Mushroom barley soup


Jon bought some new shoes last week. On one of those days when it was raining like the monsoon, he sent me an email just after arriving at work which said that his trustworthy Sketchers had holes in the soles and his feet were wet, so he had decided it was time to buy a new pair of shoes. Since this was an important purchase, he felt that it was only right to include me in the decision making process, and he sent me two links – “what do you think of these?” he wrote. I clicked on the first one and saw a pair of shoes almost exactly identical to the ones with the hole in the sole. I clicked on the second one, then went back to the email to check the links again. Oh no, wait, I squinted at the shoes on the screen and saw what I had missed the first time: the second pair had cream stripes, the first had tan. I emailed him back saying that they were both lovely and I couldn’t decide so I would leave it up to him. Several hours went past, and then I got another email. “I bought the second pair!” it said, triumphantly. “Great!” I replied, “when you get them, can we throw the old ones away?” “Well obviously,” he said, “why else would I have bought new ones?”

The new shoes arrived a few days later and sat in their box for a week. The shoes with the hole in the sole remained by the front door, in use. Then, today, Jon opened the box and carefully removed the new shoes. “Yay!” I said, “Let’s throw the old ones away now!” I went to remove the old shoes. “NO!!!” he cried, “I haven’t tried them on yet!” So I waited while he tried on the (same model, same size) new shoes, and then while he pronounced them a perfect fit. “Great, let’s chuck the old ones. Are you wearing the new ones today?” I asked. “WHAT??” He said, shocked. “No! It might rain! I need to wear these in first before I wear them out and get them ruined. THEN we can throw away the old ones.”

Is this just a man thing? A similar thing happens in this house with soup. We have a thing called Soup of the Week. It’s a soup that we make usually on a Sunday, and it lasts for most of the week, and it means that there’s always a healthy and delicious starter on week nights. We have a number of standard soups in our repertoire which get cycled around again and again, and then some new additions every now and then, most of which are OK, but don’t make it into the top list. One of Jon’s favourite soups is mushroom barley soup. It’s warming, really tasty, fragrant and perfect for winter. Jon LOVES it. He loves it so much he doesn’t really want to eat it, and conditions have to be really quite wintery before he will allow it. I think his fear is that he will have the soup, and then the week after will turn out to be worse weather and exactly the kind of conditions which would make him want to have mushroom barley soup, but he wouldn’t want to have the same soup two weeks in a row. “What soup shall we have this week?” I will ask as we consider the weekend Waitrose trip. “Mushroom barley?” “WHAT??” Jon will say, as the snow falls outside and we shiver under blankets. “It’s not cold enough for that!” Last year, I think we only had mushroom barley soup twice, because it was never deemed quite cold or wintery enough to make it. This week, it’s not actually that cold, but it is Christmas, and Christmas means wintery and cold, even if it actually isn’t. So, mushroom barley soup is bubbling away on the hob right now, Jon’s new shoes have been placed carefully back in their box and the old ones are waiting for him by the front door, as it’s going to rain tomorrow. Happy new year!

Makes around 8 portions

  • 50g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 150g shiitake mushrooms
  • 250g portabellini mushrooms
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 250ml pearl barley
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Around 700ml vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in around 700ml boiling water.
  2. Put the pearl barley in a sieve, rinse and drain it.
  3. Finely dice the carrots, and then heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan, and add the carrots. Keep it on a medium heat and stir occasionally.
  4. While this is happening, slice the mushrooms, and add these to the saucepan.
  5. Continue stirring and cooking, add a little salt and pepper and keep going for around 5 minutes.
  6. Add the barley to the carrots and mushrooms and continue to cook on a medium-low heat.
  7. Put a layer of kitchen towel into the sieve and put the sieve over the jug of stock or another bowl. Pour the porcinis into the sieve, so that the mushrooms can be removed and the gritty bits which are always hanging around in dried mushrooms stay on the kitchen towel.
  8. Finely chop the porcinis and add them to the saucepan.
  9. Add the stock, the mushroom liquid if not already combined, and the soy sauce. Add the bay leaf.
  10. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the barley is very tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*Approximate nutritional values (1 generous bowl)*

  • Calories: 124kcal
  • Carbs: 19.3g
  • Fat: 3.25g
  • Protein: 4.1g
  • Sugar: 2.1g
  • Sodium: 643mg

*Baby friendly version*

It is easy to take a portion out of this soup before adding the salt and soy sauce. Put that in its own saucepan, and simmer as above. With the tiny diced carrots, peal barley and mushrooms this contains lots of fun textures that a baby starting out with food would probably really enjoy.


Vegetable spring rolls

A few years ago, Gordon Ramsay brought out a cookbook called 3 Star Chef. It contains lots of his recipes and secrets from his Hospital Road restaurant and when I saw it I thought, “What? Why would he bring out a book giving away all his secrets? What if people decide not to go to the restaurant anymore because they can just make it themselves?” Then I read this so-called “cookbook” and I realised why he had nothing to fear. Yes, this book has recipes and techniques for cooking, and actually some of them aren’t that difficult. But there’s no way that anyone would ever make any of them in full. Most of them have at least 3 different elements just within one part of a dish. Even if you literally had nothing to do and could devote a whole day to this, you still wouldn’t because after spending the whole day making them you wouldn’t have any energy left to entertain guests to eat them.

In a very small way (really very very small), I felt a little bit the same about starting my own food blog. If I give away all my secrets, will people still want to eat my cooking? Will people think, “nah, can’t be bothered to go to Katie and Jon’s tonight, I’ll just go on her blog and do it myself”? I don’t really think there’s much chance of this happening, but just in case, I thought I’d put a recipe up here that looks really complicated, so you’ll go, “what a complete FAFF. I’ll go to Katie’s and have it there instead.”

I absolutely love these vegetable spring rolls, and one of the best things about them is that you can make loads and shove them in the freezer, and they are actually even better when crisped up in the oven. Pre-Joe, when my mum and I were stocking my freezer with good hearty meals that we could eat in the weeks after he was born, I also made a massive bag of these to freeze. Not exactly an essential, but really nice, on those rare occasions when I could sit down to eat a whole meal without being interrupted, to have such a delicious snack or starter.

The best thing to use for these is a bag of those stir fry vegetables which you can buy ready-prepared from the supermarket. The reason they work well, apart from the convenience, is that they give a good mix of vegetables, and if you prepared all the vegetables yourself then you would have to make hundreds of spring rolls, as 1 carrot, 1 pepper, 1 bag of beansprouts, etc, would make a lot of filling.

I find that one bag weighing about 300g will make between 8 and 10 spring rolls, depending on how full you like them, and of course how big your spring roll wrappers are. I use wrappers which are around 20cm square (I think they are actually 215mm) – you can buy bigger and smaller, but these are the ones that I think work best. When I am making these, I tend to buy 3 or 4 bags of vegetables, and do a whole load in one go.

All you do is stir fry the vegetables, using a very little bit of oil. I also add a lot of grated ginger, because I like it, and plenty of soy sauce. You can add any seasoning you like, but the two important things to remember are (1) that by the time you are finished you don’t want to have any liquid remaining in the pan with the vegetables, as this could make your spring rolls go soggy, and (2) all the flavours that you want your spring roll to have need to go in to the vegetables. Obviously  you can dip your spring roll in any sauce you like, but the wrapper itself doesn’t add any flavour, so if your vegetables are under seasoned and tasteless then the spring roll will be the same.

I like to fry these in a very little bit of oil, turning all the time so that they crisp up evenly and on all sides. Jon always wants to experiment – “why don’t we BAKE them? Why don’t we try DEEP frying them?” but I’m like, “can we please just not ruin these spring rolls that I’ve spent ages folding, and do it the way we know?” So I haven’t tried either just baking or deep frying. Obviously deep frying would work, but I don’t want to do anything as unhealthy as that (and then what do you do with the oil, anyway? Yuk.) Baking, after brushing with oil, may work but I’m not sure if it would be as tasty. If you’re planning to do either of those things, please invite Jon over to try it with you.

Once you have stirfried the vegetables and made sure that no liquid remains, put them in a bowl and let them cool.

Crack an egg and put the white into a small flat dish – you will use this to seal the spring rolls.

Then take one spring roll wrapper, and put a small heap of vegetables in the corner of the pastry:

Then start rolling:

Then fold one side in to the middle:

Then fold the other side and continue to roll, until you just have a small flap remaining:

Then dab a little egg white on that flap, and roll it up and stick it down.

Fry, then eat or freeze.

(Shhhh… it’s really easy)

*Approximate nutritional values (1 spring roll)*

  • Calories: 99kcal
  • Carbs: 11g
  • Fat: 6g
  • Protein: 0g
  • Sugar: 1g
  • Sodium: 305mg

*Baby-friendly version*

These are perfect for babies (you can fill them with anything) but can be a little crispy if, like Joe, your baby doesn’t have many teeth. You could use Vietnamese wrappers instead, which are soft and don’t require cooking.