How to Make Beef Soup With Barley

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Start to Finish: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 4

Difficulty Level: Beginner

With a savory and nutty taste, homemade beef soup with barley has more depth of flavor than the overly salty soup you buy in a can with mushy vegetables and tiny bits of meat. Like all soup, beef barley has variations to suit all tastes. Adapted from "Beef, Mushroom and Barley Soup" from epicurious, this soup simplifies the process by using ground beef or flavorful sausage.

Tip

  • If you make the soup the day before you plan to serve it, the chemical reactions between the ingredients multiply and the soup is more flavorful, according to Dr. Kantha Shelke, founder of food science and research company Corvus Blue, who answered questions on the Forbes website.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium or 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or chopped
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or sausage

  • 1 can or 2 cups of beef broth
  • 1/2 cup pearled barley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

  • 1 15-ounce can or 2 cups of diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup carrots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

  • 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped parsley or dill

Directions

Cook the onions in a large soup pot, stirring occasionally until they are soft and translucent, about seven minutes.

Add the garlic and stir for an additional minute. Remove the onion and garlic from the pot to a small bowl.

Cook the mushrooms until they are dark brown on both sides, about eight minutes, and set them aside in a second small bowl.

Cook the meat in the same pot over medium heat, allowing it to brown.

Tip

  • Resist the urge to constantly stir the ground beef or sausage as it cooks; doing that doesn't allow browning. Browned meat gains flavor from the Maillard reaction, creating caramelized sugars and other flavor components on the surface of the meat.

Drain excess fat from the pot after the meat has cooked, either by spooning it off or sopping it up with paper towels.

Add the onions and garlic back into the pot along with the beef broth, tomatoes, barley, bay leaf and thyme. Scrape the bottom of the pot to dislodge any flavorful browned bits of meat.

Cover the pot, bring it to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low and simmer the soup for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the mushrooms and accumulated liquid and continue cooking the soup for another 10 minutes or until the barley is soft but still has a chewy texture.

Tip

  • Add water or additional beef broth to the pot if it appears the soup is too thick.

Taste the soup and add an additional pinch of salt if the soup tastes bland. Taste again and repeat the process if you need to.

Sprinkle the parsley or dill on top of each bowl of soup before serving.

Variations

  • Use beef short ribs or chuck stew meat instead of ground beef or sausage. Braise the meat in liquid, then shred it and add it to the soup along with the barley. 
  • Add 3/4 cup of shredded red or green cabbage to the soup during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
  • Chop any leftover vegetables you have on hand, such as zucchini or sweet potatoes, and add those to the soup during the last 10 minutes of cooking.

  • Substitute chopped dried oregano for the thyme.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of sherry or red wine vinegar or 1/4 cup of red wine during the last 10 minutes of cooking to brighten the taste of the soup and add additional flavor.
  • Transform beef with barley soup into a vegetarian soup by omitting the
    meat and doubling up on the amount of mushrooms or adding browned and crumbled tofu.

Tip

  • Serve the soup with crusty bread and a simple green salad dressed with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper.

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