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Recipe: Mushroom Barley Soup: Ugly, but Gooood

I’ve been thinking about how to tell you about this fantastic, amazing, warming soup I made a few weeks ago. But, the truth is: it’s ugly. I know, I know. Food is supposed to look pretty on a plate. But let’s face it: mushrooms are ugly. And so is barley. And so is grated carrot in the mix with brown-colored mush. That said, my mom’s Mushroom Barley soup is incredibly delicious. The flavors of the dried and fresh mushrooms, onion and carrot come together beautifully. The barley adds just enough heartiness to really make this a meal, too. So, if you’re not afraid of the ugly, you should really give this a try because I officially declare it to be Soup Week.

Moms are full of great recipes–at least mine is. I might be stubborn when it comes to reading the books that she recommends or checking out the concerts that she sends me links to, but I never hesitate to execute her recipes. My mom has given me a lot to work with–apple cake, lobbio, eggplant spread, roasted vegetables, tossed salad with blueberries, pine nuts and champagne vinegar…The list really goes on and on. In a way, I find that by making food based on her recipes, I always have a little piece of her in my kitchen.

Mom’s Mushroom Barley Soup
2 onions – one diced, one whole (with the skin off)
1 package of dried porcini mushrooms
10-12 button mushrooms (or whatever kind you find at your market)
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
3/4 cup of barley
1 carrot, grated by hand or in a food processor
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil

1. Put porcinis into warm water for about 20 minutes, until they become soft (and ‘slimy’ as my mom put it–though this doesn’t sound very appetizing). Make sure you wash the mushrooms beforehand as you’ll keep this water for adding flavor to the soup.
2. Chop the additional mushrooms and dice the onion and set aside.
3. Bring about 5 cups of water to a boil, add the barley and 1 whole onion (without the outer skin) and start cooking at lowered heat for about 20 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, saute the other onion in some olive oil and add all of the mushrooms (cut these up into smaller pieces beforehand).
5. Once these have been sauteing for a bit, add this mixture to the pot with cooking barley. Add the reserved mushroom water.
6. Lightly saute the grated carrot for about a minute and then add to the soup.
7. Add a bay leaf, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 20 more minutes. Season to taste.
8. Remove whole onion and bay leaf before serving.

The Russian way would probably be to add sour cream to this. But, not being a fan of sour cream, I just slurp it up plain…With a hearty piece of bread for dipping, of course.

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