I find it quite hard to cook elaborate meals when it is very cold – never hard to eat, though! And with this horrible winter bug doing the rounds, warm, nourishing soup is the answer for my family. A favourite this week has been Mushroom Barley Soup – we wiped out a pot made for 6-8 between four of us in just one sitting!

Mushroom Barley Soup

12 cups chicken or mushroom stock (low sodium is okay)

1¼ cups pearl barley

2 bay leaves

6 dried mushrooms

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 large onion, chopped

1 cup chopped celery, including leaves

1 cup peeled and chopped carrots

2 cloves crushed garlic

500g button mushrooms, scrubbed and sliced

salt and pepper


1 Pour chicken or mushroom stock into a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir in the barley, add the bay leaves, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2 hours 15 minutes.

2 While the soup simmers, place dried mushrooms in a separate small saucepan. Add 3 cups of water to the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water boils, remove saucepan from heat and let the mushrooms soak for 20 minutes.

3 Drain the mushroom water by straining it through a coffee filter (use a mesh strainer or colander to hold the filter). Reserve the mushroom water.

Chop the soaked, softened mushrooms into small pieces and reserve.

4 Heat 2tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion to the skillet and sauté till softened.

5 Add the celery and carrots and sauté for 5 more minutes till everything is browning and starting to caramelise.

6 Add the soaked chopped dried mushroom pieces and crushed garlic, sauté for 2 more minutes. Your kitchen should smell really good right about now!

7 Scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the skillet. Pour the strained mushroom broth into the skillet, bring to a boil, stir. Cook for 2 minutes till mixture is hot and bubbly. Add the contents of the skillet to the simmering stockpot with the broth and barley.

8 Without rinsing the skillet, heat 1tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat, tilting to coat the bottom of the pan. Spread half of the sliced mushrooms in a single layer at the bottom of the skillet. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper and turn heat to high. Let the mushrooms sear without stirring.

9 After 2 minutes, stir the mushrooms continuously for another 1-2 minutes until they are seared golden brown and shrink to about half their size. Pour the seared mushrooms into the soup pot. Heat the last 1tbsp olive oil in the skillet and repeat the process for the remaining mushrooms. Add the rest of the seared mushrooms to the soup pot, stir to blend all ingredients.

10 Reduce heat to a low simmer. Let the soup cook uncovered until the 2 hours 15 minutes is up, or until the barley is completely tender and the soup is nicely thickened. Add water during the simmer if the soup becomes overly thick. At the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.