I’ve never been very fond of vegetable soup, usually finding it thin and insipid. However, add a little barley to the soup pot, and it is a completely different story. Barley thickens a simmering broth, turning it creamy and luscious; perfect for winter. Toss in lots of finely chopped winter vegetables, and you have this Hearty Winter Vegetable Soup.
I have a bad habit of using the same small range of winter vegetables at every meal. This soup takes me outside that comfort zone, and uses some of the vegetables I rarely cook with, like turnips, swedes and parsnips. By chopping the vegetables into small cubes, about the same size as the swollen barley grains, I can pass them by The Princess (who is always suspicious of something new) with minimal moaning.
It is at this point I must issue a warning. When buying your vegetables, do not be swayed by the purple carrots. The first time I made this soup, I had visions of finely chopped purple carrot providing flecks of colour and interest in the soup pot. In reality, the deep purple colour of the heirloom carrot seeped into the broth, turning everything a weird purple/grey colour. The carrot itself turned a pale orange colour, and the whole dish looked extremely unappetising. Thankfully it tasted good enough to be repeated. This time with plain old orange carrots.
If you can (which for me translates to – if I remember), soak the barley overnight in a large bowl of water to which you have added a teaspoon of whey, yoghurt or lemon juice. This overnight soaking helps reduce the cooking time, neutralises phytic acid and eliminates growth inhibitors found in seeds and grains. Phytic acid interferes with the absorption of minerals and nutrients, whilst growth inhibitors, which prevent grains germinating prematurely, can cause digestion problems in some people. Soaking the barley improves its digestibility. However it is not the end of the world if you forget, and the resulting soup will still be both nutritious and delicious.
Barley readily absorbs liquid, and the soup will thicken considerably upon standing. Should the soup thicken to stew by the time you are ready to serve, add a little more stock or water as the soup reheats. One thing is for sure though, with a handful of barley, thin and insipid soups are a thing of the past in this house.
P.S. Looking for more vegetable soups? Try Lentil & Brown Rice Soup or Quick & Easy Carrot Soup.