This soup is particularly satisfying on cold winter's day. Yes, I know it's not officially winter yet, but tell that to Mother Nature. :) It's been fairly cold here over the past several weeks, with the thankful exception of the past few days, which have been unusually warm (65-70°F!). Still, it can get rather cold in the evening around this time of year, so a nice hot soup can really come in handy!
And of course, like most other recipes on this blog, this recipe is not only healthy, but is also very filling too. That's because the barley in this soup is packed with fiber. This soup is definitely a comfort food, and since it's so robust and satiating, it really makes a meal unto itself.
In so far as prep time goes, you'll probably want to make this soup on a weekend day. Reason being: This soup requires a LOT of simmering. Two hours worth, in fact. However, don't let that scare you off. You can go off and do other things while you're waiting for the soup to finish. Toss in a few loads of laundry, do some push-ups, make the other courses for your meal, or whatever. Just remember to set a timer, so you don't come back to a scalded pot. :) The simmering is worth the effort, however. That's what makes the soup so thick and rich-tasting, even though the ingredients are naturally very low in fat. In fact, don't let the rich taste fool you; this soup has actually ZERO added fat. So how exactly did I do that?! Well, I'll show you exactly how very shortly, below. :)
And now for a little background on this soup: The dish has roots in the Ashkenazi Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. In fact, you can find this soup on most Jewish deli menus. And true to form, I've kept the recipe ingredients simple and authentic.
As for nutrition and health benefits, barley has many. :) Barley is a good source of selenium, niacin (vitamin B3), phosphorus, copper, manganese, and beta glucan, which helps lower cholesterol. There's also evidence to suggest that barley protects again atherosclerosis, heart attack, high blood pressure, heart disease, gallstones, childhood asthma, colon cancer, and postmenopausal breast cancer. It also substantially lowers the risk of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Barley helps stabilize blood sugar, the latter of which is of particular importance to diabetics. The copper in barley may also be helpful in reducing the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Barley is also packed with antioxidants. Of particular note is its significant phosphorus content, which is critical to the development and repair of body tissue. It's essential to nervous system structures and is also a mineral component of bone and teeth. Phosphorus plays an essential role in the formation and functioning of cellular structures (particularly cell membranes) as well as a great number of important metabolic processes in the body. It's a key component of nucleic acids, the building blocks of genetic code, as well as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the transporter of chemical energy within cells for metabolism. The energy transported by ATP is used for all sorts of important cellular activities. In fact, ATP is what helps the cells generate enough energy for muscle movement. So, make sure you get enough phosphorus in your diet. Athletes should take particular notice of this little tidbit. :) Anyhow, I've already gone on longer than I really have time for right now, so onto the recipe!
Mushroom Barley Soup
7 qts. (or 28 c.) water
1/2 c. yellow split peas (dried)
1/2 c. green split peas (dried)
1 c. pearl barley
1 c. dried shiitake mushrooms, broken into small pieces
1 c. carrots, finely diced
1 c. celery, finely diced (about 2 large stalks celery)
1 1/2 c. yellow onion, diced (about 1/2 large onion)
1 1/2 c. tomatoes, diced (about 2 medium-sized tomatoes)
2 Tbsp. fresh dill, finely minced and then densely packed
1/2 c. fresh parsley, very finely minced and then densely packed (curly leaf is traditional, although you can use Italian flat-leaf instead)
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste
1/2 Tbsp. salt, or to taste
Directions: Pour water into a large stock pot and bring to a rolling boil. Then add split yellow and green peas, pearl barley, and dried mushrooms, and boil, uncovered, for 1 1/2 hours. Stir every so often. Water will boil down considerably, so occasionally check the pot to make sure the soup hasn't boiled down too far &/or burned on the bottom. As you keep watch on the pot, add more water (a 1/2 c. at a time) as necessary. After 1 1/2 hours, add carrots, celery, and onion, and continue to boil for about 15-20 more minutes. While the soup is cooking, be sure to skim off the starchy barley "film" that will inevitably form on the surface of the soup. Then reduce heat to low, add tomatoes, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the dill and parsley, turmeric, salt, and pepper, and boil 5 more minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to cool for at least 10-15 minutes. Serve hot and enjoy.
Yield: Approximately 16 c., or 8 servings. (A serving of soup is typically 2 c.)
Chef's Notes: I skipped the usual step of soaking the mushrooms first before boiling them, since the 2-hour long simmering time will more than adequately take care of softening them. :) It's also one less step to do, so that should make people happy. :)