Lentils for breakfast- welcome

Here is your invitation to sample beautiful recipes that are good for you, good for the planet and good to eat. They mainly feature plants, because that's what I try to eat the most. I am not a fancy cook, but I believe that food is one of our greatest pleasures and deserves to be celebrated. Real food, whole food, kind food. Welcome to the feast!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Velvety smooth pearl barley broth

It's been raining for an endless number of days. Or so it seems. Definitely the weather for what Hugh calls a hefty soup.

I never cook with barley, so I'm not sure why this recipe caught my eye. It also calls for mace, a stranger to my spice cupboard. But I'm willing to try new tastes at the moment, so I purchased 2 large packets of 2 unfamiliar ingredients this week. Methinks there will be a few barley meals to come before the rainy weather clears.

To soak or not to soak
I didn't. Soak, that is, although Jude recommends doing so with hardier grains such as barley. This is to allow lactobaccilli bacteria to break down the phytic acids contained in grains, beans and legumes that interfere with the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. It also improves digestibility and reduces cooking times.

Her method is to soak grains and beans at room temperature overnight in a large bowl with a couple of teaspoons of yoghurt stirred through.

I'll be more barley-savvy next time, but in this recipe I just rinsed it and chucked it in all free and easy like. It still softened up beautifully.

Velvety texture
Hugh recommends pureeing a couple of ladles of the broth in for a thicker texture. I heartily recommend this step, despite the palaver of setting up and washing up the blender. It makes the soup silky smooth and creamy. A most luxurious mouthfeel.

And the mace? Left to my own devices I would have added oregano or sage instead of nutmeg and mace, but they added a delicate sweet flavour that seems characteristically English. Glad to meet you, mace. Pleased to make your acquaintance.

Pearl barley broth
15 g butter
2 large onions (I used one: 2 seemed like a lot)
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped (fiddly)
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small parsnip, finely chopped
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or a few gratings of fresh, if you're all fixed up with a grater)
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
A good pinch of ground mace
100 g pearl barley, rinsed
1.5 L vegetable stock
Small handful of fresh parsley
Salt and black pepper

Heat the butter in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and gently sweat the onions with the bay leaf and thyme for about 15 mins until soft and translucent. Add the celery, carrot and parsnip and saute for a further 5 mins. Stir in the spices.

Add the barley, pour in the stock and add some salt and pepper.  Simmer gently for 25-30 mins until the barley is soft. Remove the bay leaf.

You can serve as is or scoop out a couple of ladlefuls and puree them in a blender of food processor. Or whizz away with your stick blender. (I could never use mine without ending up with soup on the ceiling.) Return to the pot and warm through. Stir in the parsley and adjust the seasoning if nec.

Hugh serves his barley broth with big fat croutons. sizzled in olive oil. This would be a sublime addition if you were serving it immediately. As I'm taking mine to work, I'm adding some pre-steamed ribbons of kale and keeping my carb count low as befits my sedentary day.

I'd love to hear from you. What's your favourite use for mace? Do you soak? Spill the beans in the comments.

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