One thing to appreciate about winter is that it is soup weather. Take a steaming bowl of hearty soup, add a crusty baguette and a crisp salad, and you’re set: both body and soul will sigh in appreciation. This soup features some whole-grain goodness in the form of barley, plus that deeply satisfying umami taste from the beef and mushrooms. More flavor comes from searing the beef and bones (which results in the rich crusty drippings known as sucs, or also in the United States as fond). That is followed by deglazing the pot with aromatic vegetables and a dash of soy sauce until the vegetables are also golden and offering up their own richness, and then continuing to build the soup from there.
*See note below for how to make a vegetarian/vegan version of this soup.
Beef Barley Mushroom Soup
2-3 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/2 lb. beef stew meat, trimmed of fat, and cut into small cubes
1 lb. beef bones
1 lg. onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 tbsp. soy sauce
8 oz. mushrooms, diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
freshly ground pepper
1 c. tomato puree
8 c. beef stock or broth (if using prepared stock/broth, find a low-fat, low-sodium brand)
2 c. water
2 beef bouillon cubes (optional, but if using, find a brand without MSG)
2/3 c. pearl barley
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. frozen petite peas
chopped parsley as a garnish
1. Heat a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add the olive oil, and when hot, brown the meat and bones; you want to get golden-brown crusty drippings on the bottom of the pot. Remove the meat and bones and reserve.
2. Add the onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and sauté for a few minutes, stirring often to deglaze the pot (to loosen the crusty drippings), until the onions begin to soften and turn golden brown at the edges. (If the vegetable mixture gets too dry at any stage, add a tiny bit of olive oil.)
3. Add the soy sauce to the vegetables in the pot; cook for a couple minutes, then add the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms have released their liquid and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme, and grind a generous amount of black pepper over the vegetables; cook for three to five minutes. Add the tomato puree; mix well.
4. Return the beef and bones to the pot, add the stock/broth, the water, and the bouillon cubes (if using); bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and begin simmering the soup.
5. Meanwhile, toast the barley on a baking sheet in a 450-degree oven for about 10 minutes, checking every few minutes, until the barley is golden brown. Carefully add the barley to the soup; there will be a very satisfying hissing and bubbling when you do this. Note: this step is optional; you can also add the barely to the soup without having toasted it. But toasted barley adds a nice nutty flavor.
6. Continue simmering the soup for about 30 minutes to an hour — until the beef and barley are tender (the timing will depend on the size of the beef cubes). If needed, skim the top of the soup during the simmering stage to remove any extra oil. Add the corn and peas for the last 15 minutes or so of the cooking time.
7. Remove the bones and bay leaves from the soup, and discard. If the beef cubes are on the larger side, you may want to take them out of the soup once they are tender and shred them (as I did for the accompanying photo).
8. If the soup has gotten too thick, add additional water or stock/broth. Check seasonings, garnish with chopped parsley if desired, and serve immediately.
Note: To make this vegetarian/vegan, omit the beef and bones and begin with Step 2 (sauteing the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil). Double the amount of mushrooms used in Step 3. In Step 4, add two diced potatoes to the pot (instead of the beef/bones) and substitute vegetable broth for the beef stock/broth and vegetable bouillon cubes (or some nutritional yeast) for the beef bouillon cubes. Total simmering time should be about 30 minutes.