Food Friday: Beef and Barley Soup

Dave isn’t always eager to dive into some of my stranger soups, and barley does qualify as odd, so I was surprised when beef and barley soup got an immediate voluntarily sample the first time I made it.

Perhaps it was just a perfect storm of events. Dave was in a hungry patch (he’s a feast or famine sort of man…) so this all-day slow-cooking soup with its tantalizing aroma was irresistible. Also, he was trying to get on my good side for one reason or another, so he requested a bowl before I even had a chance to offer…smart man! ;). Anyway, he plowed through an enormous serving with approving gusto. That was a couple weeks ago.

The second time I made beef and barley soup, I wasn’t sure what response to expect.

“Something smells good,” he sniffed as he strolled through the door after a long 12-hour day of animation and classes.

“Beef and barley soup,” I replied, wishing I’d left out the barley part.

Dave had a lot on his mind just then. He’d recently been offered the chance to sit down with an animator from a major studio for a portfolio critique. A thrilling prospect, and a fulfillment of one of Dave’s lifelong dreams! If beef and barley soup had gone unnoticed and untouched, I wouldn’t have minded. But the soup was not ignored.

“I like that one!” Dave exclaimed instead, as he reached for a large ceramic soup bowl. “I can’t figure out WHY I like this soup,” he admitted as he ate.  Ignoring the spoon, he set to ladling the thick, creamy mixture into his mouth via thick, sturdy tortilla chips. “I can’t figure out why this soup is so good!” he mumbled mid-shovels. “It doesn’t seem like it should be. It should be blah! What IS barley anyway? Sounds like something you’d feed horses. I have no idea why it works in this soup, but it does.”

Dave alluded to a certain something that this soup brings to the table. The original recipe I drew from has an instruction which reads, cook “until barley is tender and the soup tastes…like home.” Most soups don’t embed those sorts of vague expectations into their recipes, but this one does have a certain illusive quality. It really gets something right! This isn’t the glitziest soup you’re ever going to eat, I can promise you that! There isn’t a single exotic vegetable or unusual spice to be found. But fear not; the sum is greater than its parts. The ingredients are a little “eh” but its end result is a full-fledged “ahhhhh!” The soup is hardy and homey, the meat is extremely tender, and the recipe makes a giant pot-full, which is excellent because the leftovers taste even better on day two!

I got this recipe from The Food Charlatan (check her blog out for all manners of delicious recipes and tempting food photos!), but since I changed a few things, I’m going to write down my variations. This is what you’ll need to get started:

The Ingredients:

2 lbs stew beef
salt and pepper
2 TBSP lard, or some other oil that handles high temperatures well
10 cups of homemade beef broth
3 stalk of celery, chopped
2 onions, chopped
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large potato, peeled and shredded
3-4 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 cup pearled barley, soaked for 12 hours in warm water then drained

I’m not a fan of the artificial beef flavor that was in the original recipe, so instead of a beef base, I used rich homemade beef broth and added a little extra salt and pepper for an additional kick at the end.

Also, I soaked the barley before using it. Yes, it technically added a lot of time to the process, but it only took me 30 seconds to measure a cup of barley into a Ball jar and fill the jar with warm water the day before making the soup. No biggie! But why bother with the extra step at all? Soaking grains before cooking them actually improves their digestibility and makes their nutrients more readily available to us. This small step can have a big impact on your health!

I also upped the garlic content and opted for lard over regular oil because it withstands heat well.

The Drill:

  1. Salt and pepper the stew beef generously. Add the lard to a large stockpot and melt it over medium-high heat.
  2.  When the oil is very hot, add the beef in small batches. Brown the meat on all   sides, then remove and set aside.
  3. Add the beef broth to the pot and scrape the browned bits into the liquid. Add the beef, celery, onions and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Cover the pot and let it simmer for two hours.
  4. Add the potato and carrots, and bring to a boil again. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. Add the drained barley, bring pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until the barley is tender.
  6. Add additional salt and pepper, if needed.
  7. Enjoy!


Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Let me know what you think! Happy munching!


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