Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wild Mushroom Barley Soup

In Russia, where I grew up, soup is such an integral part of the culture that people eat it at least once a day. I am not kidding or exaggerating. I must have had soup at least 350 times a year during the first 13 years of my life. Assuming that I didn’t eat grown-up food until I was 2, that adds up to 3,850 soups in a row. Try eating anything 3,850 times and see how you like it. Until we moved to US and broke the must-eat-soup tradition, my attitude to anything that came in a bowl was lukewarm to put it mildly. But even in those days of overzealous soup eating, one soup stood out as special.

When my Mom opened a package of dried mushrooms, the whole house filled with pungent perfume and I knew that we are in for a treat – the mushroom barley soup. I looked forward to that woodsy aroma so much that I didn’t even think of this dish as soup. I ate the other soups the way American children eat broccoli – it makes your parents proud and it’s supposed to be good for you. But the mushroom soup was different and I ate it because I loved it.

Now that I don’t have to eat soups every day, I love them all -- borsch (beet soup), uha (fish soup), shi (sauerkraut soup) – but there is always going to be a special place in my heart for the mushroom barley soup.

Note: Make sure to use dried porcini (or cepe) mushrooms that are wild since they have a much stronger aroma. Do not buy fresh porcini for this soup. They won’t give you a strong mushroom stock and will cost a fortune. Although wild dried porcini are around $50-70 per pound, 4 oz that you need for a huge pot of soup will only cost you $12-17.

It’s best to start this soup the night before you are planning to serve it, since the mushrooms takes several hours to soak.

Serves 10 as first course, 6 as main course

For mushroom stock:
4 oz wild dried porcini mushrooms
1 carrot, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
1 whole yellow onion, peeled
4 Tbsp kosher salt (or 2 Tbsp table salt)
1 bay leaf
¼ tsp whole black peppercorns

For the soup:
1 carrot, peeled
3 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup barley

Carrot onion flavoring:
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and shredded

For mushroom stock:
  1. Put mushrooms in a 2 quart bowl, cover with 6 cups boiling water and soak for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  2. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large heavy soup pot. Season it with salt, like for pasta. Add barley and boil gently over medium heat until almost tender, 25-30 minutes. Drain in a colander and reserve for later.
  3. While barley is cooking prepare the mushrooms. Carefully remove them with a slotted spoon out of reconstituting liquid into another bowl. Strain the dark aromatic mushroom liquid through a sieve lined with a paper towel to get rid of sand. Reserve it for the stock.
  4. Cover the mushrooms with water and rub gently to remove dirt and sand. Let stand 5 minutes to let the sand to settle. Remove them with a slotted spoon and discard the water. Repeat until there is no more sand on the bottom of the bowl when you pore out the water. Don’t skip this step, or you’ll have a gritty soup.
  5. Chop the mushrooms into rough pieces about ¼ inches big.
  6. Place chopped mushrooms into the pot you used for barley. Add the reserved mushroom liquid, 3 quarts cold water, a whole carrot, a whole parsnip, a whole onion, and salt. Cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes. Occasionally, skim the foam that rises to the top being careful not to remove any mushrooms.
  7. Add peppercorns and bay leaf and remove the whole carrot, parsnip and onion.
For the soup:
  1. Cut the carrot into quarters lengthwise, and then thinly slice crosswise. Add sliced carrot and potatoes to the soup pot with mushroom stock and simmer partially covered until tender, about 30 minutes.  
  2. Add barley and simmer partially covered until soup thickens slightly, 30 minutes.
For carrot onion flavoring:
While the soup is simmering prepare the carrot onion flavoring.
  1. Set a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbsp oil and 2 Tbsp butter and wait for them to melt. Add the onions and 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table salt) and cook stirring occasionally until onions are tender and starting to brown, 10 minutes.
  2. Add the carrots and another 1/2 tsp kosher salt (1/4 tsp table), and cook on medium heat stirring occasionally until tender, 10 minutes. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and cook until the mixture is nicely browned, 10 minutes.
  3. Stir the carrot-onion mixture into the soup. Taste and correct seasoning. Take off heat and let stand 15 minutes for flavors to blend. Serve with sour cream.
Cool leftovers completely and store in the fridge for up to 4 days. This soup tastes even better reheated. If it looks too thick, add a little water and a pinch of salt when reheating.


Anonymous said...

I love soup, especially in the wintertime. I'll definately give this recipie a try, it sounds wonderful. Also, I'm going to have to try this "Shi." I LOVE sauerkraut!

Anonymous said...

What a nice memory. I like the photo of your soup. Delicious!

Happy Holiays and have a fantasic New Years!


Walter Jeffries said...

I share your passion for cookbooks. I love reading them almost as much as I love cooking which is to say a _lot_. New they are expensive but I am always picking them up at library sales and the annual Five College Book Sale in Hanover, NH.

The soup looks wonderful!

Merry Christmas!

Sugar Mountain Farm
in Vermont

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to making this soup. I too am a cookbook reader. I enjoy reading old cookbooks. It really helps to understand what real life was like at the time the book was written.

Anna said...

This soup rocks! I really like it. It may be because I am from Russia and am somewhat familiar with the "carrot-onion" flavoring. Eating it now. I am not sure if I did everything correctly. I put some parsely in it for color to spice up the brown. Thank you Helen:-)