Friday, January 20, 2012

Recipe: South Shore Beef & Barley Soup

The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne. – Samuel Johnson

Fillsome. I think I just made up a word. Regardless, this soup is it.
Here’s an old-time standby that helped families really stretch a piece of beef to feed four hungry folks. I remember this from suppers growing up on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. My mother would always say (and still does) “Should I put rolls on the table?”. She knew full well we all wanted at least one to sop up the delicious broth.

Barley. Photo: freefotouk
This recipe had the distinct advantage in years gone by of (nearly) all the ingredients already being in the pantry. The celery might not be strictly traditional, but today what's missing is most likely the pearl barley. In past times that ingredient would have always been present.

Often peas were used instead of celery. If you do so, only add them for the last five minutes of cooking or they'll turn to mush! I like the celery. It adds more flavour to the broth.

Barley is an under-sung hero of the kitchen. It was one of the first known grains cultivated as a food crop, dating back to Neolithic times. A Pulitzer Prize winning book, Guns, Germs and Steel, argues barley had a large role in the development and spread of civilization.

Barley is still an important and major grain. It is used as animal fodder as well as in brewing and health foods. (I would say the last two are one in the same...) Besides the usual list of important nutrients, barley also contains eight essential amino acids. It’s disgustingly good for you.

The amount of beef in this recipe is pretty much only one steak. Usually that amount feeds a single person, with the addition of vegetables. This recipe is a miracle akin to the loaves and fishes! (Not really…apologies.) But it is a great way to make an excellent, delicious and nutritious meal on a budget.

It’s important whenever cooking beef in liquid to ensure you buy meat that is marbled with fat. The connective tissue and fat break down during the simmering and keep the beef tender. Beef free of all fat always ends up hard and dry. It's difficult to believe but it's true.

Photo: Ross Catrow, Flickr ccl
This soup is the perfect cure for a cold wintry day. The vegetables and meat are wonderful, and the chewy barley adds an unexpected twist. By having to chew longer hunger is dissipated and we feel full sooner.

So barley may help you loose weight too! Maybe…

South Shore Beef & Barley Soup
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook 40 min  |  Serves 4 easily
3/4 to 1 lb marbled beef steak
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced (or peas - see above)
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced (optional)*
1 cup pearl barley
7 cups beef broth
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp pepper
salt to taste

Watch the pot. Ensure you maintain a good amount of liquid
to keep this a soup. The barley will suck up the broth.
Chop the steak into 1/2 inch cubes. Chop the onion, garlic and celery.

Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté until the onion becomes translucent. Add the beef and sauté until it begins to brown very slightly.

Peel and chop the carrots and potatoes into fairly small pieces. Add to the pot. Then add the barley, broth, tomato paste, thyme, and pepper. 

Bring to a boil and let simmer on medium high for 40 minutes. Stir occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Add more water as necessary. You want a decent amount of broth in your finished soup. How much is up to you.

After 40 minutes the potatoes and carrots should be quite soft and the barley well cooked. Taste for salt and adjust. Depending on the saltiness (or lack thereof) of your broth you may need to add a fair bit.

Serve with buttered crusty bread to help sop up the broth.

* If not using potatoes you may want to increase the barley.


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