I had a rustic spelt and vegetable soup when out for lunch recently and loved it so much that I knew I had to try and recreate it. It contained the grain spelt, which I had never eaten in grain form before, only ground as flour in bread, but it had a lovely nutty flavour. I searched the supermarket shelves eagerly, looking for the elusive grain but to no avail. The closet match I could see was pearl barley which looked remarkably similar, and I decided that would have to do. I wanted to keep the rustic appearance of the soup and so diced all the veg to a similar size and then cooked it in vegetable stock with some thyme and chili for extra flavour.
I was curious to see how the pearl barley would turn out, as I admit to never having tasted it before, I’m not sure why. I think its just one of those grains that’s seen as being a bit old fashioned and dare I say it ‘poor’ and as a result it often get bypassed on the shelves in favour of the more fashionable grains such as Arborio rice. However, I tell you all, if you too have been skimming over this humble grain, you’ve been missing out. It had the same nutty flavour as spelt and had a wonderful texture, plump grains with slightly fluffy edges. There was a little bounce to each pearl that sort of popped when you bit into it (sounds odd but you’ll understand what I mean if you try it). Along with all the different veg and the flavoursome stock it really made for a warming and enjoyable lunch. Pearl barley you’re my find of the month – I’ll be using you again soon!
Country Vegetable & Pearl Barley Soup
2 medium potatoes
½ tin Sweetcorn
100g pearl barley
1 green chili
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 litre vegetable stock
1 tsp dried thyme
Peel and chop the onions, carrots and potatoes into a 2cm dice. Dice the courgette and wash and slice the leek into rounds.
Cut the chili in half, remove the seeds and finely chop.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pan and then fry the onion until soft.
Add the rest of the diced veg (expect the Sweetcorn), thyme, chili and vegetable stock.
Stir in the pearl barley, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover with the lid and allow to cook for 45 minutes to 1hour until the veg is tender and the pearl barley plump.
Stir through the Sweetcorn for the final 15 minutes before serving in warmed bowls with crusty bread for dipping.
Serves 6 – 8