December 22nd marks the start of winter, when temperatures drop and bitter weather sets in. Winter in New York City can be challenging for our Men in Blue, who brave rain, sleet, and snow to clean our streets every day. To ensure that the Men in Blue are taken care of, we serve wholesome meals that warm them up and liven their spirits. One of our favorites is our homemade mushroom-barley soup. This tomato-based vegetable soup is balanced, flavorful, and velvety in texture, a byproduct of adding caramelized vegetables to the stock. We hope that it provides our readers with as much satisfaction as it does our hard-working trainees during the season to come.
(Makes 6 servings)
1 cup raw barley
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
4 diced carrots
2 diced celery stalks
2 leeks (white part only), diced
2 onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, diced
1 cup tomato paste
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 quart chicken and 1 quart brown beef stock (or 2 quarts vegetable stock)
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme (or 2 teaspoons dried thyme)
4 cups mushrooms (about a pound) sliced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the barley in 4 cups of covered simmering salted water for 45 minutes, or until the barley is cooked through but slightly firm. While the barley is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan, and sauté the carrots and celery over medium heat until they begin to caramelize. Add the leeks, onion, and garlic to the rest of the vegetables. Continue cooking 6-12 minutes, letting all of the vegetables begin to turn golden and caramelize.
Add the tomato paste to the vegetables and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally so that the paste loses its acidity and becomes sweeter. Deglaze the vegetables with vinegar by adding 3 rounds of 1/3 cup portions of vinegar, making sure all of the liquid has evaporated between rounds. Add the chicken and beef stocks (or vegetable stock), bay leaf, and thyme. Add salt and pepper to taste and let the vegetables simmer for 1 hour.
As the vegetables simmer, sauté the mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil until the mushrooms soften. Sprinkle the cooked mushrooms with salt and pepper to taste. Add the mushrooms and barley to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes.
Bring the soup to a boil. Mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water, making sure there are no clumps in the mixture, and pour slowly into the soup. The addition of cornstarch helps to bind the soup to the vegetables so they remain suspended evenly throughout the liquid instead of sinking to the bottom. Season the soup with lemon juice and serve.