When I think about all of the Sunday afternoons of my childhood, what comes to mind is our lunches: soup and sandwiches. I’m not sure just how often we actually ate it, but from where I stand now it seems like it was pretty much every week. It was always the perfect just-home-from-church meal. Having soup and sandwiches for lunch meant a can or two of some variety of Campbell’s soup and grilled cheese sandwiches slathered with honey. Yes, I said honey. Not just any honey. Raw honey from Wyoming. Amazing. Ah but I digress. This post is about soup.
As a kid, there were only one or two soups that I cared for. I was never a big fan of chicken noodle, unless it was mom’s homemade soup with dad’s noodles from scratch. Over the years my tastes would change, but for most of that time my favorite soup was Campbell’s Vegetable Beef. I loved the soft chunks of carrots and bits of potato, but mostly I loved, loved, loved the barley. I would try to scoop out as much barley as I could without being obvious about it.
Over the past few years I’ve made my own version of Vegetable Beef soup, changing the ingredients depending on what was in the pantry. The only “recipe” that I had was a scribbling of what herbs to add and what the barley-to-broth ratio should be. When I got a few requests for the recipe I decided to write it down and make it official.
One of the things I do love about this soup is how flexible it is. I’ve tried different combinations of vegetables (see the notes section at the end of the recipe) and it’s always great. If I’m wanting more of a stew I’ll only add in two cans of beef broth (plus the one cup of water.) The barley soaks up the liquids and makes a lovely thick and hearty soup. To stretch the soup (or if I’m serving a crusty loaf of bread along side) I’ll add in the third or even a fourth can of beef broth – perfect for sopping up with the bread!
Vegetable Beef Soup with Barley
1 lb stew meat **
2-3 Tbsp flour
1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
2 or 3 (14.5 oz) cans beef broth (total about 5 to 6 cups)
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
4 carrots, sliced
1 small onion, large dice/small chop
1-2 stalks of celery, large dice/small chop
1/4 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup pearl barley (use 3/4 cup if you LOVE barley)
1 small zuchinni, large dice/small chop
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Cut meat into 2-inch chunks. Place flour in a large ziplock bag. Add in beef chunks and shake to coat with flour. Heat oil in large dutch oven or soup pot, over medium high heat. Remove beef chunks from ziplock (shaking gently to remove excess flour) and place in hot pot. Brown beef on one or two sides. (What you’re doing here is developing flavors, NOT cooking the beef.) Add 1 cup of beef broth to the pot, and use a spoon to scrape up bits on bottom of pan (that’s called fond and it adds wonderful depth of flavor to your soup.) Add the canned tomatoes and the rest of the beef broth. Cover and simmer (not boil!) on medium-low for 1 hour.
Add onion, carrots, celery, barley, zucchini, thyme, and bay leaf (all remaining ingredients except peas) and 1 cup of water. Simmer on medium-low for 1 hour or until beef and barley are tender. Taste soup and add salt and pepper to your liking. Add peas and simmer for 5 additional minutes to heat through.
I rarely buy meat that is cut and marked as “stew meat.” It is usually more expensive because you are paying for the butcher to cut it up for you into nice little pieces. I watch for large roasts to go on sale and then I buy several. I cut them up myself and then freeze them into 1 lb packages – perfect for soups and stews!
For the vegetables in this soup you can really use anything. Try adding small potato chunks, frozen/canned corn, frozen/canned green beans and even mushrooms. My favorite though is the combination I used in the recipe above.