Ok, I know my east coast readers may scoff at our “cold” weather, but everyone in California is all aflutter with concern over our predicted freezing temperatures that are heading our way – possibly dipping into the 20s at night and rising no higher than 50 during the day. Chilly temperatures = comfort food so I was reminded of a request from a fellow blogger, Liz the Chef, to share my recipe for Barley Soup. I posted a picture on my facebook page in December and she quickly requested the recipe.
I put this soup together on a night when dinner supplies were at a low point in our house so I went back to the basics – looking for soup stock, grains, and the terrific triumvirate of carrots, celery, and onions. Luckily, all of that was in good supply. I grabbed some barley out of my rice and grains drawer and saw a recipe on the package that provided inspiration.
The result of my efforts yielded a thick, creamy risotto-like soup, aptly described by my daughter. If your preferences are for soupier results – it’s an easy fix – less barley or more stock/broth. The barley definitely drinks up the liquid as it cooks, which is how I ended up with the velvety risotto-like texture. (Liz once wrote about a risotto-style method for preparing pasta from Mark Bittman, if you’re a fan of the texture and technique – be sure to check it out!)
The recipe below is just a starting point – taste it frequently and let your senses guide your additions. Have no fear – too much salt or spice – add water or stock. Too brothy? Let it reduce down a bit. You get the idea.
A couple of notes about the stock I used – @dormantchef recently decided to stop eating meat and eats only fish, shellfish and other proteins. Though he reminds me continuously to not change what I cook, (I’m a big fan of braised meat in the winter), I have been trying to expand my repertoire of meatless meals. So I made this soup with mushroom stock, which worked well since mushrooms and barley are a natural combination. However, this soup would be fantastic with chicken stock, vegetable stock, or beef stock. My lingering childhood memory of beef and barley soup with little chunks of meat scattered throughout after falling off the bone of flanken ribs fills my head frequently, especially on a cold winter day. So if that makes your mouth water, go for it. Barley and beef is comfort food at its finest.
Stay warm, cook often, and eat well!
What is your favorite comfort food soup?
- 1 or 2 carrots, diced or sliced
- 1 or 2 celery stalks, diced or sliced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Spices of your choosing, about ½ to 1 tsp each - dried basil, dried thyme, hot chili peppers, or whatever strikes your fancy that day
- a few splashes of white wine (1/4 cup to ⅓ cup) to deglaze the pot
- 3 - 4 cups mushroom, chicken, vegetable or beef stock or broth (if you have only 2 cups of stock - use water as the rest of your liquid and just taste your soup to see if it needs a little extra seasoning)
- 1 cup of pearled barley (should be available at any grocery store, bulk bins, or specialty food store)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Other add-ins: leftover chicken, beef, even sausage or pancetta sauteed and added in would be nice. Also - other vegetables would be lovely too - fresh or dried mushrooms, parsnip, kohlrabi - almost anything you want to use from your vegetable bin could become an ingredient in this soup.
- After prepping the carrots, celery, and onion, saute in the olive oil until the onion is soft, translucent and just starting to take on some color. At this stage, I like to add in my dry spices and some salt and pepper to start layering flavors and release some of their fragrance in the hot pan. Mix them around a bit and then deglaze the pan with the white wine (in non-technical terms - pour the wine in the hot pan, listen to the sizzle, and mix it around to release any yummy flavors sticking to the bottom of the pan).
- Now add the broth/stock/water and barley, stir again, and bring the whole thing up to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low and let it simmer covered until the barley is cooked and the carrots and celery are soft. Lift the lid frequently to give it a stir and check to be sure it is not boiling. You'll want it to cook less vigorously than that.
- If you are adding in any pre-cooked meat, do so at the end just to warm it up.
- To serve the soup, ladle into bowls and if you have any fresh herbs around - basil or parley or chives, you could sprinkle some on top, or a splash of olive oil and/or a squeeze of lemon would be nice as well. Or serve it just as is - if you've been tasting it as it cooks and adjusting the seasoning, it should be lovely on its own.