Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale

Autumn is here and that means hearty and flavorful soups that are one-pot meals. I came across this soup on the New York Times website and decided to give it a try, with a few modifications. The most difficult step in this recipe is browning the meat, which means that pretty much anyone can make this soup. It takes some chopping and a bit of time to cook, but there are no special techniques or skills needed. However, it is not a pantry soup. It does require a fair amount of fresh ingredients, but is well worth the effort. And unlike traditional beef mushroom barley soups (which I love, by the way) this soup manages to be both hearty AND bright, with a lightness not usually associated with beef barley soup.

The original recipe called for one pound of meat cut into tiny pieces that would serve eight people. If I am going to the trouble and expense of serving meat in a soup that will serve as my dinner, then I both want to taste and see the meat. I also like to trim and cut my own meat into the size pieces I want that are almost totally devoid of any fat or gristle. I don’t happen to find it a bother to do this and I know exactly what I am serving. If you want to cut down on the work, then please go ahead and use prepared stew meat from the meat department. You won’t have the control over the cut or quality of the meat, but it will definitely simplify things for you. Otherwise, buy good quality chuck roast and cut it yourself. Make this soup on a day that you plan to be at home and you will be rewarded with quite a treat. It will take a 7 quart or larger stock pot or Dutch Oven.

Vegetable Beef Barley Soup with Lemon and Kale by Melissa Clark and tweaked by me

Yield: About 8 dinner servings

Vegetable Beef Barley with Kale and Lemon1

INGREDIENTS

2.5 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 2-inch cubes

1 Tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed

4 tablespoons olive oil or grapeseed, more as needed

3 small or 2 large leeks, thinly sliced

3 celery stalks, sliced

1 fennel bulb, diced

4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 rounded teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

3/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

Large pinch cayenne, optional

2 quarts beef stock, divided

3 sage sprigs 

2 rosemary sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 carrots, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds

2 large turnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

¾ cups pearled barley

1 large bunch of kale, torn into large, bite-size pieces

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon, plus juice 

Thinly sliced jalapeños or other chilies, for serving (optional)

DIRECTIONS

  1. Season beef generously with about 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Let mixture stand for 30 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large, hot pot over medium-high heat. Add meat and cook in batches, turning occasionally, until well browned, 8 to 10 minutes per batch. (Do not crowd the pan or the meat will steam but won’t brown.) Drizzle in additional oil if the pan seems dry. Transfer the browned meat to a plate and cover lightly with fol to keep it warm. Don’t worry about brown bits that are stuck to the pan. All will be well – I promise!
  3. Add leek, celery, fennel and garlic to the pan; cook until soft, about 7 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent burning. Push the vegetables to one side, and, if the pan looks dry, add a bit more oil. Add tomato paste and spices to the cleared spot and cook until tomato paste is darkened and caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir together vegetables and tomato paste.
  4. Return meat to the pot. Pour in 1 quart of stock and 8 cups water. Using kitchen string, tie sage, rosemary and bay leaves into a bundle and drop into pot. (I like to wrap my herbs in cheesecloth and then I tie the bundle to the handle of the pot which makes fishing it out later easier. The cheesecloth also keeps the herbs from breaking off and floating in the soup.) Bring the liquid to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, partly covered, for 1 hour.
  5. Stir in the carrots, parsnips, turnips, barley, 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer until barley is cooked through and meat is tender, about 1 hour more. Pull herb bunch from pot and discard.
  6. Stir kale and parsley into pot until wilted, 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in lemon zest and juice. If soup is too thick, thin it with the additional quart of stock. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary. Serve with chilies, if you like. We found the chilies completely unnecessary – perhaps because I chose to use a large lemon which provided all of the kick that I needed.

NOTE: You can make the soup ahead through Step 5. Then you can turn off the heat. Add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice. Cover the pot and allow it to just sit. I then gently heat the soup to serve. The alternative is to add the kale, parsley, lemon zest and juice to the pot after it has been reheated and just prior to serving. Barley does tend to soak up whatever liquid it gets near so the longer the soup sits, the more the barley will expand and soak up the liquid. You can always add additional water or stock to thin it down if you wish. The kale will lose its vibrant green the longer it sits, but left-overs are still delicious.

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