Beef, Beets and Barley

This is a chunky, nourishing, main course soup, a sort of East Anglian borscht with oxtail and pearl barley. Beef, beets and barley – it’s a real winter rib-sticker and packed with fabulous flavour.

This is one of a series of recipes I’m developing for Nicola Chapman at Carr Farm in the beautiful Waveney Valley on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. Nicola rears Belted Galloway cattle, certified by the high welfare Pasture For Life Farm Assurance Scheme.

This means her Belties are 100% grass fed, grazing belly deep on the lush marshes surrounding her farm in summer and on hay and silage in winter. They’re a hardy breed producing well-marbled and deep-flavoured meat. You can probably tell I’m a fan.

Image of Belted Galloways in the Waveney Valley

Picture: Nicola Chapman


The soup is best begun to the before to allow the flavours to develop. It’s also easier to skim off any fat once the soup base has been chilled.

If you dislike beetroot, just leave it out to make a more British version of oxtail soup. If you want to make it more filling, use the larger amount of barley given below. Add some shredded cabbage near the end of cooking if you like – it’s a versatile recipe. And though I’ve used parsley, you can substitute dill for a more authentic borscht flavour.

Although the quantity of stock seems large, you’ll need it as the pearl barley will soak up a considerable amount as it swells. Use a big pan!

I like to serve the soup with crusty rye bread and a dollop of sour cream.

Beef, Beet and Barley

  • Servings: 4 as a main, 6+ as a starter
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Image of oxtail soup with beetroot and pearl barley


750-800g oxtail, jointed

1 tbsp oil (I use cold-pressed rapeseed oil)

1 large onion, peeled and diced

Salt and pepper

2 sticks of celery, trimmed and diced

1 tbsp tomato paste

150ml red wine

1.5 litres of beef stock

Bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme sprigs and parsley stalks

2 small to medium beetroot, peeled and chunkily diced

2 carrots, peeled and chunkily diced

50g-75g pearl barley (check it doesn’t need pre-soaking)

2 tbsp cider vinegar

Parsley leaves (or dill), roughly chopped

To garnish: sour cream


Add the oil to a large, heavy-based pan and brown the oxtail on all sides. You won’t need much oil as more fat will render as the meat browns. Remove the oxtail and set aside, then cook the onions and celery, sprinkled with salt and pepper, until soft and golden.

Scrape a space in the bottom of the pan and add the tomato paste, cooking it off for a minute. Now pour in the red wine and let it sizzle up. Put the beef back in the pan, add the stock and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer, cover the pan and cook for one and a half to two hours or until the meat is tender and easily comes off the bone.

Remove the oxtail and when it’s cool enough, take the meat off the bones. Place in a bowl, cover and cool. Refrigerate the beef and soup separately.

Next day, skim off the fat that’s risen to the surface of the soup. Add the beef back into the pan with the pearl barley, carrots and beetroot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, or until the barley, beets and carrots are tender.

Check the seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as necessary. Stir in the cider vinegar and parsley (or dill) and serve, with sour cream on the side so everyone can add a dollop to their bowls.

7 thoughts on “Beef, Beets and Barley

  1. Oh these happy, healthy grass-fed cows – a joy to see ! Love your recipe . . . have not cooked oxtail awhile but so like the flavour . . . actually the addition of barley reminds me of childhood soups savoured in the Baltics . . . shall copy ere summer temperatures say no to heavier soups . . . . . .

  2. Done! And delicious. Why I had oxtail in my ‘pandemic freezer’ is anybody’s guess. Clearing out that freezer is healthy even if this fatty cut of meat may not be. It sure has a deep rich beef flavor as you would know. Thanks as always. Up next, potato stacks.

    • Hi Chip, glad you liked it. We’re having it again for supper tonight! (Love leftovers.) Let me know how you get on with the potato stacks – and thanks for all the feedback. Lx

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