My family used to have two favorite soups… my versions of my father’s “famous” potato soup and the “French Italian” minestrone that my youngest son likes so much, he always requests it for his birthday dinner. Over the last several months we have added a new favorite… this minestrone-like barley vegetable soup.
This soup tastes like it has been simmering slowly for hours but the actual preparation and cooking time… from dicing the first carrot to putting the filled bowls on the table… is less than an hour because I have already pre-cooked and frozen the beans, barley, and chickpeas. It’s a really quick and easy soup to make and a wonderful healthy and DELICIOUS from scratch “convenience food”!
We grew carrots, onions, and garlic in last summer’s garden and they have stored well. The thin bright green stalks in this photo are unblanched frozen celery pieces. Every fall when I harvest the celery I save the thin (too small to use
:o)) leafy celery stalks and freeze them. When I’m cooking something that needs celery, I just take out a handful… the unblanched celery adds a more intense celery flavor.
I begin this soup by sautéing diced carrots, onions, celery, and minced garlic in two tablespoons of olive oil until the onions are transparent and the carrots are crisp tender. This is an important first step… sautéing develops the flavors of the vegetables and mellows out the onion and garlic.
The carrots, celery, onions, and garlic provide the foundation for the soup’s flavor, so I am generous with amounts… also, sautéing will reduce the volume of the vegetables down by about half. Seasoning with salt and pepper (to taste) as these vegetables sauté also builds more flavor than if the salt and pepper were just added to the soup. I use approximately the following amounts:
1 large onion or 2 small onions, about 2 cups diced
4 or 5 carrots, about 2 cups diced
celery, about 1 cup diced
garlic, 2 large cloves minced
The next step is combining the sautéed vegetables with the soup stock. The liquid for this soup is tomato puree and water or vegetable stock. I cook down tomatoes from our garden, puree them in my food processor, and freeze the puree in four-cup portions. For this soup I use one block of frozen puree and add an equal amount of water or vegetable broth to the pot. Sometimes I add more water as the soup simmers if I think it is too thick. I also add basil, oregano, parsley, and powdered garlic at this time. Even though there is already sautéed garlic in the soup, I like the added “punch” of the powdered garlic. I start with a half teaspoon each of the dried herbs and a quarter teaspoon of the powdered garlic. That’s it for the garlic, but I keep adding more herbs in very small quantities until the soup stock tastes the way I want it to taste.
Pearled Barley, Chickpeas, Great Northern Beans
I make this soup with a combination of barley, chickpeas, and great northern beans… roughly three cups (cooked) of each. I cook two pounds of dried beans and chickpeas at a time until they’re almost “done,” then freeze them in three-cup portions. I do the same with the pearled barley. When I am ready to make this soup, all I have to do is take the beans, chickpeas, and barley out of the freezer and put them in the simmering stock, where they absorb all the flavors of the soup as they finish cooking.
Our favorite vegetables for this soup are a combination of green beans, peas, and corn. I use frozen vegetables, approximately a cup of each of these. To prevent the problem of overcooked or mushy vegetables, I wait until the beans, chickpeas, and barley are completely cooked before I add the green beans. As soon as the green beans are tender, I add the corn and peas and take the soup off the heat before they can become overcooked. It’s amazing what a difference this method of adding vegetables can make in a soup.
I don’t just simmer the soup for a set amount of time. I taste it, and if needs salt, I add just a small amount of salt and taste it again. If it needs more herbs, I add just a small amount of one herb at a time, let the soup simmer for a few minutes, and taste it again. These simple adjustments turn an ordinary soup into a soup that is bursting with flavor.