We have been having a strange El Nino winter so far with temperatures well above normal for December. Not too many people are complaining about it still being in the 50s and even 60s in Chicago, but I do find it a bit unsettling. I always wait for the cooler weather to wear my beautiful heavy kilted skirts and to bake my bread and make my rich soups and stews. The last couple of days saw a turn in the weather so I don’t need to pretend that it is a typical December and I’m making my mushroom beef barley soup. You can practically stand a spoon up in this soup – it is just that thick and rich. One bowl with some warm crusty bread and a fresh green salad will surely cure whatever winter blues or sniffles you are facing. It’s the kind of soup that I love to eat after snuggling on the couch with a good book and an even better single malt Scotch. It freezes well so make a big batch. Or do what I do and give some to a friend or sibling.
I tell you below how to substitute out the beef and beef stock if you wish to do that either for budgetary, health or moral reasons. It will not be thsame, but it will still be delicious.
Mushroom Beef Barley Soup
3 Tablespoons Canola or Grapeseed Oil
2-3 pounds of chuck roast, cut into large cubes (You could also use beef shank or beef stew meat or even short ribs) If beef isn’t in your budget or your diet, you can leave it out, but don’t skimp on the mushrooms! The dried mushrooms add some of that beef mouthfeel and lots of flavor.
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced medium thick
3 stalks of celery, sliced but not too thinly, including leaves if you have them
1 large onion or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped coarsely
8 – 12 ounces of sliced mushrooms (baby bello or crimini) In case you hadn’t guessed, I REALLY like mushrooms. Be sure to NOT wash any dirt off of the mushrooms. Just wipe with a damp paper towel. Washing mushrooms makes them spongy.
1.5 cups dried mushrooms (Buy what you can afford; I am using porcini which I buy from nuts.com in bulk. I would not use a shitake or oyster mushroom here but just about any other dried mushroom will do.)
1 cup of barley
6-8 cups of good beef stock (homemade if you have it or a good commercial brand like Kitchen Basics) If you are not cooking with beef becasue you are a vegetarian or vegan, then substitute vegetable stock. It won’t be as good, in my opinion, but it will still be a good soup.
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
- In a microwaveable bowl, soak your dried mushrooms in water to just cover. Place in themicrowave and heat on high for 1.5 minutes. Cover and let sit for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively you could soak the mushrooms in boiling water.
- You will need to use a heavy 7-9 quart pot for this – preferably cast iron covered with enamel like a Staub, Le Creuset or Lodge). Otherwise, you will be scraping burnt barley off of the bottom!
- Heat the oil in the pot on medium high heat and lightly brown your meat in batches. Remove with a slotted spoon and hold to the side.
- If necessary add a bit more oil, but you shouldn’t really need to. Add the onions or leeks and cook for a couple of minutes until translucent. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for 3 more minutes until they become shiny and barely begin to soften.
- Add all other ingredients, including the dried mushroom with their liquid but do not add the barley or fresh mushrooms yet. If you think there is any grit in the mushroom liquid, pour the liquid through a strainer. Start with 6 cups of the beef broth plus the soaking liquid from the dried mushrooms. It should be enough for now.
- Bring to a simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally. This can take a bit but don’t rush it. Once it comes to a simmer, skim any of that greyish scum from the beef proteins that comes to the surface. (I use a slotted spoon dipped in a measuring cup filled about 1/3 of the way with warm water.)
- Once you have removed as much of the scum as you can, cook for 30 minutes, covered and then add the barley and stir through. Now add your salt and cracked black pepper. Depending on whether your stock is already salted and on personal taste, you should proceed cautiously. You can always add salt at the end. This is a fairly good size pot of soup, so if your stock is unsalted, adding 1 Tablespoon of salt is probably not too much. Bring the pot back to a simmer, cover the pot or Dutch oven and continue to cook for 30 more minutes. Check the pot occasionally and if you must, add some additional boiling water or stock to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pot so you can still call this soup!
- After 30 minutes (1 hour total), add the fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for 30 more minutes (Total cooking time is 1.5 hours.) Adjust your seasonings.
- This soup will keep in the fridge for up to a week, but when you reheat it you may need to add some liquid since the barley will continue to absorb liquid as it sits. You can also control how thick you like your soup. My family likes it thick enough to stand up a spoon but others like a thinner soup. It’s up to you.