Fresh Bite

Mushroom Barley Soup

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every recipe you tried produced the exact culinary masterpiece you had in mind when you decided to make it?  Sadly, not every recipe does live up to it’s promise.  Case in point is the Mushroom Barley Soup I made and quickly tossed down the drain.  Okay, I actually ate one serving and tossed it the next day, but essentially, the soup was not worth another bite.

Mushroom Barley is one of my favorite soups and one that I really looked forward to making.  As with most “new” things I cook, I spent a few days combing through recipes in cookbooks and blog posts, and most importantly, looking for comments or feedback that would guarantee me a winner.  I settled on the recipe below from Mark Bittman (why I’m sharing it is a mystery and maybe someone can tell me what I did wrong).  I did adapt the recipe a bit from the original, incorporating some changes suggested by others.  My improvements included the addition of a shallot and finishing the soup with sherry.  I also ended up adding quite a bit of extra liquid.  And yet, the greatest failure of the soup was it’s lack of any remaining liquid once the barley was cooked past “crunchy.”

Mushroom-Barley Soup
adapted from Mark Bittman

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
1/4 pound shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed and roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup pearl barley
3 cups water or stock (I used beef stock)
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup sherry

Soak porcini in 3 cups very hot water.  Once softened, remove and set aside mushrooms; strain and reserve the liquid.

Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until softened and fragrant (2-3 minutes). Add fresh mushroom and carrots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Add barley, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Add porcini to pot and cook, stirring, for about a minute. Add bay leaf, mushroom soaking water and 3 cups additional water (or stock). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer; cook until barley is very tender, 30 to 45 minutes (or more). Add soy sauce and sherry.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

NOTES:  Original recipe stated that the barley should be tender within 20-30 minutes, which it absolutely was not.  I continued cooking and sampling for a total cooking time of about an hour.  As it cooked, the liquid was disappearing, so I added additional water.  After heating up the last bit of added water, I tried the soup.  The taste was good, but not great and that’s when I decided to add the sherry (which had been recommended by a reviewer).  It definitely added to the taste.

On first eating, the soup was average — had I ordered it in a restaurant, I would have been disappointed.  But, by the time it had cooled enough for me to store the remains in the refrigerator, it was a thick, clumpy, gluten-like mess.  I’m sure I could have salvaged it (and would have if it was delicious), but sadly it just went down the garbage disposal.


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