I've made several variations on this soup so far this winter, but have been feeling shy about posting, since there's something sort of semi-homemade about it that the food snob in me rebels against. But then I remember that I'm not actually a food snob, just a food enjoyer with capital-O Opinions, one of which is that there's nothing wrong with the concept of semi-homemade, just the frequently execrable horrors our Attorney General's girlfriend pulls out of her ass.
[eta: Yes, it's true. NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is totally sittin' in a tree with Sandra Lee.]
It's a fairly basic vegetable soup, but for ease of preparation I use frozen vegetables instead of chopping fresh ones, canned tomatoes, purchased stock and then some cheese for added calcium, protein and deliciousness. And in fairness to me, frozen vegetables, particularly out of season, are often better, both taste and nutrient-content-wise, especially spinach, since it's often frozen at peak freshness. Here's the cast of characters, minus the onion and garlic, which I think were already in the pan by this point:
I wouldn't normally have used reduced-fat cheese, but I was shopping at the ghetto-tastic C-Town in my neighborhood and there just weren't a lot of options for shredded cheese. (Sure there were plenty of non-shredded cheeses, but the whole point of this recipe is that it requires almost no effort) It was either reduced-fat from a reputable dairy (Cabot, in this case), or some really dicey, bright orange generic stuff that scared me a little. I wouldn't recommend the reduced-fat stuff though; it tasted fine but seemed oddly sticky when it melted and I had a bitch of a time washing any bowls or utensils I used. Still, I stand by my choice, even though it turned out to be a false economy and shredding some cheese would have taken far less time than all of the scrubbing I ended up doing.
First step, chop an onion and brown it. Then I've been adding the barley to the pot with the garlic to toast a bit before adding any liquid, but I'm not sure it actually does anything.
After the garlic is softened, I add the tomatoes and juice, then fill the can about half full with water and add that too. I prefer a lot of broth, so like to add a lot of liquid up front for the barley to soak up, plus you get to use every last drop of tomato juice. Then I add the vegetables, which is usually one bag of mixed stuff and one bag of something else, in this case, lima beans. I add about half of the box of broth and simmer until it comes to a boil, then add the rest of it , along with half a bag of frozen spinach.
Sure, you could stop here. Make sure the barley is cooked through and have at it. But what fun would that be?
I have found that 2 cups is the ideal amount of cheese and, happily, the size that most shredded cheese packages come in. For one batch, I was using some Trader Joe's cheese and because he's the best grocery store boyfriend a girl could ask for, the cheese came in three-cup packages but I wasn't paying attention and added it all in. And it was too much. Yes, really. So just pay attention and you'll be fine.
After all of the cheese is in and melted, the soup will look something like this:
It makes a lot, it's really tasty, and there's cheese. That's what you call win-win-win.
Easy Vegetable-Barley Soup
1 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. barley
28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
4-c. box of chicken broth
bag of mixed frozen vegetables
package of lima beans
1/2 package of frozen spinach
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
Over medium heat, brown the onion in butter, then add garlic and barley. Cook until garlic softens. Add tomatoes and juice, then fill can 1/2 full of water and add. Add approximately half of the broth, the vegetables and the lima beans. When soup reaches a boil, add the rest of the broth and the spinach and reduce heat. When barley is cooked through, add the cheese by the handful, stirring until it melts before adding more. Done!
[originally posted on my old food blog 1.20.2009]