Wild Mushroom and Barley Soup

There’s something special about mushrooms. Their deeply earthy scent and taste feel so nourishing. Dried mushrooms have an especially strong flavor, and make a lovely broth for soups that imparts a delectably pungent taste, sure to please any fungi-lover.

I’ve been in denial about the coming of winter. Now that I’ve finally opened my stubborn eyes to the change of seasons, it’s practically Christmas. I’ve decided to stop being a Grinch and post some seasonal recipes. I’m not sure what threw my timing off so much this year, but I would venture to guess that spending a good part of my year in beautiful but ever-rainy Portland had something to do with it. The seemingly endless months of rain had this California girl clinging to every last sunshine filled day 2011 had to offer. I blinked and the year was over, the sun was going to bed early, and it’s finally time to cook some comfort food.

I don’t know that I’d relegate a mushroom soup simply to fall winter duty, but something about the woody scent of mushroom and hearty texture of barley makes me think of wood fires and blanket snuggles. We ate this soup often when we were in Portland, and the chilly weather reminded of of how great a belly full of hot soup is when you’ve just trekked home in the cold. We were buying this soup pre-made from the local Whole Foods when in Oregon, because buying it ready made was much more efficient than navigating through rented pots, and barren cupboards. The Whole Foods version was so delicious that I’ve been craving it ever since. I’m pleased to say – this version is just as good!

For this recipe I chose a 2 ounce assortment of dried mushrooms. The mix was equal parts porcini, chanterelle, and shiitake. I also added a few ounces of fresh shiitakes to the mix for good measure, and some textural variety. Changing out the mushroom mix won’t alter the cooking method or time, so use whatever pleases your palate here. Just be sure that you use something strongly flavored as a base.


  • 1 quart good quality beef stock (vegetable or chicken work as well)
  • 2 ounces assorted dried mushrooms (such as shiitake, porcini and chanterelle)
  • 4-6 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms or other strongly flavored variety (cleaned and diced)
  • 1/2 cup dry pearl barley
  • 1 yellow onion (diced)
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 2 ribs celery, leaves included (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (fine mince)
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste


(Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse and about 15 other random internet recipes. It’s a mutt, folks)

  • Heat 3 cups water to boiling, and pour over dried mushrooms in a heat proof bowl. Allow to steep for 20 minutes while you begin to prepare the rest of the ingredients
  • Heat dutch oven or large heavy bottomed pot to medium heat
  • Add butter and allow to melt
  • Stir in olive oil to keep the butter from burning
  • Add chopped fresh mushrooms and cook til they release their water, about 4 minutes
  • Add barley and allow to toast in oil for 1 minute, stirring often. (This helps bring out the nutty flavor in the barley)
  • Add carrot, celery and onion and cook til the veggies begin to take on some color, about 3-4 minutes
  • Add garlic and stir
  • Add 1 quart broth and bring to a simmer
  • Tie herbs into a bouquet garni and add to pot
  • Remove dried mushrooms from steeping (reserving liquid), coarse chop and add to soup
  • Pour mushroom steeping liquid into soup, being careful to stop before the sand at the bottom makes it’s way into the soup
  • Simmer for 45 minutes or until barley is tender
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve with grated hard cheese such as parmigiana reggiano and crusty bread.

Recipe Notes:

I like my soups a little brothy. If you’d prefer something a bit thicker, increase pearl barley to 2/3 cup.

This soup reheats really well, but will thicken as it sits in the fridge. Barley pearls are thirsty little buggers, and continue to absorb liquid. Add a bit of broth as necessary when reheating.