A Good Appetite: Beef Barley Soup Lightens Up

Most beef barley soups are like stews — so thick with grains and chunks of meat that your spoon practically stands up even when you’re not holding on.

This one, however, falls on the lighter, brothier side of the spectrum.

It still has the barley — velour-soft, nubby and soothing. And it still has plenty of tender chunks of juicy, brawny beef.

 

The beef stew meat is cut into half-inch cubes. Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

But it also has enough fragrant liquid to keep all the elements floating, instead of merging into porridgelike solidity.

This is especially good in this recipe because it allows you to really savor the broth itself, heady with spices. Coriander, cumin and paprika work together to give it a gently earthy, almost sweet scent, while a hit of fresh lemon juice and zest at the end brightens everything.

It may not be the typical flavor profile for this kind of homey soup, but it’s not so wildly different that it will scare beef barley lovers away from the pot. It’s just complex enough without being intimidating.

Even better, it’s fairly adaptable. Heat-seekers can indulge by adding the optional cayenne to the broth and some sliced jalapeños to the bowl as a crisp and fiery garnish. Those who prefer things on the milder side can easily leave out one or both. This soup is forgiving like that.

 

Using more vegetables than usual makes it possible to cut back on the barley without letting the beef dominate. Credit Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times

One thing that beef barley fans may notice is the absence of mushrooms, which I replaced with a host of other vegetables — fennel, turnips, parsnips, leeks, carrots and a large quantity of spinach stirred in at the end. The spinach, in particular, is crucial here, adding a dose of much-needed color and a silky texture. Baby kale works, too, though it may need to be heated for an extra minute or so to soften.

Using more vegetables than usual makes it possible to cut back on the barley without letting the beef dominate. And using a bit less barley also encourages brothiness. This is because barley grains are like little sponges, absorbing liquid as the soup sits. So what may seem like a perfectly liquid soup when you first make it inevitably thickens after a few hours, especially if it’s been in the fridge. But just stir in some water or broth when you heat it up, and it will be good to go.

NYT > Food