The winter is almost behind us and along with it, the soup pot on the back burner will disappear in favor of quicker, greener and cooler soups. Before we retire the soup pot and since there’s still some snow on the ground, I thought we should have one last comforting bowl of the winter elixir, that is soup. I had some dried mushrooms that had fallen to the back of the cupboard. The Goddess gets busy and these things happen…but, they were found and she thought this might be just the thing, seeing how she dropped them into the bread machine…it was a mess and a testament to her deftness! Well, right in front, on the same shelf, was the jar with the barley. I love barley and I don’t think we use it enough. It makes a great pilaf and an interesting (in a good way) risotto. So after fishing the mushrooms out of the bread machine bucket, rinsing them off and soaking them, I decided to make mushroom soup, with some barley thrown in for fun and flavor…This is a what-the-hell soup.
- 2-3 ounces dried mushrooms (morel, chanterelle, porcini, oyster, etc.)
- water to cover
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 onion or leek, chopped
- 8 ounces button or baby bella mushrooms sliced or chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, put through a press
- 2 bay leaves
- Water, vegetable, beef or chicken broth
- 1 handful pearled barley (about 1/3-1/2 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- Large pinch dried tarragon
- 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place the rinsed, dried mushrooms in a bowl; cover with almost-hot water. Stir them a couple of times, pushing the mushrooms down into the water. The water will become beef broth-like in color. They will need at least 30 minutes to rehydrate, but the mushrooms aren’t flexible regarding soaking time. When rehydrated, squeeze out the soaking liquid (I use my very clean hands for this). Strain and reserve the liquid. Coarsely chop the mushrooms; set aside.
Heat the soup pot, add the butter and onion; sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add the fresh mushrooms. Sauté the fresh mushrooms (don’t stir them around too much) for 4-5 minutes. Add the reserved mushrooms; continue to sauté for 3-4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, the mushroom soaking liquid and about 2 cups water (or broth). Bring to a simmer, lower the heat and continue to simmer, partially covered, for about 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, stir in the barley and additional liquid to cover the solids by about 1 inch. When the pot return to the boil, lower the heat and cook until the barley is al dente, about 15-20 minutes. During the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the thyme and tarragon. Taste and add some of the lemon juice (to spark the flavor) and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with good bread.
NOTE: You could add some sautéed Italian or other sausage, leftover roast beef or chicken to this. If you wish to keep this gluten-free, substitute arborio rice for the barley. You may need to adjust the cooking time. You could absolutely add some heavy cream when you add the herbs! Note that as the soup sits, the barley will absorb liquid and sort of explode, but the soup will still taste great; the flavor benefits from sitting overnight.
Mushroom-Barley Soup Recipe©Marcia Lahens 2015. All rights reserved.
This a great way to use up leftovers or whatever you want to add, but it’s delicious just like it is. It has a very earthy flavor, warming and substantial, even though it isn’t very caloric at all. I had intended to make this a cream soup, but when I tasted at the end, I liked the earthy, clean taste of the mushrooms and decided it didn’t need any added richness. I would serve this as a first course for a dinner party. I might leave the barley out, as it does give this soup quite a bit of substance. I keep the herbs to a minimum; I just want them hinted at, not over-powering the mushrooms.
A couple of things, I toasted the barley before I added it to the pot. I love to toast grains before using them and barley really takes well to toasting. If you want to keep this gluten-free, forget the barley and use rice, preferably arborio. Adjust the cooking time as you need to.
I used a leek, because I needed to use it or lose it and I threw in some dried shallots just because I love shallots. I added both a bit of balsamic and lemon juice at the very end, as I felt the soup needed a hint of acid. I was right (Goddess’s usually are, but are so often misunderstood). Next time I’ll grate a bit of the peel in when I add the herbs.
I served this with grilled cheese, made with slices of sharp cheddar and Swiss on Honey-Whole Wheat Bread. On a cold night, delicious, simple peasant food is just the best!