Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

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My birthday is just days away, so I went to the license bureau to renew my car’s registration. One of my neighbors works there, and she asked me about my back. It so happens that she is also having trouble with her lumbar spine, so I commiserated with her briefly about my muscle spasms that have been flaring up this week. She advised me, “You need celery.”

The line was moving too quickly for me to ask how celery had helped her. Obviously food choices do have an impact on health. I’m uncertain of what magic celery could work on muscle spasms. Perhaps it is one of many fruits and vegetables that reduce inflammation.

This is the second time this week my curiosity has been piqued about celery. Yesterday I read a superb food history article called “Celery Was the Avocado Toast of the Victorian Era” by Heather Ardnt Anderson. It seems strange indeed that such an unremarkable vegetable once occupied center stage on the dinner table.

All of this reflection on celery inspires me to share my favorite recipe that includes this vegetable.

Mushroom Barley Vegetable Soup

Serves 6

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 1/2 pound sliced mushrooms
  • 5 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 t freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking barley
  • 1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • 4 cups beef or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh parsley, chopped (I used a whole bunch from the grocery store because I love parsley)

Melt butter in dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrot, celery, ground pepper, and bay leaf. Cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, beans, barley, and broth. Cover pan with lid and let simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables and barley are tender. Stir in chopped parsley, remove bay leaf, and serve.

 

Dinner, May 21

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Tonight’s dinner was salmon, jasmine rice, buttered peas, and dill pickle hummus, with some dill and parsley sprinkled over all.

Food has captivated my imagination as of late. I may as well document this season (since my hobbies have seasons in sync with those of an as yet undiscovered planet) before I wake up a couple months from now with the sense that microwaving a frozen dinner could exhaust my interest in the subject. At least the phases when I deal with cooking no more than is necessary don’t last long.

Today’s dinner reminded me that making a festive plate doesn’t need to be expensive. I already had the herbs and hummus on hand, and the other ingredients costed just $6 total. The peas and salmon were the standard frozen versions, and the rice was bought in dry bulk. This dinner serves four, so we’ll have leftovers, too.

Farro Salad

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I love whole grains so much I dreamed of one last week. My dreaming mind watched a cooking video which claimed that quinoa was cooked incorrectly if any of the “tails” were hanging out of the grains, and the riddle of how to keep these strings tucked into each tiny pearl boggled my mind enough I woke up. Could I keep them from being unruly through a low, vigilant simmer, or was the secret the addition of an acid at a strategic moment? Then I considered that both the premise and concern of this challenge were false. In my waking life, quinoa is done when it looks undressed, and the only person in the house who will eat quinoa, yours truly, is very easy to please regarding whole grains.

One whole grain I enjoy more than quinoa, which has been become as overexposed as the Miami Sound Machine in 1985, is farro. It is an ancient relative of wheat, and it tastes like a lightweight cross between bulgar wheat and barley. Its husk offers a satisfying snap when bitten, and its interior is soft but not mushy.

Today I reminisced about how I used to make tabbouleh with a boxed mix from the Near East company back when I lived in Washington around the turn of this century. I was bold enough to make hummus at home, but I didn’t feel confident enough to make falafel or tabbouleh without leaning heavily on a boxed mix for both of them. Once I moved back to Ohio, I left my dabbling in these dishes behind. While I loved them, they reminded me too much of a place I endured solely through food and cooking. I had an oven in the wall just like Alice in The Brady Bunch, and I challenged it often. My sense of the Puget Sound is darkened only by the personal drama of my time there. Otherwise, it is a lovely place, stunning in its physical beauty and exhilarating in the variety of its cuisine.

My farro salad was born today in tribute to tabbouleh. I need to buy some bulgar soon to attempt this grain salad in its proper form, but today I had a bag of farro I wanted to use up. This is the first time I’ve ventured into cooking with fresh mint. Oddly enough, I had a tragicomic encounter with mint twenty years ago that made me reluctant to try it again. I had grown a mint plant in a foot-wide pot situated on a balcony garden. This “balcony” was actually the flat roof of a one-car garage below. By the end of that growing season, the mint plant had so overtaken that pot that its roots cleaved the pot in two on the bottom. I figured the mint would not overwinter in a pot in zone 5, so I tried to empty the pot. The pot felt impossibly heavy. After pushing the pot a few inches, I planted my foot on the damp patch of rooftop I’d just exposed. Next the roof gave way beneath me and I had one leg dangling into the garage below. I have only my hearty thighs to thank for keeping me suspended in midair and not impaled on the shovels and pitchfork below.

I clawed my way back to the roof and knew that I’d need some time away from mint in all its forms. I revisit this herb for the first time in twenty years with this recipe.

My last addition was sugar, a concession that does not hearken to tabbouleh. I didn’t think to add it at first, but a touch of sweetness really unlocked the flavor of this dish.

Farro Salad

8 servings

4 cups cooked farro (1/2 pound dry cooked, drained, and cooled)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Juice and zest of one lemon

1 T vinegar

1 t salt

1 t sugar or honey

1/2 t freshly ground pepper

1 T white onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

2 cups cucumber, sliced

3 cups mixed cherry tomatoes, halved lengthwise

Shaved parmesan cheese and additional coarsely chopped herbs for garnish

Whisk together oil, lemon juice, zest, vinegar, salt, sugar, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Stir in chopped herbs, onion, and garlic. Let rest for fifteen minutes for flavors to blend. Add cucumber, tomatoes, and farro. Stir until well combined. Chill in fridge for a half hour. Top individual servings with parmesan cheese and extra herbs to taste.

Succotash Dinner

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This recipe is my take on Cooking Light’s Edamame Succotash. It’s one of those simple recipes that value whole foods, and it looks as if can be adapted liberally to suit a wide array of preferences. I prefer lima beans to edamame. While canned lima beans are infamous for adding a bitter note to mixed vegetables, the dry and frozen forms have a neutral flavor and smooth texture that yields well to seasoning.

I should mention why I decided to blog about what I’m cooking. I have a tendency to make a dish differently over time based on the contents of my fridge and pantry. My husband suggested that I start making notes of how I’d made a dish a particular time it turned out well. For someone as disorganized as I am, a blog is an ideal place to record recipes.

Writing about cooking also honors a task that it is vital yet so undervalued among tasks done day to day. When there is no record in writing or photos to show what I’ve done in the kitchen, it is all too tempting to strip meaning and purpose from all the time I devote to this kind of work. When I click through my recipes here, I am reminded that my time has value, and time spent on cooking is not wasted.

By the way, ham isn’t necessary to this finished dish. It could taste intriguing with a pound of shrimp or chicken instead. The beans provide a decent amount of protein, so the meat can be omitted entirely to create a vegetarian main as well.

Succotash Dinner

8 servings

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

3 shallots, finely chopped

8 oz white mushrooms, sliced

1 T salted butter

1 T olive oil

1/2 t black pepper

1/4 t salt

2 cups frozen corn, thawed

1 lb frozen lima beans, thawed

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf

2 T white vinegar

1 t dried thyme (or 1 T fresh thyme)

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley

1 lb cubed ham

1 large fresh tomato, diced

Hot cooked jasmine rice, for serving

Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion, shallots, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Sauté for 5-7 minutes, until onions are transculent. Stir in corn and let sit for a minute or two over the heat so the corn browns just a little. Pour in stock, add bay leaf, and sprinkle in thyme. Add lima beans, turn down heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for ten minutes. Stir in ham and vinegar and heat five minutes more. Remove bay leaf, sprinkle parsley and tomatoes over all, and serve over rice.