Unless you live somewhere with palm trees and endless sunshine (we don’t want to hear it) or lost all temperature-detecting faculties several moon phases ago due to how leg/face/heart/coherent thought-numbingly COLD it’s been, you may have noticed that it is…still freezing outside.
No one asked us if we wanted a second round of Polar Vortex, but here it comes again, like a blue-eyed girl in a Cars song. The North wind has sent us all into a deep freeze so thorough that it’s actually preventing our brains and our stomachs from talking to each other—a very dangerous thing. Any attempted communication comes out sounding more like Anne Heche’s secret language than actual useful information. You’re hungry. We’re hungry. But for what? Something hot. Something satisfying. Something really tasty. All obvious, all true, all necessary unless you want us to be very cranky. (Lou interjects, “We don’t get cranky. Do we?” Good one.)
On days like this, comfort food and a (many) movie(s) is the only solution.
And one of our favorite cures for whatever ails you, especially when it’s the winter blues: mushroom barley soup. We’ve been making it ever since our friend Martha introduced us to the Fields of Greens cookbook long ago. We’ve modified it a bit to our taste, but this hearty soup, with its meaty, umami-like flavor (even though there is no meat to found), filling and healthful ingredients, and wonderful variety of textures is a winner. It’s not even the slightest bit gloppy or bland like so many of the other mushroom soups you’ve seen around the block. Even if you think you don’t like mushrooms, you might give it a shot. It’s just so good. Don’t believe us? We’ve actually made it as Christmas dinner, post-Christmas Eve feast extravaganzaing, when we’ve been too full of cheese and…whatever else you eat that goes with cheese and too tuckered to make Feast Number Two. Stuffed and tired or not, we always take our Christmas dinner very seriously and this soup measures up to even our most festive standards. Plus, we don’t know about you, but we’ll use any recipe excuse to cook with barley.
We curled up on the couch with two big bowls, a crusty loaf of bread, and Chocolat in our DVD player (one of our eternal go-to wintertime movie marathon participants… Juliette Binoche and chocolate—enough said). Caution: watching Chocolat inevitably results in consuming impressively monstrous quantities of chocolate. Don’t get caught without enough in the house—which is to say, a lot. Prepare. In our case, we had no choice but to bolt for the freezer and pull out some safely-stowed Chocolate Log. And with that, the last remnant of the holidays were gone. (Countdown to the next holiday season…begin!) Goodbye, chocolate log.
Hello, many more bowls of mushroom barley soup.
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Notes: Sometimes dried mushrooms can contain a lot of grit. After rehydrating in warm water, strain them and the soaking water through a coffee filter. You can just fold the edges over a cup. If you don’t have a coffee filter, line a fine sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. You can even use paper towels but if you do, go with unbleached. Once strained, take the mushroom pieces and rinse under water, running your fingers over them to rub off any leftover grit.
When it comes to fresh mushrooms, you will invariably read that all you need to do is lightly brush the dirt off. If you are satisfied with this, by all means do it, but we always give them a good rub with a wet cloth or run each mushroom quickly under water, stem side down, then pat them dry.
As for the barley, give it a quick check for stones and debris, then rinse before tossing it into the soup pot. For the wine, use only what you would happily drink. If you don’t have any, skip it and just use broth. If you like, you can make this soup totally vegetarian by using vegetable stock instead of our stock of choice: chicken.
Mushroom Barley Soup
Adapted from Fields of Greens
A coffee filter or cheese cloth and a fine sieve
– 7-8 cups of stock, chicken, vegetable or beef
– 1/2 oz dried mushrooms (porcini if you can find them and want to splurge) rehydrated and finely chopped, liquid reserved (see notes above)
– 1/2 tbs butter
– 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, diced
– 8 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup wine, red or white, depending on your preference/what you’ve got
– 2 carrots, one roughly chopped, one cut into a dice
– 2 celery stalks, one roughly chopped, one cut into a dice
– 1/3 cup pearl barley
– 1 bay leaf
– 2-2 1/2 lbs of mushrooms, sliced thin
– 2 dashes of soy sauce, low sodium if you have it
– 1 tbs each parsley and thyme, finely chopped
– Salt and pepper to taste
* In a stock pot, bring the stock to a simmer and keep warm.
* Heat a 10–12″ sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add the butter and 1 tbs of the olive oil.
* When the butter and olive oil have heated, add the chopped onions with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until translucent.
* Add the chopped rehydrated mushrooms and half of the garlic. Stir and cook for a few minutes until the garlic is fragrant but not brown.
* Add half the wine and the reserved liquid from the mushrooms. Cook until reduced by about half.
* Add the carrots and celery. Give it a stir to mix everything together and add the vegetables to the stock pot. Keep the sauté pan hot.
* Stir the barley into the soup pot and add the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer.
* Turn the heat on the sauté pan up to medium-high. If you are using a 10″ sauté pan, you will need to cook the mushrooms in three batches instead of two. For a 12″ pan, add 1/2 tbs of olive oil and half of the sliced mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper. Give them a stir or two. When they start to release their moisture. Let the liquid evaporate. They will start to stick to the pan but do not stir them, let them brown. When they are good and golden, give them a stir and add half of the remaining garlic. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes.
* With the mushrooms still in the pan, deglaze it by adding half of the wine you have left, a dash of soy sauce, and a ladle full of liquid from the simmering soup. Add everything to stock pot.
* Repeat with the remaining mushrooms.
* When the barley is tender, add the herbs, taste for seasoning, and serve piping hot.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.