or stock pot with the 10 cups / 2 1/2 liters of water. When the beans are cooked, drain them reserving the cooking liquid. Remove a generous scoop , place in a bowl and mash them well.
  2. In a separate 5-quart pot, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Just when it begins to color add them to the bean broth. Stir in the tomatoes, carrot, potatoes, celery, and farro. Bring to a boil again, then dial the heat down to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the farro is cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. Be sure the vegetables are cooked through as well.
  3. If you need to stir in more water or broth do so one cup at a time until the stew is the consistency you like. Taste. You are going to need to salt quite a bit. Start with a teaspoon and go from there until the flavors become bright.
  4. Stir in the cabbage and once it is softened add the kale, and cook a few minutes more, until the kale wilts and is bright green.
  5. Serve topped with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan and a generous drizzle of good olive oil (or alternately harissa oil/feta). When you go to reheat leftovers you may need to add water to thin the stew out, and then readjust the seasoning.

Serves 12.

Update Dec 3, 2022: I did not follow this recipe but I improvised something similar for lunch today. Instead of onion I used leek. Instead of potatoes I used parsnip. Instead of celery I used celery root. Instead of barley or farro I used spelt, maybe 1/2 cup? And I didn’t have any kale but I did use savoy cabbage and I added 1/2 of a zucchini along with rosemary, thyme, and basil for more green and flavor.

I started by slicing up a leek, then added 2 carrots and a small piece of celery root (diced finely). I sautéed them in a little olive oil until the leek was soft, then added 1 parsnip in small cubes, 1/2 tsp. minced rosemary, three big sprigs of thyme, and some quick-cooking spelt along with maybe 4 cups of vegetable broth and a leftover parmesan rind. (The package said 20 minutes for the spelt, so I simmered it for maybe 17 minutes then added in 2 cloves of garlic, minced, along with maybe a cup of kidney beans and 8 outer leaves from savoy cabbage (cut into strips). Then I added half a can of diced tomatoes and a handful of basil at the very end. Between the three of us we ate almost all the stew for lunch. I only had about 2 cups of stew left, so not even two full portions remaining. Next time I will make a bit more so we have at least one meal of leftovers. We ate the stew with pesto (storebought, sadly) and parmesan. Even Alma liked it! When I asked if we should add the dish to our monthly menu plan she said an enthusiastic “Yes!” The wonders of pesto.

I didn’t call this soup minestrone when I served it, but it felt like a minestrone to me since it had beans, grains, greens, and tomatoes.

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