After a long, hot summer, I welcome the crisp air, yellowing leaves, and the damp earthy aroma of the soil. It offers me a chance to rest and simply enjoy the final blossoms of the season and bounty from the garden. Yes, it is time to get back in the kitchen with burners blazing. And for me, one of the most welcoming aromas is from a large pot of Mushroom Barley Soup.
Barley was one of those grains I never had as a child. My mom stuck to beans; primarily using navy, kidney, and lima. Now while those all were the basis of some very good soups, my introduction to barley made me open my eyes wide with delight. Wow… now this was something that would create a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs type of soup.
But for this soup to truly be vibrant, it has to be made from scratch. No cheating using canned vegetables. Those types of products changes the texture and flavor of the finished soup. Nope, for this soup, get comfortable in the kitchen with your cutting board. Trust me, this is comfort food at its best and good comfort food needs fresh ingredients and time for the flavors to develop.
(I raise fresh herbs that I use year round. Before the cold weather claims the plants, I harvest thyme and dry in bundles. To use, I strip the leaves from the stems and add to the soup.) If you do not grow your own thyme, store bought is fine. And as a plus, in store bought thyme, the leaves have been stripped from the stems. If you have fresh thyme, just triple the quantity listed in the recipe.
Mushroom Barley Soup
- 2 Tbl. olive oil
- 4 Tbl. butter
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 lb. fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 2 large carrots, sliced into coins
- 4 – 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 8 cups of water
- 1 C. pearl barley (do not use instant or rolled/flaked barley)
- 8 C. water
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 oz. dried mushrooms, broken into pieces
- 1/2 C. cream
- 1/4 tsp. truffle oil
- salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and mushrooms and sweat them for about 5 minutes, stirring so they don’t stick to the pot. Next, add garlic and sweat for another 2 minutes. Add butter and stir to combine. (NOTE: use both oil and butter. Olive oil handles the medium heat well while butter brings flavor.) After butter has been melted into the vegetables, add bay leaves, thyme, barley, dried mushrooms, and water. Allow mixture to come up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and place a lid on the pot. Periodically stir to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Allow this mixture to simmer for approximately 1 1/2 hours (your patience will be rewarded) or until the barley is tender. It will still have a slight ‘chew’ to the texture, but not mushy. Remove soup from heat and take out bay leaves. Stir in cream and add salt and pepper to taste. Finally, drizzle with truffle oil, stir to combine and then serve while hot.
This is a hearty soup. The barley releases starch as it cooks and will naturally thicken the soup. If you have leftovers, I find that the flavor is even better the following day. So my friends, embrace the texture and flavor of barley. It’s not just for beer anymore.