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Hometown Recipes: Beef, Barley And Onion Soup

By Erin Walgamuth

A couple of years ago I bought myself a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday. As a child I watched Julia’s cooking show with my Mother on hot summer afternoons. The show was a favorite distraction and the family room a cool respite from the heat of the valley and the ineffective efforts of our swamp cooler. We would sit on the couch side by side in the darkened family room, snack in hand and watch the lovely lady. Years later my mom also watched The Galloping Gourmet, but as I was too young to appreciate the virtues of drinking wine I preferred Julia.

The following soup was inspired by the chilly weather and the Onion Soup recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I love the deeply flavored onions but wanted to make a beef and barley version. Last weekend I experimented on my unsuspecting sister and brother-in-law. Well, fortunately the soup was wonderful and I will make it again and again. So, I thought you might enjoy it too.


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This recipe definitely requires some of your time, but is so well worth it. I set aside an hour and a half in the late afternoon to make this. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that while the onions are cooking you can be doing other projects in the kitchen.

I used stew meat for this recipe as it is fairly inexpensive and typically flavorful (The most common cut in stew meat is chuck). I sliced off all of the fat and then cut into spoon friendly size cubes. If you don’t mind the expense you could use tenderloin, but I am on a budget!

Beef, Barley and Onion Soup

Serves 6 generously

Total time is about 1 ½ hours

You will need a heavy bottomed 4 quart pot with a tight fitting lid and a 11-12” skillet.

I use an enameled cast iron Dutch oven for this soup. You can purchase them at Home Goods, Wal-Mart, Target and Macy’s. I highly recommend them as they are extremely versatile and if you take good care of yours you can hand it down to your children. I use mine for roasting and braising meats, roasting chicken and making soups and stews!

For the onions-

2 large yellow onions, about 1pound 12oz total
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

For the soup-

2-32oz containers of beef broth
½ cup of uncooked pearl barley
1 ½ pounds of raw stewing beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil

Cut stem ends off of onions. Cut onions in half length wise. Remove skins and discard. Place onion halves cut side down on cutting board. Slice onions in half length wise. Thinly slice onions from end to end. You will have approximately 8 cups of sliced onion.

Put 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil in pot and turn heat to low to melt butter. Add onions to melted butter and oil. Stir to incorporate and sprinkle 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar over onions. Stir to incorporate. Put lid on pot and cook on low, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes. Remove lid and turn heat to medium. Stir onions often until they are a deep beige color. This will take about 30 minutes. If you have more time you can let the onions go to a deep brown color which should take another 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the beef broth and bring to a brisk simmer. Add barley and simmer until tender and chewy, which takes about 40 minutes.

While the barley is simmering remove fat from stewing beef and cut into spoon size cubes. Put beef in a medium bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and the thyme leaves, toss to incorporate.

Put 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet and turn heat to medium. Sautee the seasoned beef in three to four batches adding the rest of the oil when necessary until medium rare or to your liking. Put sautéed beef in a bowl to hold until all beef is cooked. Use a slotted spoon to add beef to the soup pot when barley is finished cooking. Turn off heat, put the lid on the pot and let soup sit for about 5 minutes. Beef should be hot at this point and the soup ready to serve.

I hope you enjoy this delicious soup!

Erin Walgamuth has been an assistant Food Stylist for television and print for the past 26 years and writes this column using her own recipes. Check out her other creations in our Hometown Recipe section.

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