This hearty mushroom barley stew is definitely my idea of comfort food. A naturally creamy sauce with loads of mushrooms plus broccoli with satisfying, chewy barley. This is the definition of whole food, plant-based eating, but that’s my second point – the first? It’s darned delicious!
Mushrooms and barley and more...
You don’t need to go crazy with special ingredients for this one. I happened to have a small crown of broccoli and decided to go with a base of onions and leeks because. If you sauté them with the mushrooms, and give them a gentle press as you go, it will help get the moisture out and will condense the mushrooms a bit, so they have a bit of a meaty texture.
Mushrooms – great to eat, good for the planet
Did you know that mushrooms are the most sustainably produced foods in the US? When you think about mushrooms, it makes a lot of sense. If you spot a mushroom growing in your yard, it’s rarely alone and they seem to grow larger and multiply by the minute. It’s that fast-maturity cycle, plus the fact that they require little water (1.8 gallons per pound) to grow that makes them so environmentally friendly. Their carbon emission is super low (just .7 per pound) and just one acre of land can produce 1 million pounds of mushrooms annually. And I only loved them for the earthy taste…
Shed your mushroom memory
Growing up, fresh mushrooms were not something we saw on the dinner table. And I was no fan of canned mushrooms. Sorry, but I can only describe them as slimy and a bit tasteless. Maybe fine on a pizza, but why bother? When I started cooking for myself though, I decided to give fresh mushrooms a try and I can safely say, there is an absolute world of difference.
When I got serious about whole food, plant-based recipes, I started experimenting with all kinds of mushrooms. Why not? They are naturally low in fat and calories and high in fiber, B vitamins, potassium and other important nutrients.
If you’ve prepared a few fresh mushrooms in your time, you probably know that they can have a really high moisture content. One trick I use is clean them with a damp paper towel or tea towel. If you resist the urge to run them over water (and certainly don’t submerge them), which is then readily absorbed by the mushrooms, you can avoid getting them ‘water-logged’. This helps concentrate their taste and reduce that ‘slim’ factor that I think we can all agree is well to avoid.
When you’re thinking whole food, plant-based, barley can be at the top of the list. It has a wonderful, chewy texture and nutty flavor that leaves you quite satisfied. Barley is one of those calorie-dense foods – you get a lot of nutritional bang for the spoonful. When you start looking for barley, chances are you may find two types. Hulled barley, meaning minimal processing where only the inedible outer shell has been removed and the more common, pearl barley which is a bit less nutritious.
Don’t fret if you go for the pearl. It’s still quite high in fiber and protein with healthy doses of manganese, selenium, thiamine and niacin. B vitamins are there too and all in a very low-fat package. This is, a long as you don’t add oil or other fatty foods. That’s something we don’t do here, and there’s absolutely no need for it.
Why I chose pearl barley
Because I wanted to create a mushroom barley stew, I intentionally went with pearl barley. As it cooks, pearl barley will swell up and make the dish creamier. It does this without getting mushy which is another testimony to barley’s overlooked greatness. If you happen to not want that kind of texture, you can always cook your barley separately and then rinse it before adding it to the pot.
Hulled versus pearled
The easiest way to separate the hulled from the more common pearl barley is the color. The less, processed, hulled barley will be a darker, slightly brownish color and the pearl, lighter. If you can find hulled barley in bulk, grab it. You can store it for months just like rice and other grains. If you use the hulled barley, you find that it will take longer to cook (20-25 minutes) and you won’t get the creamy factor so much.
How to cook barley
In general, use a 1:3 ratio of barley to water (or liquid) for cooking barley on its own. You simply, add the liquid to a deep pot (to avoid splash over) and add the rinsed barley. Bring that to a boil and then lower to simmer and cover. Pearl barley will take about 25 minutes to get tender and hulled, about 40. I used 6 cups of vegetable broth for the 1 ½ cups of barley for this stew, which ended up being perfect.
The flavor – tarragon
Besides the earthy flavor of the mushrooms, along with the onions and leeks, I added 2 tablespoons of chopped tarragon to give my mushroom barley stew just a bit of a unique taste. If you can’t find fresh tarragon, you can use the dry spice. Just use half the amount.
Tarragon tastes like a combination of fennel and anise. I often pare it with lentils for things like French lentil soup or loaded tempeh stew. It also compliments mushrooms of any variety. If you haven’t used it before, you can start by just adding a little, giving it a taste and adding more if you like. The cautionary cooking tale with any spice or herb and with salt – you can always add, you can’t delete. Once it’s in the pot, it’s there. Trust me, it’s difficult to impossible to correct an overly spiced, overly salted dish.
There’s nothing I like more than eating delicious food that nourished my body and my soul. Me more I eat of them the more I appreciate whole food, plant-based recipes. While I don’t mind measuring ingredients for recipes, I do mind having to measure or weigh the amounts I want to eat.
When I started my plant-based journey, I wanted to eat more healthfully, but I also wanted to eat to satiation. Decades of dieting and deprivation left me hungry and I wanted more. Eating to satiation and leaving the table with energy and without guilt are just a few of the benefits you get when you take on the whole food, plant-based approach. Getting enough, seeing and feeling the results – it becomes more important than any of those ‘bad’ foods ever tasted. Peace.Print
Kick off the new year with a big bowl of rich, creamy mushroom barley stew and enjoy comforting, delicious plant-based goodness and guilt-free seconds.
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 leek, cut in quarters and sliced
- 4 cups button mushrooms
- 1 cup shiitake mushrooms
- 1 small head of broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 ½ cups pearl or hulled barley
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 2 T fresh tarragon chopped
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- Salt and pepper, if desired
- Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, leeks, mushrooms and broccoli and sauté everything until the mushrooms have released their moisture and the onions and leeks start to soften.
- Add the vegetable broth, barley, tarragon and a pinch of cayenne pepper, stir to mix and bring the pot to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes until the barley swells and is tender.
- Taste and add additional tarragon, cayenne and salt or pepper if desired.
- Serve in bowls and enjoy.
- Cooking time reflects using pearl barley, if you use hulled barley, it will take about 40 minutes to cook until tender.
- If you use dried tarragon, reduce the amount by half (1 Tablespoon).
- This recipe can also be prepared with diced carrots or replacing the broccoli with ½ head of cauliflower. You can also use any variety of mushrooms, so consider wild mushrooms, brown or whatever you find appealing.
- Category: Soups & Stews
- Cuisine: American
Keywords: mushroom barley stew