J and I had a couple friends for dinner last night. I made mushroom barley soup, which I've made before but last night's was so good that I feel compelled to write down the recipe and share it. I don't usually remember recipes so exactly, but I paid attention last night. It's really simple; the flavor depends as much on method as ingredients. Toasting the barley and browning the mushrooms are key.
Mushroom Barley Soup
4 or 5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
4 or 5 shitake mushrooms, sliced
about a dozen white mushrooms, sliced
(Don't wash the mushrooms, just brush the dirt off before you slice them.)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 small onions, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and diced
7 cups mock chicken stock
rounded 1/2 cup barley
2 or 3 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet and add the butter and barley. Stir constantly over medium heat until the barley begins to change color. Put the barley aside, splash a little olive oil in the pan, and add the mushrooms, garlic, a few pinches of salt and pepper. Saute, stirring, until the liquid is released, then evaporated, and the mushrooms start to brown a little. (You don't want them to burn, but you want some browned bits to stick to the bottom a little -- that's where the flavor comes from.) Add a little water to the pan, scrape the browned bits off the bottom and turn off the heat.
Heat up a big heavy stockpot, add a little olive oil and salt and the onions, celery, and carrots. Saute over medium heat until the onions and celery wilt. Add the stock, mushrooms, bay leaves and paprika and the toasted barley. Bring to a boil, then turn down to simmer for about 45 minutes until the barley "pops."
Stir about 2 tablespoons cornstarch into a half cup of cold water, and add it to the soup. Simmer for another few minutes until the broth thickens slightly. Salt and pepper to taste.
This soup reminded me of the Kiev restaurant on 2nd Avenue and 7th St. in the East Village, where I ate frequently back in the 80s. I think it's still there, but it's renovated and unrecognizable now. They used to make a very similar mushroom barley soup. They made theirs with chicken stock, and they served it with two very thick slices of challah bread with butter. It was very filling and all you'd need for dinner for $2.50. $3 with coffee. My other favorite meal there was kielbasa and eggs, which was just sliced kielbasa fried on the griddle with 2 scrambled eggs, served with home fries and challah bread, also under $3.