A big pot of beef and barley soup is one of my favorite cool weather meals to create, and weekend afternoons actually afford me the time to let a soup simmer. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a variety of interesting veggies in my concoctions. I detest celery and potatoes in soups – to me, they’re fillers without taste or much nutritional value. These seem to be the go-to veggies for soups, but I like to take my soup up a notch. I like to elevate it.
Crimini mushrooms, yellow squash, and red wine all make this beef & barley soup special. I also like to use Better Than Bouillon instead of ready-made beef broth – it’s so easy, and the flavor really is much better. Of course, a truly advanced soup would use homemade stock simmered from leftover bones and veggies – but I’m not that elevated – not yet. This soup isn’t difficult, but it is a bit more time-consuming than your average weeknight dinner. I plan for about two hours total – one hour to prep and mix and stir, and one hour for cooking (which requires no effort, just time on the stove). That time investment pays off in lots of yummy leftovers and easy meals ahead. This recipe makes enough for three dinners for my husband (who has a very healthy appetite!), my toddler son (whose appetite is a mystery!) and me. It’s the kind of meal that only gets better after it sits for a day or two or after freezing. We eat the soup the night I make it, and then we divide leftovers in two separate containers and throw them in the freezer to thaw for two future meals. A bit of effort on the weekend results in delicious, healthy and easy meals in the future.
Elevated Beef & Barley Soup
- 3 T. plus a bit more olive oil
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 2 lbs. beef (can use stew meat), chopped into chunks
- 2 quarts beef stock – I made my own using Better Than Bouillon, but you can also use beef broth ready-made
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 small yellow squash, chopped (or one large regular squash – abundant this time of year!)
- 3-4 cups crimini/baby bella mushrooms, stems removed and cut into fourths
- 2 T. garlic (or to taste)
- 16 oz. can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
- 3/4 cup good red wine (I used Pinot Noir – but you should use whatever you want to drink after that 3/4 cup goes into the pot!)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 T. dried thyme
- 1 cup pearled barley, uncooked
- Optional – shredded cheese for topping (we used a sharp Balsamic cheese left over from a cocktail hour we hosted)
1 – Heat 2 T. of the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven.
2 – Add beef and stir. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cook until beef is browned on all sides.
3 – If you’re making your own stock, do so now in a separate pot. You just dissolve the Better Than Bouillon into a big pot of water. I made about 2 quarts of stock and used about 3-4 T. of the Bouillon. You don’t even need heat.
4 – Once the beef is browned, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate. Add a bit more olive oil to the yummy beef residue in your pot (you just don’t want the veggies you’re about to add to stick to the pot). Add onion and cook for a few minutes – just until flavors and ingredients are fully mixed.
5 – Next add carrots and squash, and cook for about 10 minutes. Add mushrooms last – they cook faster than the other veggies, and you don’t want them – well – mushy. Let all of the vegetables sit cooking on the stove together for five minutes or so – until the mushrooms are just starting to get soft at the edges, but don’t wait until they’re cooked through. Add more olive oil if necessary.
6 – Stir in garlic and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Stir occasionally until the liquid cooks down a bit and the mixture gets a bit thicker and heavier – about 10-15 minutes.
7 – Add the red wine and bring the mix back to a boil. Cook about five more minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should reduce a bit.
8 – Add bay leaves, thyme, and barley. Stir everything together well.
9 – Pour in broth, and add beef back to the pot. Bring back to a boil briefly, then reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for at least one hour, until barley is done.
10 – While the soup cooks, it’s a good idea to shred a nice cheese to use as a topper.
11 – And of course, you had to crack open a bottle of good red to add to the soup, so you may as well drink that bottle. I enjoyed a delicious 2013 French Pinot Noir from Jaffelin, while hanging out by the fire (the dog was into it, too).
12 – When the soup is ready, divide into serving bowls and enjoy (we toasted pita bread with butter and garlic and ate it on the side). Let the leftover soup cool before putting it into storage containers and into the freezer.
A beefy Bon Appétit to you, and have a great weekend!