Sunday, February 24, 2008

winter comfort

barley, or hordeum vulgare, is something we canadians know a lot about ...... considering we produce some 12 million tonnes of it in our prairie provinces, we should! this important little grain has its original beginnings as a wild variety in the levantine areas of middle east and became one of the first domesticated grain crops for both human and animal consumption. as an ancient grain, its use was extremely important in the production of beer and other fermented drinks, and the staff of life — bread (citations back to ancient egypt).

the role of barley [שערה] in judaism is also important. it is one of the seven species [שבעת המינים] which play an integral part in our religion's harvest festival celebrations and are symbolic of the state of israel. barley has figured greatly in ashkenazi soups such as bean and barley, beef and barley, mushroom barley and many other interpretations. these soups are more or less a kind of winter-ish fare and considered a kind of comfort food since barley can be on the heavy side. much of that, however, depends on who is cooking it and the recipe used. but then again, i doubt there are many yiddishe mammas (jewish mothers) who rely/relied on a recipe for these soups! i imagine whatever was available got thrown in.

barley isn't just a jewish or middle eastern thing. it is found in many other cuisines and cultures. it is ground into flour and used in many recipes which have roots in the UK (scottish barley cakes, for example) or northern europe and extends its use all the way into parts of the mediterranean and asia.

barley can be used in a variety of ways — from whole grain preparations to baked items using the finely milled flour. look here for an array of ways to use this grain from the alberta barley commission.

as a final note, there are two types of barley: pearl and pot. pearl barley has the tough outer coating removed and cooks faster than the unpolished pot barley. both can be used for the following recipe however i prefer using the polished (pearl) type grain.

double mushroom barley soup

barley soups are nourishing and hearty. this one, a meatless version, is on the lighter side of those thick pottage type ones. it uses 2 types of mushrooms and some modern flavourings like dark soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. it results in a dark and luscious soup broth, packed full of savoury goodness from the earthy nuances of the mushrooms and dried herbs. the soup freezes well and is good for any time of the year, not just winter!

makes ~ 8 to 10 servings — can be halved.


10 -12 large dried shiitake mushrooms
4 medium sized carrots
1 lb (500 g) white mushrooms or a mixture you like
3 tbsp light olive oil
2 good sized onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried sage (don't omit)
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 to 2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp dark soy sauce (not japanese type)
1 tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar

1 c pearl barley (not pot barley)
6 c stock (vegetable or beef or chicken)*
3 c water
4 c baby spinach or similar

*you can use stock powder or cubes instead.


place dried shiitakes in a bowl and add 1 cup of boiling water. let sit for 30 minutes.

while mushrooms are soaking, assemble your mise-en-place for the soup.

cut up the onion and the garlic and set aside. peel and slice the carrots on the diagonal in 1/4" slices. set aside for later.

clean the mushrooms and slice them in 1/4 inch pieces. they should be fairly thick. set aside.

measure out the spice and the condiments.

squeeze the mushrooms over the soaking water and place on a chopping board. DO NOT DISCARD the water.

remove the hard stems and slice thinly. strain the liquid and keep aside for later.

in a large soup pot, add the oil and heat on medium until hot. add the onions and garlic and sauté until softened; this will take approximately 5 minutes.

add the carrots and both types of mushrooms and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes. stir every 5 minutes.

once the mushrooms are softened and there is barely any liquid left, add the dried herbs, tomato paste, soy sauce, mushroom water and vinegar. stir well.

add the barley and the stock and water. if using broth cubes, you can add them now. if the cubes are very hard, crumble them first.

for this sized soup, i use 4 cubes as seen below in the pictures. how much you add all depends on the directions of the product you're using.

mix well and cover. cook over low heat for about 1 hour. stir every 10 minutes or so.

after one hour, add the rinsed spinach. you can chop it beforehand but make sure there are no tough stems. they must be removed.

cook for 5 minutes. taste and adjust salt and pepper.

this soup freezes well.


sarita said...

have never had barley soups except in cholent. this sounds so ashkenazi to me and wish you could deliver some!. i have to try it before "winter" ends here. btw, i love sage, specially with pasta. hope it tastes a lot of sage.

burekaboy — said...

sari - hehe, it is SO ashkenazi ;p it's a very popular type of soup here especially with flanken meat thrown in. the original no way has sage in it! (bad english there!) LOL. the sage taste is not terribly pronounced here but you can add more. i wouldn't add a lot since it's a powerful herb.

winter? you?? donde esta la nieve??!! digame, por favor! hey, we're having ANOTHER snowstorm tomorrow. :((((

Anonymous said...

Looks yummy. Got all the ingredients to make this but running out of time. Will make it next week, bli neder. So glad to see more posts from you!


burekaboy — said...

deanna - hope you like! it's a bit different from the regular version since it has the dried shiitakes and soy sauce. you can use fresh shiitakes or even oyster mushrooms, too. posting has been a bit difficult lately due to circumstances. thanks for the comments and visit/s. :)) oy, pesach is coming!!!!!!!!!!!!