For as long as I can remember, I've always loved beef and barley soup.
I'll admit to eating the Campbell's condensed version for a long time, until I discovered un-condensed versions but those were still canned.
In recent years, I've been on a quest to find the perfect beef and barley soup, ideally one that doesn't come from a can.
In Great Falls, my favorites so far can be found at Bar S and Bert and Ernie's, but I've recently been making my own using a recipe from America's Test Kitchen. Their version calls for mushrooms, tomato paste, parsley and quick-cooking barley. I've tweaked mine some since I hate mushrooms and don't have quick-cooking barley and I use parsley so infrequently that I almost never buy it and often just leave it out.
Their recipe also calls for two tablespoons of tomato paste. I followed the recipe the first time and to us, it was far too tomatoey (I know that's not a word, go with it).
Last time I made it, I cut the tomato paste roughly in half and it was close to perfect.
I'm making it again tonight and am going to try cutting the tomato paste a bit more and see if that leads to perfection. I'll probably experiment with a few other recipes on my search for the perfect beef and barley soup.
Honestly, I can't imagine a more perfect soup for cold, winter nights. It takes time, but it's not particularly tricky and is quite possibly, my most beloved comfort food.
Here's my version of the recipe. Disclaimer, I tend not to follow measurements precisely and do things a bit different every time, so consider this more of a guide than anything. Also, this is designed to serve two people. If you need a larger batch, you can probably multiply accordingly.
Ingredients Blade steak, trimmed and cut into small bites. I tend to use about a pound of meat, or whatever is in the grocery store pack. I've also done this with other types of beef and will likely be trying it with chuck roast tonight.
Salt and pepper
Vegetable oil for browning
Carrots, peeled and cut into small bites. I use anywhere from two to five carrots, depending on what's in my fridge and my mood.
1 small onion, chopped
Tomato paste (original calls for two tablespoons, but I use less)
3 garlic cloves, minced (I usually use more, I like garlic)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups beef broth + 2 cups chicken broth
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 cup barley
+ Boil water and begin cooking barley about 30 minutes before you start browning meat, if using regular barley like I do. I like mine more tender, so I cook it longer in total.
+ Season beef pieces with salt and pepper, heat oil in medium pan over medium-high heat. I use my 3-quart Dutch oven. Brown beef on all sides, transfer to bowl.
+ Add carrots and onions to fat left in pan and cook about 8 minutes, until they've started to brown. Add in garlic, thyme, tomato paste and cook about one minute.
+ Pour in broth and soy sauce, scrape bits from bottom of pot and stir in the beef and accumulated juices. Stir in barley and bring to simmer. Cover and cook for about an hour or until barley reaches your preferred level of doneness.
I'm constantly tweaking recipes, so I might update this as a I perfect it, but if you try it and find helpful hints, feel free to share! It's perfect for snowy nights like the one we're having here now in Great Falls. It's late for snow to finally kick in here, but I'm a little bit okay with it.