Sunday, January 11, 2015

Healthy and Flavorful Mushroom Barley Soup

Like so many other folks, I overdosed on sugar during the holidays. Making three flavors of homemade caramels, and being surrounded by boxes of See's chocolates and cookies, at my office,  made my pancrease work overtime. By the time I packed up our Christmas decorations, I was craving vegetables.

 I had a package of cremini mushrooms, and I was trying to decide on what to make with them. I was looking for a healthier way of using them, other than on top of a cheese laden pizza...

A year ago, I won a copy of America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, signed by Christopher Kimball.   If you look at my recipe index, you will see that I have made any of their recipes (including Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country).   I decided to revisit the recipes in this book, and the Mushroom-Barley Soup sounded perfect, given that we were in the middle of a California "cold snap" (which is nothing compared to those of you who live in the Chicago area).

The key ingredient that makes this soup so flavorful are the dried porcini mushrooms.  This might be an elusive ingredient to find, and it can cost up to $80.00 a pound!  I was able to buy a 2 ounce bag for just under $10.00.  I didn't take my usual  step-by-step photos because winter deprives me of natural lighting during the dinner hour.  I think anyone can make this recipe, by just following the recipe.  This recipe includes cremini and Portobello mushrooms.  I decided to substitute the Portobello mushrooms for shiitakes-- which is one of the few mushrooms that my husband really likes. I think it's fine to interchange what mushrooms you prefer, but don't skip using the porcini mushrooms! 

The soup is pretty straightforward to make.  Cooking time is about 50 minutes, because barley can take that long to cook.  I decided to shave off 30 minutes of the cooking time, by using my pressure cooker to prepare the barley-- which took a total of 20 minutes.  While the barley was cooking, I prepped the onion, carrots and mushrooms. 

I was very pleased with the outcome of this soup recipe, as was my son.  My husband ate it, but he just doesn't get all that excited about mushroom soup.  More for us! The pearl barley adds a nice texture, and I love the nuttiness of this grain. To make this soup a true vegetarian dish, I see no reason why vegetable broth can't be substituted for chicken broth-- which I used.

TASTING NOTES: Adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice gave a nice balance of acidity, IMHO.  My absolutely favorite soup is Cream of Mushroom soup.  The difference is that this soup is healthier because there isn't any heavy cream in it.  I would definitely make this soup again, and not feel one iota of guilt for having seconds-- which is exactly what I did!

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.


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Joan said...

Oh my, such a wonderful looking soup. Hearty and flavorful!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Beautiful and healthy soup Debbie. I tend to overlook barley and your soup has convinced me that I should give it a try again.

Big Dude said...

the soup looks delicious Debbie. I don't recall ever eating barley soup but yours makes me want to whip up a batch.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful recipe for cold weather soup! Barley is a favorite soup grain for me and nothing else comes close to that 'nut-like' flavor. Barley is also an essential ingredient for a similar hearty soup like Scotch Broth, using lamb and some potato in place of the mushrooms. (Or use both!) The ingredients are few and simple, so I may try this on Friday. Since barley does take a while to cook, this is another ideal application for the PC. Thanks, Debby. -Craig

Anonymous said...

Just made this soup last night, and it was great. Made homemade chicken stock for it, and it added great depth of flavor. We are looking forward to eating the leftovers from the soup! Great with crusty bread.
I used porchini, portabello, and shitakes. I also used your tip to cook the pearl barley in the pressure cooker. I tossed the dried porchinis in there too, because I had forgotten to soak them.