When I resurrected this blog, I considered going with a soup theme. All soup, all the time. Now, this is the month when most people start thinking about soup. Not I. I think about soup all year long. I've written about my Russian family's soup-eating habits here and here. To sum up: We Russkies like our soup, regardless of weather. In the steamiest of summer days we may enjoy a chilled svekolnik, but when the temperature drops to a bone-chilling 70 F, we go back to borsch and kharcho.
You can take a girl out a soup-making household, but you can't take soup-making out a girl. These days I have my own rotating repertoire of favorites, although I make different variations every time depending on what I have in the fridge. Here’s my latest take on mushroom barley soup. I happened to have a big box of Israeli couscous, as well leeks, onions, carrots and leftover broccoli stalks (which are totally edible and delicious, by the way).
Soak ½ ounce of dried porcini mushrooms in ½ cup of water overnight, or at least for 3-4 hours. Use a slotted spoon to remove the mushrooms. Put them in a bowl and cover with some cold, fresh water. Let stand for several minutes minutes to let the grit settle at the bottom. Remove the mushrooms, and repeat this step twice more with fresh water. Strain the mushroom water through a coffee filter until it’s free of grit and sand. Reserve the mushrooms and the liquid for later.
Chop up 8 oz. of white button mushrooms. Heat up some olive oil in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms until they are soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add kosher or coarse salt to taste. Set aside. Chop up a large onion, a large carrot, and half a leek. Peel and coarsely chop the broccoli stalks. Finely mince 2 stalks of celery and a couple of garlic cloves.
Heat up some olive oil in a soup pot and sauté the onion, carrot, broccoli stalks, leeks and celery until the onions are soft and translucent and the broccoli is semi-soft, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic; sauté for another minute, until the garlic becomes aromatic.
Add the sautéed and the rehydrated mushrooms the soup pot. Pour in 4 cups of chicken stock, the mushroom liquid and a tablespoon or two of soy sauce to taste ; toss in a couple of bay leaves and some black peppercorns and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the soup simmer for 10 minutes or so. Add ¼ cup of dry Israeli couscous and simmer until the couscous is cooked, about 8-10 minutes. Adjust the salt and pepper to taste. Eat with dollops of sour cream or thick, plain yogurt.