The Simple Daily Food That’s Better Than Roast Duck

It’s definitely getting to be soup season here in Jerusalem, and likely where you live as well (if you don’t live in the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere). I pretty much only eat soup in the winter time (not counting cold soups, of course), so I figured this would be a good time to dive into a big pot of comfort food.

I must apologize again for not posting in a long time, but I’ve been really focused on the book, and am making good progress. Then I wrote this post a few weeks ago, and just before posting realized it would work well (with some editing) as another article for The Nosher. So I did that instead. But read on for some extra goodies you won’t find in the main article!

The article is about krupnik (or as I knew it growing up, Mushroom-barley Soup), a delicious and lesser-known Ashkenazi soup than chicken soup. If chicken soup takes the starring role in the movie of Ashkenazi cuisine, krupnik is the high quality supporting actor that real film buffs know truly make it memorable. Krupnik is Joan Cusack to chicken soup’s Meg Ryan. Click through the link above to read the full piece. The title of this post is also explained in the article!

But here’s a little something extra…

My Mom’s Recipe

Since this food is such a heimish (“homey”) dish, I figured I’d give you a recipe that came from my “heim” growing up. So I called my mom to ask for her mushroom-barley soup recipe.

As anyone who collects or studies recipes as cultural history will tell you, one of the challenges is that recipes that are handed down rarely have exact measurements. But the colorful descriptions that describe the amounts are the joyous benefit that accompanies this difficulty. Furthermore, unlike baking, cooking is not delicate and requires less precision, and with soup in particular, any home cook should always feel free to improvise.

Thus, I give you my mom’s recipe using many of her own words. The very first thing she said when I asked for this was, “I’m not going to give you measurements.” Thus, this “recipe” doesn’t have them either. Use it as inspiration and go for it.

Ricki Haber’s Mushroom-Barley Soup
Wash a handful or two of navy or cannelini (small white) beans, and soak overnight.

Rinse pearl barley. How much? “About double the amount of beans and fresh vegetables you will cut up.” You want the barley to be the major ingredient.

Put the barley, and the soaked beans into a pot with a piece of flanken (left whole) and some good marrow bones. Also throw in a few handfuls of split peas — they will disintegrate as the soup cooks, but add flavor, thickness and nutrition. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and simmer. The soup will cook for 3-4 hours on the lowest flame, and the vegetables will be added later, in stages, with the ones that need longer cooking put in earlier and the easier-cooking ones added later.

Soak some dried wild mushrooms in warm water for 1-2 hours. These will be added late in the cooking.

The vegetables should be cut into an even-sized small dice. How big? “About the size of the last joint of your index finger.” You can use a variety of vegetables. Common ones would be carrots, onions, celery, parsnip and turnip. Also one or two white potatoes. “More of some and less of the others.” Slice some fresh mushrooms, too. These go in fairly late.

As the soup cooks, if you don’t smell the barley, add an extra handful and let it cook. If the soup isn’t thick enough, adding some oatmeal is a “good cheat” and also adds extra nutrition.

Add no salt or pepper until the end of the cooking period. Then add to taste. Also don’t add herbs until the end, as they will lose flavor. At the end of the cooking period, or even as it is cooling down, add fresh parsley, celery leaves and dill, with their stems, chopped into small pieces (though not a fine dice).

Once the soup cools, you can skim the fat off the top. Remove the flanken and cut into small pieces, returning them to the pot.

That’s it. Enjoy!

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(By way of a confession: that’s not krupnik in the main picture, but a different soup I make with some similar vegetables. But the picture I had available of krupnik was not as good, so I chose to use that one. Mea culpa!)

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