I bought a bag of pearl barley last week with the intent of exploring the grain. My mom would occasionally make soup with it, but to be honest I haven’t used it myself. I’ve considered it from time to time, but then stop from buying it since I tend to stockpile dry goods and then don’t use them.
Coincidentally, I noticed the upcoming No Croutons Required food event focusing on vegetarian soups, so I figured my barley would work perfectly for this event. I looked through my cookbooks but didn’t find any interesting recipes for barley (at least, not interesting to me), so my search moved to the web. I found many barley recipes, but one soup recipe caught my eye because it also used lentils …. which are also lurking in my pantry. I figured the recipe would kill two birds with one stone.
And, as with any recipe I had to tweak it a bit to suit my tastes. The soup also called for one of my favorite leafy greens, swiss chard. We ate chard all summer long on the farm, but it didn’t strike me as a strong enough green for the soup. I used a curly leafed kale for the first time a couple months ago while making an Italian wedding soup and I found the texture to work well. I picked up a bunch of it while shopping yesterday in anticipation of making the barley soup. And, kale is known to be one of the most highly nutritious vegetables with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers, so it’s a perfect addition to the soup!
I’ve been fantasizing about rutabagas lately, maybe fantasizing is a bit strong … I’ve been craving rutabagas and looking for new ways to use them. I think they are an overlooked tuber who deserve great recognition. It has a great cabbage-like taste and works perfectly in any soup or stew. I reduced the amount of carrot in the original barley soup recipe in order to add rutabagas. And since I didn’t have any canned tomatoes on hand, I omitted them entirely.
My only remaining concern with the soup was the amount of cumin it required. I like cumin but didn’t want the end result to taste like tacos, and with so much cumin, I was afraid it might turn out like bad Mexican food. I decided to go for it and surprisingly, the cumin gives some boldness/depth to the soup and doesn’t dominate in the way I feared. So, have no fear — use the cumin as noted. I added a bay leaf to give just a little more boost to the flavor.
Hearty barley and lentil soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped peeled carrots
1 cup cubed peeled rutabaga
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 large bay leaf (or 2 small ones)
10 cups (or more) vegetable broth
2/3 cup pearl barley
2/3 cup dried lentils
4 cups (packed) coarsely chopped curly-leaf kale
salt/pepper to taste
Place olive oil, onions and carrots into a heated large pan. Cook until onions become transparent, then add garlic bay leaf, and cumin — stir to combine and cook for an additional 30 seconds. Add broth and barley, bring to a boil and simmer partially covered for 25 minutes.
Add lentils and rutabagas, simmer partially covered for an additional 30 minutes. Stir in kale and season to taste. Allow kale to cook for about 5 minutes before serving. This makes a large pot of soup, so I will be having leftovers today.
The soup is hearty and has a rich/warm flavor due to the cumin and bay. The carrots and rutabaga add a slight sweetness that balance nicely with the kale and onion. Overall, I found this soup to be a smash hit.