One of the best side benefits of trying to eat more vegetarian foods is discovering things about food I never realized before, such as the versatility of barley.
Barley is a cereal grain that has been a part of my life since almost the very beginning, except I didn’t even know it. Many of the sickly sweet cereals I devoured as a kid were made from barley and other grains processed with a sugar glaze.
Barley is the main cattle feed in parts of the country where corn doesn’t grow as well, such as Montana, North Dakota and northern Minnesota.
Today, pearled barley is the central ingredient in this Mushroom Barley Soup, a delicious variation on my standard Beef Barley Soup. In this version, the tough cuts of beef are replaced with white button mushrooms. While they obviously don’t provide the same amount of protein, the mushrooms were surprisingly effective in maintaining this soup’s hearty flavor.
Barley grains are like tiny sponges that soak up an amazing amount of liquid. I’m always surprised by how little barley is needed to create an entire pot of soup. It seems like no matter how much liquid is added, the barley grains continue to soak up all of it, leaving a lushly textured, highly flavorful soup.
Mushroom Barley Soup
2 TBS EVOO
1 white onion, medium dice
3 or 4 small carrots, medium dice
2 celery stalks, medium dice
1 garlic clove, crushed
12 oz package white button mushrooms, rough chop
3/4 cup dry pearled barley
1 TBS Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1 10-oz can diced tomatoes
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1. Put soup pot or Dutch oven on the fire. When hot, add oil. When smoking, add onion, celery and carrots and cook until onions translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add mushrooms and cook until brown, about another 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook about one minute. Add barley, Italian seasoning and bay leaf and toss so that each grain is covered with oil and let toast for about a minute. Add vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.
2. Add entire can of tomatoes, including juice, and simmer an additional 30-45 minutes or until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
This soup goes best with a hearty bread. I ran out of time, so I bought a LaBrea Bakery whole wheat baguette, which was delicious. It could be made in the crock pot instead. Just cook on low about 8 hours.