I love everything I’ve ever made from Anna Thomas, and this mushroom and barley soup with cabbage from her Love Soup cookbook is no exception. I’ve been a sucker for mushroom and barley soup since my first introduction to it as a college freshman via Mollie Katzen’s version in Enchanted Forest.
As soups go, this one dirties a number of pots and pans (three at least) and it takes a fair amount of (mostly unattended) time at the beginning to get all three onions fully golden brown. Anna’s mushroom and barley soup with cabbage is the perfect soup for a chilly weekend spent around the house, you can start mid-afternoon and have dinner ready (or mid-morning for a satisfying lunch).
You need one pot for the soup, which is where you’ll start the onions, a large wide pan for the mushrooms, and a third pot for the barley. Anna’s instructions gently command the reader not to hurry the browning process for the onions and to expect at least 30 minutes before they become a deep caramel brown. In fact, it took more like 60-90 minutes for my onions to brown sufficiently, but maybe I didn’t have the heat turned up quite high enough. I didn’t mind, I was making other things, so it was just an extra pan to watch and stir very occasionally in the background.
As you’re getting about halfway on the onions, you can start sauteing the mushrooms. [In the background in a third pan, you can also start cooking the barley.] The recipe calls for 10 oz of mushrooms, which depending on where you shop is exactly one container of cremini mushrooms or slightly more. These need to be sauteed to golden brown as well, which will take about 20 minutes, depending on the size of your pan. Then fresh thyme is added, the mushroom pan is deglazed with a little sherry, and everything goes in with the golden onions. Add fresh chopped parsley and good quality paprika, the sliced cabbage (which you can prep while the onions and mushrooms are cooking), then a little water (barely enough water to cover the veggies). This cooks for about 30 minutes. Add the cooked barley and the stock it cooked in, et voila. Soup’s ready.
As long as you’re willing to dirty multiple pots in pursuit of great soup, one that happens to be nutritious and healthy but also totally satisfying, I highly recommend this mushroom and barley soup with cabbage. There isn’t a lot of barley in the soup, so the vegetables themselves (the mushrooms and cabbage) really shine. For me, the paprika flavor didn’t come through particularly strongly, but perhaps I didn’t use a high enough quality paprika. I used a mix of regular paprika and smoked paprika, but I’ve had both in my pantry for a while. Next time I make this, I’ll buy fresh Hungarian spicy paprika like Anna recommends and try that instead for a bigger paprika punch.
One genius feature of (my slightly modified rendition of) this recipe is you cook the vegetables and the barley separately. This yields a soup broth that’s incredibly light and clear tasting, plus if you aren’t serving all the soup at once, you can strain the barley out of the chicken broth you cook it in, add the broth to the soup and store the barley in a separate container so it doesn’t soak up extra liquid.
Mushroom and Barley Soup with Cabbage
- 3 medium yellow onions
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cups pearl barley
- 4 cups water
- 1 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1/2 small savory cabbage
- 4-5 green onions white and green parts (optional)
- 1/2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 teaspoons unsalted butter
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 10 ounces portobello, cremini, or brown button mushrooms
- 2 pinches Kosher salt
- 3 turns freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons dry sherry
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoons spicy Hungarian paprika
- juice of 1 lemon plus more if needed
Peel, halve, and thinly slice the onions. In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium-low heat and saute the onions gently, with a sprinkle of salt, for 30-90 minutes. The onions will soften and turn golden brown. Stir them occasionally and don't try to hurry the process.
In a medium saucepan, combine the barley with 4 cups water and a teaspoon of Kosher salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 30-40 minutes until cooked.
Meanwhile, de-core, quarter, and thinly slice (or julienne) the cabbage. If using, trim the green onions and slice the green and white parts into 1/2-inch pieces; you should have about 1 cup. Chop the fresh parsley. Set aside in a medium bowl.
Wipe dirt off the mushrooms with a damp cloth, cut off their dry stem ends, and thinly slice the mushrooms. Cut very large mushrooms in half.
In a large saute pan, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the 2 teaspoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and stir for a minute, then add the mushrooms, pinch or two of Kosher salt, and three grinds black pepper. Lower the heat to medium and saute until the mushrooms turn golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
Deglaze the mushroom pan by add the fresh thyme and the sherry. Stir until the sherry cooks away.
When the mushrooms are nicely browned and the pan is deglazed with sherry, add them to the onions in the soup pot, along with the vegetable broth. Use a little of the broth to further deglaze the mushroom pan, swirling it around to loosen any brown bits. Add the cabbage, green onions, parsley, and paprika. Let the soup simmer, covered, for a half-hour, until the vegetables are tender.
If serving immediately, stir in the cooked barley and the water from the barley pot. Otherwise, stir in the water but reserve the cooked barley in another container.
Stir in the fresh lemon juice and add more salt and pepper as deserved. The lemon juice acts to balance the sweetness of the onions, while the paprika brings in a slight spiciness.