Mushroom-barley is a classic soup that I find is typically too thick and gummy, possibly because it is made in advance at stores and restaurants and the barley continues to swell and absorb the liquid. There are two ways of solving that: change the proportion of barley to mushrooms and broth, or cook the barley in advance and add it to the soup. The latter works well when using hulled barley, which retains its outer shell of bran and takes quite a while to cook (so if I’m making it, I cook extra and freeze some). The more typical pearled (or pearl) barley has been processed to remove some of the high fiber bran and is whitish in appearance. When cooking the barley in the mushroom stock as I did, make sure to have extra liquid on hand to dilute the soup to the desired thickness. Since my mushroom mixture was strong, I added water in the later stages. In this version, I also added some kale at the end.
Mushroom Barley Soup
1 lb fresh mushrooms (I used Cremini)
Optional: 1 oz dried mushrooms
1 medium onion, chopped
Butter or oil
Optional: 1 leek, halved vertically, cleaned and chopped
Optional, 1 carrot, finely diced
4-6 c vegetable broth made with mushrooms, or homemade chicken or beef broth (or 4 c broth plus water as needed)
1/3-1/2 c pearled barley
Optional: a handful of chopped kale, chard or spinach
Salt and pepper
Green herbs (e.g., dill, parsley, tarragon, lovage) or woody herbs (e.g., thyme, savory)
Clean the fresh mushrooms. Slice some for garnish and roughly chop the rest. If using dried mushrooms, pour very hot water on them to cover and set aside for 10 minutes to soften. Chop them roughly and check the water for grit. It can be used as part of the broth.
Cook the onion in a little butter or oil until soft, then add some of the mushrooms, enough to cover the bottom of the pan, Raise the heat and cook until brown, stir, turn down the heat and cook until tender and juicy. Repeat with the remainder of the mushrooms. Cook the reserved slices separately and set them aside.
Place all of the mushrooms (other than the garnish), the leeks and carrots if using, and the broth in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Add the barley, turn the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the barley is tender, approximately 35-40 minutes. Check the liquid level occasionally and add more broth as needed. If adding greens, such as kale, chard or spinach, add them near the end of cooking.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with the reserved mushrooms and herbs.