Friday, October 3, 2014

Beef and Barley Soup

It's definitely turned to fall this week. The leaves started to turn, then the cool weather, then the rain. Which means we're in one of my favorite cooking seasons! Bring on the crock pots and soup pots and fill them to the bring with chilis, stews and soups for hearty, heart-warming and deliciously cozy suppers. And this soup is one of our favorites for this season. It's wholesome, super tasty and can really fill you up without feeling heavy. The fresh vegetables are perfect and I must tell you--this recipe is what made me understand why good soup taste the way it does. The secret is leeks. Regular onion is great (and also in this recipe) but leeks just bring a whole other element and really set this dish apart from other homemade beef soups. Dave and I have been enjoying this recipe for five years and I've just become accustomed to doubling it. And we still fight over the leftovers.

When Dave and I got married, a family friend gave us a small cookbook published by Love Food titled simply Soups. Now the book automatically opens to the page with this recipe, five years later. I have read all about leeks and the debate about which parts to use and here's what I've decided: for this soup, use it all. Most recipes call for the white part only. Some people say the leafy greens are great for stock. Since this is a soup, after all, I just chop the whole thing which is why I think the broth has so much flavor. Really, there are only a few ingredients in this soup, so the taste has to come from somewhere and best I can tell, it's leek. Our farm stand sells ginormous leeks, so even though I double the recipe from the original, since I use the entire leek, I just use one. There wouldn't be enough room in my pot for two! I've outlined below how I prep the leek--this is key since improper cleaning means you'll end up with silt in your soup (not tasty), so don't skimp! In the end, you'll have your most favorite beef and barley soup and will be trying to figure out how to get a leek into all your other soups.

Beef and Barley Soup


2/3 cup pearl barley
10 cups beef stock or broth
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 pound beef stew meat or lean sirloin, cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces
2 large or 12 baby carrots
2-3 celery stalks
1 large onion
1 large leek
salt and pepper, to taste

Place barley in a large stock pot and cover with beef broth. Stir in Italian seasoning. Heat over medium high heat to bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes.

Prepare the vegetables by slicing carrots and celery stalks (Note: use the leafy tops or better yet, the inner stalks for more flavor). Dice onion. To prepare leek, remove the root end (about 1/2 inch) and any weary or damaged outer leaves. Slice in half long ways, then slice into thin half moons, all the way up both halves. Place sliced leek in a large bowl of cold water. Run fingers through the leeks, separating the half moons so the dirt and silt will fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Once soup is at a boil, skim away any foam. Add beef and vegetables. To add leeks, lift from water with a slotted spoon or hands and transfer to pot in batches. (Note: Do not be tempted to pour into a colander to drain--the dirt at the bottom of the bowl will settle on top of the leeks again, kind of defeating the purpose.)  Stir to combine and pull up barley from bottom of pot. Leave uncovered.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer for an hour.

If foam returns, skim away and blot any excess fat that's risen to the top. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and serve with crusty bread.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Happy Baking,
The Cookie Princess

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