We had epic rainfall here last week. Buffalo, with six feet of snow, had it worse. Add to that a nasty flu season and seasonal crankiness. Cheer up, mushroom barley soup brings the coziness and comfort just when you need it. Just a handful of basic ingredients and you can have a pot of something rich, nourishing and spirit-lifting in half an hour. You don’t even need vegetable broth. I’ll say it again, because no matter how often I make this soup, it still amazes me — you don’t need vegetable broth to make this mushroom barley soup.
It’s simple to make but substantial to eat. The barley gives it body and thickness, the mushrooms, both fresh and dried, deliver rich flavor, oomph and umami.Jump to the recipe or stick around for the mushroom barley backstory.
Mushroom barley soup has many versions, but they all seem to originate from central and eastern Europe. We’re talking Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania. In eastern Europe mushrooms were often foraged, so they were free, and barley grew plentifully. Mushroom barley soup was filling, warming, affordable.
My first taste was my grandmother’s, most likely made from a recipe she got from her mother, who came here from Bohemia. A Polish friend says it was called krupnik in her home — not a pretty name, but a pretty terrific soup. Her family recipe contains meat and potatoes. Others contain dairy. Mine, naturally, has none of that. The punch comes from plants.
How to Make
- Put the dried mushrooms in a large pot. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms. This will become the broth for your soup and will soften the dried mushrooms, as well.
- In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, add the minced garlic and chopped carrots. Season with salt and pepper and sauté the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they soften and begin to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in the barley and the fresh mushrooms.
- Strain the broth from the dried mushroom water and add to the pot. Bring it to boil.
- Roughly chop the strained dried mushrooms, and add them to the pot. Drop in the bay leaf. Give everything a stir, and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. The barley will have swelled and become plump and tender.
- Season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper, as desired,
Ladle up and enjoy.
- Fresh mushrooms — your choice. Go wild — literally — if you want, with exotic mushrooms, but plain white button mushrooms or cremini are fine for this, and your most accessible and affordable choice. Every kind of mushroom has its own character, but they’re all fantastic for you. Mushrooms are rich in folate, magnesium, zinc and vitamin D, the vitamins, minerals and amino acids linked to feeling good, just the thing with bad weather and bad moods all around.
- Dried mushrooms — your choice. Whether it’s shiitakes, porcini or another variety — and there are at least 2,000 varieties — dried mushrooms offer your biggest source of flavor here. Soaking the dried mushrooms in hot water releases their flavor and fragrance creating mushroom broth. It rehydrates the mushrooms themselves, making them tender. Once rehydrated, you can cut away the really tough stem ends if you’re sensitive. I usually don’t. I want every mushroom morsel.
- Barley — Botanical name hordeum vulgare. barley is one of the oldest of the ancient grains, first grown in the fertile crescent. Archaeologists have found mummies buried with necklaces of barley grains — that’s how precious it was. It still is. Barley is sustainable, low water, and not fussy, able to grow in almost every climate — Africa, Asia, and all over eastern Europe.
When we’re talking whole grains, we mean grain complete with its hull or husk, the tough outer coat In most cases. In most cases, that’s what I prefer for flavor, texture and wellness. Whole grains add fiber, which we all need. However, barley’s a tough case. Literally. Whole grain barley, known as pot barley, has a thick husk that’s not terribly delicious or digestible. It also takes another half hour to cook.
This recipe — as with most — calls for using pearled barley, with the husk removed. It still has more of what you need —protein and fiber, more than most other grains. Barley is 17% fiber, even without the hull or husk, delivering half of your RDA.
I’ve loved barley’s nutty taste and nubbly texture since that first taste of my grandmother’s soup. Each grain remains intact in cooking and yet like oatmeal, all the grains together create a creamy texture.
Barley feeds us, feeds animals, malted, it’s used to make whiskey, there’s a lot to love.
Barley is thirsty. It will continue to drink up the broth. If you’ve got leftover soup, you may find it’s mostly barley and mushrooms the next day. Reheat and stir in another half-cup or so of water. Season with sea salt and pepper and you should be good to go.
Mushroom barley soup is delicious, easy and your cure for the winter woes. Consider getting a flu shot, too. Just saying.
Mushroom Barley Soup
- 1 ounce roughly 1 cup dried mushrooms, preferably organic
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 3 carrots peeled and chopped (about 1-1/2 cups)
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 8 ounces 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, preferably organic, wiped clean and chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Put the dried mushrooms in a large pot.
- Bring 6 cups of water to boil. Pour the boiling water over the dried mushrooms. This will become the broth for your soup and will soften the dried mushrooms, as well.
- In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Once it starts to shimmer, add the minced garlic and chopped carrots.
- Season with salt and pepper and sauté the vegetables, stirring occasionally, until they soften and begin to brown, about 4 minutes.
- Stir in the barley and the fresh mushrooms.Strain the broth from the dried mushroom water and add to the pot. Bring it to boil.
- Roughly chop the strained dried mushrooms, and add them to the pot. Drop in the bay leaf. Give everything a stir and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- The barley will have swelled and become plump and tender.
Want more quick and easy soups?
- Tuscan white bean and greens, another soothing soup made with water, not vegetable broth.
- Curried sweet potato soup
- Red lentil soup
- When I think of Jason Wyrick, I think of Mexico, but the guy is global. Check out his Ethiopian stew recipe for Forks Over Knives.
- Vegan Under Pressure author and all-around fabulous person Jill Nussinow shares her recipe for pressure cooker curried winter pear and squash soup.