Tag Archives: Barley

Vegetable Broth

In the words of Frank Loesser, “baby, it’s cold outside”. Yes, a little light snow and the south of England has come to a shuddering halt. We’re now being bombarded with headlines about “Frozen Britain” (yawn), but as yet, there is no news about how this affects that other news staple, the Royal Wedding.

What is beyond doubt it that it is very chilly, and that calls for proper winter soups. This one is a veggie version of Scotch Broth, so – obviously – lots of vegetables, plus potato and barley to add a bit of substance. I like my soups to be thick and hearty, something filling when you get in from the cold, or to prepare you to venture outside. I just don’t get clear soups, or basic bouillon. Filling, and mopped up with lots of brown, crusty bread. Mmmm!

I also like soups that have a bit of character – smooth “posh” soups are all well and good, but if you’re looking for something to serve as a meal, lots of chunky carrot, turnip, celeriac and barley will do the trick. This is also a super-easy recipe. Just chop up the vegetables, fry in a little oil, add stock and let it simmer for a few hours until the barley is soft. Job done. I’ve posted before about my love for barley, and I am going to go on about it again. I think it really brings something to a soup, a bit of chewiness and texture combined with the tender vegetables.

It’s also a good one as it is cheap as chips to make (read the ingredients – it’s all basic stuff, and quelle horreur very healthy) and can be quite easily made from the sort of thing that skulks around in the bottom of the fridge or, with these winter days, arrives in your weekly organic veg box. I know, that makes me sound so Stoke Newington la-di-da!

If you are making this soup, I’ve put a recipe below, but to be honest, the trick is just to get roughly similar amounts of autumn or winter vegetables, add some potato and barley, then sit back and let the lot simmer until the vegetables are tender. It can also be quite happily made with whatever you have to hand – leeks, celery etc. I like to aim for some vegetables that will turn soft and break down (making the soup thick and satisfying), while others hold their shape. I finished this one off with a couple of spoons of soy sauce, and added a scant handful of fresh thyme leaves to the soup 10 minutes before serving.

As an aside, normally I don’t use celeriac in soup (I use celery), but I decided to give it a try. And, rather marvellously, it cooks wonderfully, becoming very soft, then breaking down and adding to the thickness of the soup. I like to make little culinary discoveries like this!


To make Vegetable Broth (serves 4):

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 large carrot carrots, peeled and diced
• 1 small swede, peeled and diced
• 1 small turnip, peeled and diced
• 3 small onions, peeled and diced 
• 2 scant handfuls barley
• 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced

• 3 litres vegetable stock

• salt and pepper, to taste
• small handful fresh thyme

Heat the oil in a large pot. Add the carrots, swede, celeriac, onions, barley and potato, and cook for 2 minutes on a medium heat, stirring from time to time.

Add the stock and stir well. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the barley is tender (about 30 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Towards the end of the cooking time, add the thyme (if using). Once ready, add more water if the soup is too thick, and serve with lots of crusty brown bread.

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Autumn Days and a Mushroom-Barley Pilaf

Ah, those crisp autumn days! We hanker after bright sun of summer or the fresh mornings in spring, but I love the crisp, bright autumn days we are enjoying at the moment.

Summer is well and truly over, but produce-wise, you are still able to enjoy a good range of quite interesting and exciting things. And enjoy it you should, because this is that last, final celebration before the darkness of winter creeps upon us. Brrrr!

Just to make the point, here are a few shots that I have taken recently, and I think they convey the mood quite well. Autumn colours with sunlight streaming through yellow leaves, berries and crab apples a-plenty, and a few interesting looking things at local farmer’s markets. I knew about heirloom tomatoes, but I have now learned about heirloom carrots!

To go with this time of year, I have tried my hand at a pilaf dish, but based on barley. It’s a grain that you don’t often see on menus, which is a bit of a shame. It was one of the first grains that were grown in Europe, so it has pedigree, but it is also very tasty. For me, it is what makes a decent bowl of broth, adding a bit of chewiness, but keeping its shape, unlike the tendency of rice to self-destruct and turn to mush after too long in soup stock.

I think this recipe works because it successfully pairs the “earthy” quality of barley with mushrooms to make a rich, warm and filling winter dish. In some ways, it is very much like a risotto, but the finished results is also quite different. The grains of barley soften but do not turn to mush, keeping a little bit of bite and chewiness, so there is more texture than in a risotto. There is also no cream or cheese in the pilaf, so it makes it filling but not heavy. And one of the big attractions to a busy home cook is that rather than the stir-stir-stir method of good risotto, you cook onion and barley in a little olive oil, then add everything else and allow to simmer gently for 45 minute. Job done.

To make Mushroom Barley Pilaf (serves 4):

• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 240g barley
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 200g mushrooms, roughly sliced
• 2 spring onions, sliced
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
• freshly ground black pepper, to taste
• Parmesan cheese, to serve

Heat the oil in a saucepan on a medium heat. Add the onion and fry until soft and translucent. Add the barley, and cook for two minutes until it is toasted (you will have to stir all the time to stop it burning).

Add the stock, mushrooms, spring onions, thyme and black pepper. Stir well and simmer for 45 minutes until the barley is tender and the stock has been absorbed.

To serve, fluff the pilaf a little with a fork. Serve topped with grated Parmesan cheese.

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On Location: Canteen (Southbank, London)

I met up with my good friend K and her adorable baby yesterday on the Southbank. After the culture, we went for a bite to eat. I had grand plans of heading into the West End or Shoreditch, but of course, these things are a little less easy with a pram. She’s actually great at getting around and doesn’t see London transport as an insurmountable obstacle with a baby in her arms, but still, it probably made sense to stay somewhere local.

This is how we ended up in Canteen. Our initial plan was to try and see if the Skylon cocktail bar served afternoon tea. For the record, it doesn’t, which is a shame as it has a great view over the river. At the back of the same building, there is a branch of Canteen , so with the heavens about to open, we popped in there.

Canteen prides itself on serving traditional British fare in a contemporary, relaxed atmosphere. The seating is a little like in a diner, although you are quite close to each other, so it is certainly intimate, but does not feel crushed.

What was pretty obvious from the menu is that there is little by way of vegetarian food. From memory, there was a vegetarian pie, and the barley dish I went for. I think that’s actually a pretty poor showing. I know that you can create a meal through the strategic ordering of side dishes, but that is something I feel is reserved for holidays in France, not going out for lunch in the centre of London. Limited choice aside, I went for barley with marjoram and roasted squash and fennel. Got to say, it was pretty good. It was well-salted, but they had just gotten it right. A nice combination of the slightly chewy barley and the soft squash. The fennel was just right – cooked, but with a little texture and plenty of light aniseed flavour. We had it with a portion of chips – perfectly good, but what had they done with the mayonnaise? One of my little habits from living in Belgium is that I quite like chips with mayo, but this stuff was gelatinous, greasy and a bit off-putting. In the interests of the greater good and love of food, I tried it. It tasted alright, but a bit oily. Then I did what I normally never do – I reached for the tomato sauce, and ate the rest of the chips with that. They need to sort out their mayo! K went for scrambled eggs (“The most yellow eggs I have ever seen”) which looked alright nad seemed to go down well. I’m not a fan of scrambled eggs, so can’t really offer my opinion.

After finishing the mains and a bit of a chat, we finished with tea and shared a cake. We took the cheesecake with hazelnut brittle. This I liked a lot. It was a baked cheesecake, which is often quite dense, but this was light, soft, fluffy and kept a good amount of tanginess from the cream cheese. The slice was massive and a but too much even for two to share, but it was a nice little treat to round off the meal. I’ve been to Canteen at Canary Wharf too, and found their carrot cake and their Victoria sponge to be good as well. Perhaps this is a sign that Canteen is somewhere to come for a quick cake and a cuppa?

Would I go back? Yes, given its location and the fact that there are a few things on the menu. There is not a huge amount of choice for vegetarians, so I am more inclines to come here if passing and hungry, rather than seeing it as a “must come” place for dinner.

Canteen Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX. Tel: 0845 686 1122. Tube: Waterloo or Embankment.

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