When the weather takes a sharp turn toward the cool side, there is nothing more welcome than a bowl of hot, rib-sticking homemade soup. This hearty wild mushroom and barley soup is satisfying on so many different levels, that it just can’t miss. First, and perhaps most importantly, it delivers a great, big mouthful of robust flavor. How can something with just a handful of simple ingredients taste so great? Let’s give credit where credit is due: it starts with wild mushrooms.
Mushrooms are known for their umami, a Japanese word that has been dubbed “the fifth taste,” in addition to the four flavors of sweet, salty, sour and bitter. Perhaps best described as “pleasant savoriness,” umami is a quality found in many of our most satisfying foods – fish, shellfish, cheeses, cured meats, tomatoes – and, of course, mushrooms. Wild mushrooms have umami in abundance. Far more flavorful than the bland, white buttons found in the supermarket, wild mushrooms taste… wild. They taste like the soil in which they grow and of the trees and plants that surround and sustain them.
You CAN make a very creditable version of this soup with store-bought mushrooms if wild mushrooms aren’t on hand or are out of season. One trick is to use a combination of cultivated fresh mushrooms and dried wild mushrooms. It’s easy to keep a selection of your favorite dried mushrooms on hand, since they don’t require any special storage and can last for many months (if not years).
This is one of those soups that never turns out exactly the same twice. Whenever we make it, the ingredients vary according to the current contents of our refrigerator and pantry. This time, we used a combination of grilled fresh mushrooms and dried mushrooms for the best results yet. Dried mushrooms contribute intensity and concentrated flavor; the slight smokiness of the grilled mushrooms add depth and an amazingly mouthwatering aroma. To grill mushrooms, halve or slice them, depending on size, brush with a little olive oil and cook over a grill or on a grill pan until tender and slightly browned around the edges. Allow the grilled mushrooms to cool enough to handle them, then chop them coarsely and set them aside, along with any juices, to add to the pot at the same time as the stock.
Wild Mushroom & Barley Soup
Hearty, country-style soup is made extra special with the addition of wild mushrooms, fresh, dried or both. While simple and satisfying, it’s good enough to share with company. This cozy, comfortable rustic soup encourages variation; use the following recipe as a starting point that can accommodate your favorite vegetable and herb additions.
- 3/4 cup pearl barley (or quick-cooking barley, if rushed for time)
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 3 celery stalks, sliced
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1-1/2 pounds fresh wild mushrooms, OR 4 oz dried wild mushrooms, reconstituted & coarsely chopped (save & strain the liquid if using dried) OR half fresh and half dried
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 1-3/4 cups beef stock
- 5 medium carrots, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/4 inch slices
- 1/4 cup dry sherry
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
Add the barley and 4 cups of water to a 3-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a low simmer and continue cooking for about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. If using quick-cooking barley, omit this step (you’ll be adding it in the last step).
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the celery and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables soften slightly. Add the mushrooms, whether fresh or reconstituted dried. Continue to cook & stir for about 10 minutes or until the liquid evaporates and the mushrooms are lightly browned. Reduce the heat and add the tomato paste. Cook, stirring, for another minute or two.
Add the beef broth, carrots, sherry, salt, barley, (if not using the quick-cooking barley) and about 4 cups of water. If you used the dried mushrooms, add the strained reconstituting liquid, adding enough water to make up the 4 cups. Heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce immediately to low.
Cover and simmer for about half an hour, or until both the carrots and barley are tender. If using quick-cooking barley, add it about 15 minutes into the last simmering and cook for 10-15 minutes or until tender. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to stand for 30 minutes or cool and refrigerate overnight. Reheat before serving, adjusting seasonings to taste and adding more stock as needed (the barley will absorb a LOT of liquid).
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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