While there’s not a lot I look forward to about the long Chicago winter, there is one thing — beef barley soup.
A pot of beef barley soup slowly simmering on the back burner of the stove on a cold winter’s afternoon is a thing of awe and beauty. It cooks slow and easy in its own time, like an stubborn, elderly relative. It won’t be rushed.
A tougher cut of beef is used for beef barley soup, but don’t worry. The stew will break it down over time until it’s fall off the fork tender.
As the soup perfects itself, the hearty, bold flavor of the beef gets entangled in the honest, natural flavors of the root vegetables, all of which swim joyfully in the dense beef broth that thickens naturally from the starches released from the barley pearls.
Every time I make beef barley soup, I always get taken by surprise by how little barley actually goes into it. I always have to go back and double-check the recipe, thinking, “Wait, that can’t be right.”
But it is. The barley swells and swells. And after the soup is put away and refrigerated overnight, it keeps on swelling until nearly all the liquid is absorbed and all that’s left is a beefy, vegetable-y porridge. Like all soups, it tastes even better the next day.
Look for an inexpensive, tough cut of beef, such as chuck roast or outside round. Cut away and discard any outside fat. For this batch, I bought a cut called English Pot Roast, which I never heard of, but it worked great.
Finally, a word on parsnips. If you are not used to working with them, they look like white carrots, but they have a woody stalk that is inedible. To clean, peel, then cut into quarters. Use the knife to cut at a diagonal of each quarter to remove the stalk, then simply dice the remaining meat.
Beef Barley Soup
12 oz beef stew meat, cut into 1″ pieces
1 TBS EVOO
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 white onion, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 parsnip, peeled, cored and diced
1 white turnip, peeled and diced
1/2 cup pearled barley
30 oz beef stock
1 TBS Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1. Put a soup pot on the fire. While it heats, combine the flour, salt and pepper in a pie tin. Dredge the beef pieces in the seasoned flour, coating completely. Add the EVOO to the heated pot. When it starts to smoke, add the meat, a few peices at a time in batches, being careful not to crowd them, browing each side. As each cube is browned, remove it to a separate plate.
2. After all the meat has been browned, add a little more EVOO then the onions, carrots and celery and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Return the meat to the pot (including the flavorful liquid pooling on the bottom of the plate) as well as the beef stock, barley, parsnip, turnip, bay leaf, Italian seasoning and garlic. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the cooked bits from the bottom of the pot. These are gold nuggets of flavor. Bring to a boil, then reduce to the lowest simmer you can.
3. Cook for at least 90 minutes, or all afternoon if possible. A half hour before service, stir in the tomatoes and finish cooking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This soup goes well with a heel of hearty bread to soak up the juices. Stay warm!
What winter favorites are you planning to make this season? Share your ideas in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!