In honor of the first morning of the year that I woke up to snow, I'm digging out my notes on a wonderfully warming soup: Mushroom Barley. Earlier this season, I came down with a nasty cold. The worst part was that I could barely taste anything for over a week. I can't tell you how devastated I was. Part of this hearty soup's appeal is the variety of texture. You won't be surprise to learn that the recipe I used as a guide was from Barbara Kafka's Soup, a way of life. The first step is to pour boiling water over 3-4 dried porcini mushrooms (dried shitakes would also work) in a small bowl, cover and set aside to soak for about 20 minutes. The porcini, with their soaking liquid, a cup of pearl barley and a couple ribs of chopped celery were covered with water (about 8 cups), brought to a boil and simmered for 30 minutes.
Soup is a great way to clear out your crisper drawer. You could add bits of any vegetable that needs to be used up to this soup, and I bet it would just add to its wholesome, comforting deliciousness. I've discovered some great combinations this way. The "No Shopping Challenge" has made me more conscious of not wasting food, and I have been enjoying the creativity and efficiency it inspires. I was sorry that I didn't have a carrot to include in this soup, though. It would have added a nice sweetness.
While the barley was simmering, I chopped the whites of two leeks in place of onions, sauteeing them in butter until soft. Next I sliced up an entire 24 ounce package of mushrooms, stems and all. Presliced mushrooms are widely available, but I prefer to buy them whole. This gives me a chance to practice my knife skills. I also love the purple-y, brownish grey color just above the mushroom's gills that is revealed with each slice. The mushrooms, once sliced, were added to the leeks and cooking continued another 5 minutes.
Another great thing about this particular soup is that you don't need stock. I used water, or Kafka has a recipe for a Mushroom Broth you can make for a richer soup. Once the barley is cooked, combine the two mixtures and simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes. Taste and season as desired. A splash of soy sauce added to your bowl just before eating is a nice addition.