My mother was not a fantastic cook (as the youngest of eight kids, her older sisters did all the cooking and hence all the learning) but certain things she did very well. One of these was beef barley soup, and in her honor I made a pot of it today, according to her recipe as I best remember it, with only minor tweaks. My sister Gretchen pitched in on the remembering, reminding me that mother used tomato soup instead of diced tomatoes, but having imbibed a little too much of it in the early '60s, I cannot abide tomato soup.
So here's the recipe. It works, though it makes a lot, and in dinner-party portions probably serves 10 or 12. Carol and I will feast on it for a day or two and then freeze the rest.
- 1 pound stew meat
- 32 oz beef stock or broth
- 6 cups water
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 1 large onion
- 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
- 2 large carrots
- 3 large stalks celery
- 2 tblsp salt
Cut the beef up into small chunks, suitable for spooning. Mix beef chunks in a bowl with flour to coat all pieces. Melt a little butter in the bottom of a suitably large pot and brown the beef. Once the beef is browned, add in the broth, the water, the salt, and the barley. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 or 20 minutes to give the barley a good head start.
Add the vegetables. Simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the barley gets soft enough for you. (If you need to shorten the cooking time, use quick-cook barley, throw everything together at the beginning, and cook for only half an hour or forty minutes.) If you like pepper (we don't, not that much) grind a little in.
Note that I prefer "hearty" soup, which means you can stand a spoon up in it. The recipe sounds like it calls for a lot of liquid, but barley is half-sponge, and when you're done you'll have something about 40% of the way from soup to stew. For thinner soup, add water or cut back a little on the barley. Nothing critical about the recipe; more meat would work, and you can leave out the onion if that's an issue.
And there you have it. We ate simply but well when I was a kid. The evidence is in the pot.