Soup is one of my favorite things. Something magical occurs when you throw a bunch of ingredients in a pot, add water and turn on the heat. You go away for a while and when you come back: voila — soup. It’s that “Stone Soup” thing. Now I know it’s not really that simple, but it sure seems like it.
A few years back I was this close to starting a soup business. As it is, soup is materializing on my stove at least once-a-week (least between October and April). I love soup that much.
Let me create a world for you: My cousins Andi and Todd were reminiscing about their grandmother’s (my Aunt Esther’s) mushroom barley soup and I got inspired. The recipe that follows is not Aunt Esther’s mushroom barley soup. I actually created it and I modestly and objectively consider it the best I’ve ever tasted. Any resemblance this has to Aunt Esther’s is strictly familial.
Mushroom Barley Soup
The keys to this recipe are:
1) the lamb shank which helps to give it a distinctive rustic flavor and
2) don’t be stingy with the mushrooms.
3) all soups and braises are better the next day when the flavors have had a chance to blend.
Things You’ll Need:
1 lamb shank
2 quarts water
½ C dried porcini and/or shitake mushrooms and/or mixed dried mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
1 good-sized carrot, peeled and diced
1/4 cup chopped parsley (don’t use the dried stuff – and in case you didn’t know, the flat-leaf Italian variety has more flavor than the curly leafed decorative stuff)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound fresh crimini, portobello (they’re just grown-up criminis), shitaki, porcini or other wild and domestic mushrooms cut up into bite-sized chunks
1 cup whole pearled barley (you can also use hulled – or whole grain – barley. It will have a stronger flavor and take longer to cook. Don’t use what’s called “instant barley. The texture will be very different.)
2 teaspoons salt
How to Make Mushroom Barley Soup
Cover the lamb shank with water and cook 45 minutes. Strain off the scum that rises to the top.
Soak the dried mushrooms in enough hot water to cover for a half hour. I often just put the dried mushrooms in room temperature water in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for about a minute.
Strain through a couple of layers of cheesecloth in a strainer to remove any grit. Be sure to reserve the water. Remove the dried mushrooms and chop coarsely.
Sauté the chopped onion, celery, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, carrot, garlic in oil until soft, about 5 minutes. This makes a difference by adding a layer of flavor, rather than just tossing them in the water from the get-go. Add the fresh and reconstituted dry mushrooms and continue cooking until they, too, are soft. Add the vegetables to the broth along with the dried mushrooms and the strained liquid they soaked in and the barley.
Turn up the heat. Stir well and add salt to taste (it probably wants more than you think but go slowly). Toss in a couple of whole peppercorns and a bay leaf.
When it comes to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about an hour or until the barley is tender and the soup is thickened, stirring often. Remove the lamb shank and let it cool. Take the meat off the bone (it should nearly fall off), shred it and return it to the pot.
Add additional chopped parsley for pretty if you like that sort of thing, remove the bay leaf (or not), mix thoroughly, and adjust seasonings.
You will have a thick, dark, meaty rustic soup like the peasants wished they had in the Old Country.
Yield: 6 to 8 hearty servings
The FoodBeest would love your feedback with this – and every – recipe. If you try this (and I do urge you to give it a go), let me know what you think; what worked and what didn’t; and what you liked or didn’t like. Use the “Comments” section below.