Hearty Vegetable-Beef and Barley Soup

In Recipies on December 8, 2011 at 12:12 pm

Here in America’s Ukraine, hearty soups chase away the winter chill.  Most of the soups recently featured on Phyne Dyning have had light, thin broths combined with other, very substantial ingredients.

Time for a change of pace!

I often avoid using “savory” as a food descriptor because the word often translates to “dark, heavy, and salty”.  Many hearty, beef-based soups get overpowered with thyme and rosemary as well.  That is a shame, as the flavors of the other ingredients get overpowered by the herbs.  My more frugal followers should notice that, although the title includes “beef”, there are no pieces of meat in this soup.  Soups are peasant foods and the current price of beef excludes it from the shopping lists of those of us who are truly “peasants”.

[Phyne Dyning Phun Phact to know and tell:  The most noble of true peasant soups is called “Eternal (or Eternity) Soup”.  This, essentially, is a large pot of soup left perpetually simmering on the stove (or fire!).  Daily ingredients and liquids are added to the pot and the soup was a “standby meal” if hunters (or gatherers) came home empty-handed.  I have never, knowingly, made “Eternal Soup”, but I think I may have come close during my younger, bachelor days.  Although the dish does not lend itself to today’s unattended private kitchens, it is possible to make such a soup in (a-hem) safety.  Some of the dedicated hunter-types (think “elk in New Mexico”) I know still make a version of Eternal Soup and they pay careful attention that the soup gets “thoroughly boiled” at least every other day.  O-kayyyyyyy.]

This soup uses only a bare minimum of flavorings outside of its key vegetable ingredients.  The stock has a deep, rich color.  If you like, the soup can be thickened to an almost vegetable stew consistency during the final minutes of cooking.

My soup uses homemade beef stock.  During the (few) warm months in Iowa, our rare adventures with meat (beef) center around the barbeque grill.  Meat cuttings, leftovers, and whatever bits of meat most Americans pitch into the dustbin go into a large freezer bag until I have enough to make stock.  Usually, this means about 1-2 pounds of meat scraps, bones, and trimmings to make 3-5 gallons of stock.  The finished stock is carefully strained and placed in freezer containers for deep freeze storage.   (See my “Hints and Tips” for making vegetable and chicken broth.)

If you do not make your own stock, many of the commercial products give a decent result with this soup.  But be aware that many commercial stocks and soup bases run very heavy on salt.

Salt, if added early to a recipe containing beans, will keep the beans from softening during cooking.  Then, about the only thing cooking the dish longer will accomplish is to overcook the other ingredients

After a repertoire of soups from Eastern Europe, I thought one with a more American flair might hit the spot with readers.

Here is my version of a Hearty Vegetable-Beef and Barley Soup.

You will need:

1/2 C dried split peas

1 TBS vegetable (or canola) oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and thick sliced

4 stalks of celery, thick sliced

6-8 cloves of garlic, sliced thin

¾ C white beans (see note)

½ C pearl barley

1 lb (approx.) peeled potato, cut into large chunks

1 lb (approx.) white mushrooms, cut into large pieces

8-9 C beef stock (or water), see note

3 TBS dried parsley

2 bay leaves

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

2 TBS white flour

salt and freshly ground black pepper

[NOTES:  1) Carefully sort and rinse the beans.  Place them in a small bowl with enough water to cover them and allow them to soak overnight.  2) If you are using stock base, cook the soup until nearly done, then add the stock base which can be a bit salty.  3) Rinse and sort through the peas before adding them…dental work is expensive.]

Heat the oil in a large soup pot (having a cover) and swish it about to coat the bottom of the pot.  Toss in the onion, carrots, potato, celery, beans, peas, mushrooms, and garlic.  Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the garlic becomes fragrant.

Add the water (or low-salt, homemade, beef stock) and bring the mixture to a boil.  Add the bay leaves and 2 tsp of the dried parsley.  Reduce the heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 1 ¼ – 1 ½ hours (until beans, barley, and peas are just getting soft).  If you are using concentrated soup base, add about 1 tsp of base per cup of water you started with.  Stir well.  Place the flour in a small bowl.  Ladle out about ¼ C of soup liquid and whisk it into the flour, making sure to smash out all lumps.  Add a bit more soup liquid until you get a creamy consistency.  While stirring constantly, s-l-o-w-l-y, add the flour mixture one tablespoon at a time.  Stir and cook until the soup thickens to the consistency you like.  I often make mine to a stew-like thickness that clings readily to chunks of homemade bread!  Just before serving, add the balsamic vinegar, the rest of the dried parsley, and stir.  Check for seasoning and add salt (not likely) and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve in deep bowls with big chunks of crusty bread.


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