Barley is such a wonderful grain that it suits all convenient recipes i a modern lifestyle I feel. This barley and mushroom soup with seasonal vegetables is a great way to nourish and feel warm in winters. Barley is one of those alternative grains that I keep using in my kitchen, it gets tossed up like salads, plays pasta along with pesto and various pasta sauces and sometimes makes a hearty soup with meats and vegetables. Barley flour is used in my mullti grain rotis and breads.
Some people would say whole grains are totally overrated. That grains have the evil phytates and one must not eat them at all. I think demonising a whole food category is not good as all foods have something or the other that causes harm if 'seen in isolation'. Yes, phytates can cause slow digestion and poor absorption of minerals by the intestinal lining, but note that soaking and cooking drains and deactivates much of the phytates and some is deactivated in the stomach too. The intestinal flora has evolved with the foods we have been eating during human evolution through the ages I believe, many whole grains are prebiotic and help preserve the gut flora. Also, if the grains are fermented the phytates are deactivated to a large extent.
It is good to see that phytates play a useful role in metabolism as well. Since they bind to some minerals, they slow down the formation of free radicals, acting as an antioxidant to an extent. Read more here to know about phytates and how they can be useful for the metabolism too. I would say, don't stop eating grains just because a 'diet religion' says so, keep having diverse types of local grains so you get a wider range of nutrients. Do not depend on only wheat as a staple, some rice is good but why not encouraging Amaranth, Ragi, Barley and other millets that were once grown widely till wheat monoculture took it all over.
I would also add not to make grains the main staple of your meals, apart from loading your meal with only carbs it will kill the chances of accommodating any vegetables and proteins into the same meal. Make your meal balanced, just about 2 tbsp of grains is enough in a meal, fill up your plate with some proteins, some good fats and loads of seasonal vegetables.
Coming back to the barley soup. This is one of those comforting soups that you can make with any of your favourite vegetables and meats. Just take care to use a good chicken stock or make a nice mirepoix too start the soup flavours going. Mirpoix is nothing but a mix of finely shopped celery, carrots and onion. You can use coriander stems, spring onions and cabbage too for variation or add some parsley for more depth of flavours. Adding your favourite flavours is the idea.
(for 2 soup meal servings plus some leftovers)
Chopped garlic 1 tbsp
chopped celery 1/4 cup
chopped carrots 1/4 cup
chopped leeks 1/4 cup
chopped red onions 1/3 cup
chopped mushrooms 1.5 cups
chopped yellow bell pepper 1/2 cup (you can use any bell pepper)
chopped tomatoes 1/2 cup
chopped leaves of parsley 3 tbsp
cooked barley 3/4 cup
chicken stock 1 cup (optional)
butter 1 tsp
olive oil 2 tsp
salt and pepper to taste
little hot chilly sauce or Worcestershire sauce (optional)
Heat the butter and oil together and tip in the chopped garlic followed by onions, celery, carrots and leeks and stir fry till everything gets translucent. Add the mushrooms and bell peppers and tomatoes one by one and cook till they all turn soft and fragrant.
Add the cooked barley, the stock and about 400 ml water and let the soup cook for about 20 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and adjust seasoning. Add the hot sauce if using. Serve hot.
This is one of those soups you can make with some added pancetta or ham or even some bits of bacon. Add green peas if you like but if you have kids you might like to make it just with tomatoes and mushrooms with a little cheese added.
Soups actually can be taken into any direction. Hope I am making you feel like coking some barley right now. Let me know if you do :-)