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June, 2010

Porcini Mushroom and Toasted Barley Soup

By Heidi Allison

This quick and easy vegan soup is upscale comfort food at its best: nourishing, easy-on-the budget and soul-satisfyingly good, even for carnivores!
Porcini Mushroom
In this recipe, flavors are intensified and layered by switching out the usual bland button mushroom for the rich and refined porcini, and toasting the raw barley before adding it to the stock, which imparts a nutty grace note. This exquisite, wild Italian mushroom not only creates a magnificently rich, mahogany-brown stock but also imparts an intense, earthy, wild mushroom taste, which the dried barley soaks up like a sponge during the cooking process.

On the nutritional front, new research has just discovered that barley is a better choice for diabetics (type 2) than oats, and is more effective in reducing high glucose levels and mitigating insulin responses to food.

This complex grain also appears to be superior in promoting cardiovascular health. In a recent study, barley packed a three-way punch in reducing dangerous cholesterol levels. Ounce for ounce, barley contains one of the highest fiber contents in the plant kingdom: one cup of cooked barley provides 13.6 grams of fiber versus oatmeal’s 3.98 grams. But, that’s only part of the story. The friendly bacteria in your gut works in concert with this healthy grain to produce two short-chain fatty acids (propionic and acetic acid) when fermenting its insoluble fiber. These acids reduce the production of a liver enzyme, (HMG_CoA reductase), which lowers the production of cholesterol in your body. Moreover, barley fiber contains hefty doses of beta glucan, which binds with bile acids so they can be excreted in the body. This in turn prompts the liver to produce more bile, which then lowers cholesterol. And barley is a good source of niacin, a vitamin that lowers both total cholesterol (TC) and dangerous Lipoprotein a (Lp a) levels.

Good-for-you never tasted sooo good!

Porcini Mushroom and Toasted Barley Soup
Porcini Mushroom and Toasted Barley Soup
Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:
½ cup Melissa’s Dried Porcini Mushrooms
1 ½ cups hot water
1 cup pearled whole barley
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 1/2 large yellow onions, ¼-inch dice
2 ribs celery, ¼-inch dice
3 carrots, peeled and ¼-inch dice
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp. Kosher salt
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
8 cups of water
2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped

Preparation:
Pour 1 ½ cups of hot water (almost boiling) over the porcini mushrooms and cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms and place into a bowl; strain mushroom soaking liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into bowl and reserve. Heat a medium-sized skillet on medium heat and add barley, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon until just toasted, about 2 minutes, then set aside. Place oil into a heavy-bottomed stockpot (or Dutch oven) and sweat onions, celery and carrots sprinkled with Kosher salt on medium-low heat until soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add thyme sprigs and continue to sauté for an additional 1 minute. Add toasted barley and chicken stock and stir. Turn the heat to high and add porcini mushrooms and mushroom soaking liquid, 1 cup at a time. When soup comes to a simmer, cover and turn heat to low and cook until barley is tender, about 1-1/2 hours, stirring often. Ladle soup into bowls and top with chopped parsley; then serve.

Notes From the Chef: If you make the soup in advance, you may need to add more water or mushroom stock since the barley absorbs broth. This soup is equally good made with a rich, homemade chicken stock. Finished soup freezes well.