Tuesday, April 7, 2009

130. Mushroom Barley Soup (p. 113)

I used to have an aversion to mushrooms. Maybe aversion is too strong a word. But, I really didn't like them, that's for sure. One of my goals in this Project, however, is to broaden my food horizons, and get over any lingering food hang-ups that I may have. I would have never guessed that a recipe calling for two pounds of mushrooms would turn out to be one of my favorite dishes of the Project so far, but it is.

This recipe is not very complicated, but it does take a couple of hours. First, I soaked some dried porcini mushrooms in some boiling water. While the porcinis were doing their thing, I started cooking some garlic and chopped onions in some oil in my large Dutch oven. When the onions were nice and golden, I added two pounds of sliced white onions and the dried onions. (I skipped the soy sauce called for by The Book ... I'm cooking soy free these days.) Once most of the liquid cooked off from the mushrooms (they give off a lot of liquid) I added some cooking sherry and boiled that until it evaporated. Then I added some chicken broth (store bought, sorry), water, the soaking liquid from the porcinis (strained through a paper towel to get rid of any grit from the dried mushrooms). To that I added some sliced carrots, dried pearl barley and some dried rosemary and tyhme. I let the whole thing simmer for about an hour. Just before serving, I added some salt, pepper and a healthy handful of chopped fresh parsley.

This soup was excellent. I mean, really, really good. It was rich, hearty and intensely flavorful. The barley, white mushrooms and carrots give the soup heft and substance. I enjoyed this soup with some crusty bread and a glass of red wine. A perfect dinner.

One of the things that struck me about this soup was its "meaty" flavor. But how can that be? There isn't any beef in this soup. Well, it turns out that the meaty flavor that we love in steaks and beef stew is umami, one of the five basic tastes sensed by our tongues. Umami is the savory or meaty flavor that we perceive in meat, cheese and fermented foods (like miso). It's the tongue's reaction to glutamates, the amino acids that are plentiful in these foods. Well, two other foods that have lots of glutamates are onions and mushrooms, and there are plenty of them in this soup, meaning plenty of umami and plenty of meaty flavor.

Another food science note. As I mentioned a little while ago, I'm trying to cook wheat-, dairy- and soy-free these days because my three-month-old son's intolerance to one or all of these things is limiting my wife's diet. We decided to give this recipe a try because, according to my Oxford Companion to Food, barley contains much less gluten than wheat. Well, much less was still too much, and little Jack had a reaction (green poo ... not that you asked).

So, that means that I'll be enjoying the three quart-sized containers of leftover soup myself. And, that's just fine by me.

Date Cooked: March 28, 2009
Degree of Difficulty: Easy
Rating: A


Adrienne said...

Have you checked out glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com? It's my favorite celiac (gluten-free) site, and many of her recipes are dairy-free, too.

Liz C said...

I'm primarily vegetarian (flexitarian, actually, since I use chicken stock) and this looks like a perfect recipe for me to try.