We occasionally read that Campbell’s Soup Company is suffering from decreased sales of soup, and that they periodically revamp something or another to try to boost sales. We secretly hope the reason sales are decreasing is that more and more people are making their own soup at home — from scratch, of course. We hope so, but sometimes we think it might be that people are simply eating less soup. Which is a real shame, because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a bowl of soup for lunch.
We, however, eat soup nearly once a week, and have done so for, well, quite a while. We started making soup regularly when we started saving vegetable scraps (peelings, bits of vegetables that are too tough to be enjoyable, the cobs from corn, the skins and root ends of onions, etc.) that are edible and perfect for making stock. Once a week, we place everything in a pan with water, simmer for 45 minutes, strain, and we have stock for soup, or what have you.
This week, we decided to make up a mushroom barley soup. Mainly because it’s so easy, and it’s a bit different from our standard vegetable soup (made from whatever vegetables we have on hand). Now, we don’t follow a recipe when making soup, so you should really use this as a guideline, and not a written-in-stone recipe, but a couple of tips are important. We’ll cover these in the ingredient discussion below.
The shiitake mushrooms are there not so much for flavor, but because they’re full of umami, the fifth flavor: savory. The others are salty, sour, bitter, and sweet. If you don’t have shiitake mushrooms, other sources of umami that you can substitute are: Parmesan cheese (we simmer the soup with the rinds, removing them before serving), fermented foods, or soy sauce. We’re sure that there are others, too, but that’s what comes to mind. The second thing that might seem odd is the vinegar. It’s underutilized by the home cook, and that’s a real loss, as it brightens up flavor. Get in the habit of using it like salt and pepper and your food will be so much tastier. Just don’t overdo the vinegar. Whatever you’re making shouldn’t taste like vinegar. Unless it’s pickles, of course.
Procedure in detail:
Cook onions. Put the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring or shaking the pan occasionally, until translucent and tender, about 5 minutes.
Cook mushrooms. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle with about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and let them cook, stirring once or twice, until golden, 5 to 10 minutes.
Simmer soup. Add the barley, broth, and shiitake mushrooms. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until barley is tender, about 45 minutes.
Chop shiitake mushrooms. Scoop out the shiitake mushrooms and cut into small pieces, discarding the tough stems (or save the stems for inclusion in your next broth; they’ll still add flavor). Return the mushroom pieces to the soup.
Season. Add the vinegar, stir the soup, and give it a taste. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Feel free to add more vinegar, too. Make this your soup, not ours.
Soup is so easy, what’s not to like? Once it’s going, there’s almost nothing to d; it just cooks on its own, so you can do other things. We shaped bread for proofing, washed dishes, and wrote this post. See, it’s just not that hard to make great, 100% scratched soup. We’ll give this version four stars.