Beef Barley Soup

Beef Barley Soup

I’m not much of a beef eater. If you’ve been reading Words to Eat By at all regularly, you may have noticed a distinct lack of red meat recipes—beyond the health concerns (mine as well as S’s, since he has cholesterol issues), I’ve just never really liked it. Growing up poor and kosher, beef was something of an extravagance in our home: my family would tear into an occasional London Broil the way a 100-year-old man gulps from the fountain of youth, while I’d pick at a few well-done bits trimmed from the ends. These days I can appreciate a nice brisket, and once in a while a burger makes me extremely happy (as long as it’s well done, that is—the sight of rare meat makes me gag), but it’s been years—literally—since I’ve cooked any myself.

Since rejoining Weight Watchers, though, with the Core program’s emphasis on soups, I’ve been grooving on Progresso’s Beef and Barley. It’s easy, it’s inexpensive, and a can makes a perfect lunch. Plus I must admit I’ve grown fond of the richness of it, the beefiness. I decided it was time to make it myself.

This wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds, however. I haven’t bought raw beef in so long that I didn’t know what to get—the array in the beef section of the supermarket was bewildering. I seemed to recall that marbling was good, but didn’t that mean the meat was fatty? Only lean meats are unlimited on WW. And what cuts would be good for soup? I assumed something less expensive, since a long simmer would tenderize it. In the end I grabbed a thin-cut chuck steak sort of thing—it wasn’t cut up for stew, but it had a “great for braising” sticker on it, and it was only a couple of bucks. How bad could it be?

If I say so myself, I think I chose well, since this soup is pretty terrific. S liked it so much he had it for lunch and dinner yesterday.

Beef Barley Soup

½ oz. dried porcini mushrooms
Olive oil
1 lb beef for stew, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
10 crimini or white button mushrooms, roughly chopped
Black pepper
½ cup soy sauce
1 cup pearl barley
8 sun-dried tomato halves, slivered
2 T. chili powder
4 cups beef broth
1 cup chicken broth (optional)
4-6 cups water
2 bay leaves
4 T. tomato paste, as necessary
Salt, as necessary

Put dried mushrooms in a small bowl, add ½ to 1 cup of hot water, and set aside.

Heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot or dutch oven. Add beef and brown on all sides, about eight minutes. Remove beef to a bowl and wipe out the pot if you’re watching your weight/cholesterol. Heat a little more oil and add the onion, the carrots, the celery, and the fresh mushrooms. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste. Sauté for a few minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. While they’re cooking, pluck the dried mushrooms from the bowl (don’t pour the liquid over them, as there might be gritty sediment at the bottom), roughly chop them, and add to the pot, reserving the liquid. Add the soy sauce. When the soy sauce evaporates, add the barley and the sun-dried tomatoes, sprinkle with the chili powder, and sauté two more minutes. Add the browned beef, the broth, the water, the reserved mushroom soaking liquid (but be careful not to pour in the sediment, if there is any), and the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and let cook for 45 minutes. If the soup seems too thin after this time, either open the lid part-way or add some tomato paste, and let it simmer another fifteen minutes, or until the barley is cooked through.

Remove bay leaves and adjust seasoning before serving.