Although fall days can be quite warm, nights are frequently cool and our thoughts are beginning to turn away from summer’s harvest and toward the foods and cooking techniques of fall. There are still plenty of tomatoes to enjoy and chiles and certain melons, especially watermelon, are at their peak. Winter squash, sturdy greens and grains are welcome right now, too, especially at dinner.
Barley is one of my favorite grains, one I have enjoyed since I was a little girl and my mother made turkey barley soup on Thanksgiving and Christmas, her best dish. It is an ancient grain, once covered much of Europe and was a staple in the human diet. Today, it is widely used to feed animals and to make beer, ale and distilled spirits, though it is common enough that you can usually find at least one kind in most supermarkets.
The best, of course, is locally grown, and you can find it at farmers markets and stores that carry local products. If you see red barley, give it a try — deeply colored foods offer nutrients, including trace minerals, that paler foods do not have. It is also delicious.
Barley is closely related to wheat and rye and, as such, contains gluten. You have been warned.
This soup should be fairly thick, but not so thick as a stew. If necessary, thin it with a bit of water. The soup keeps well in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days and is easy to reheat. To save the gremolata, wrap it tightly so that it is not exposed to air or it will dry out quite quickly. A pressure cooker is required for this recipe.
Fall Barley & Beef Soup with Gremolata
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound beef shank, preferably grass-fed
— Kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, cut into small dice
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
— Black pepper in a mill
⅔ cup pearled barley, soaked for several hours or overnight and drained
3 cups beef stock or water
2 bay leaves
3 thin slices of ginger
1 cup peeled and diced sweet potato
¾ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
— Grated zest of one lemon
Set a heavy sauté pan over night heat.
While the pan heats, season the beef all over with salt. When the pan is hot, add the beef and cook for about 2 minutes, or until it is easy to turn it over; turn and cook 2 to 3 minutes more. Transfer to a pressure cooker.
Pour the olive oil into the sauté pan, reduce the heat to medium, add the onion and carrot and sauté until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Do not let them brown. Season with salt and several turns of black pepper.
Add the barley, beef stock or water and 1 more cup of water, along with the bay leaves and ginger. Bring the liquid to a boil, lock the lid in place and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions at the first level of heat for 20 minutes.
Use the slow-release method to reduce pressure, open the lid and add the sweet potato. Stir briefly and if the mixture seems a bit dry, add another cup of water. With the heat on medium low, lock the lid in place and cook 7 minutes more. Again, use the slow-release method to relieve pressure.