I usually reserve my best soup recipes for cold days when I need to feel cozy. There’s just something about a warm, tasty soup that makes me feel comforted. This is the perfect type of year to make a nice thick soup, such as this Beef Barley Soup Slow Cooker recipe by Karen of the food blog “The Food Charlatan”.
First of all, can I just say how big of a fan of slow cookers I am? Nothing says “easy-peasy” like a recipe you throw into a slow cooker that practically cooks itself into a delicious dish. Slow cookers, or Crock-Pots, are a counter-top electrical cooking appliance used for simmering (slow cookers maintain a relatively low temperature compared with other cooking methods), which allows ‘unattended cooking’ for many hours. Slow cookers are suitable for pot roasts, stews, soups, “boiled dinners” and even dishes like dips and desserts. Raw food are placed into the slow cooker (although some recipes call for preheated liquids). The cooker lid is put on, the cooker is switched on and after a fixed time your food is done like dinner. It’s the ultimate one-pot cooker with no other messy dishes to wash afterwards. One of the advantages is that cheaper cuts of meat with connective tissues and lean muscle fiber are suitable for stewing and the slow cooking will soften the tissue without toughening the muscle.
For this beef and barley soup recipe, you can use stewing beef, which is typically a cheaper, lesser quality beef (but that doesn’t matter in the slow cooker!). You will also be adding barley, which is actually a member of the grass family (and a major cereal grain). It was one of the first grains to domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, an area of relatively abundant water, in Western Asia and near the Nile river of northeast Africa. The earliest evidence of wild barley dates back to about 8,500 BCE while the earliest domesticated barley occurred sometime before 4,200 BCE when domesticated barley was found as far as Eastern Finland. In Medieval Europe, bread made from barley was known as peasant food (while wheat products were consumed by the upper classes). Aside from being a wonderful addition to soups and stews, barley has a range of uses including as animal feed, fish feed and in beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and it has even been cultivated into an ornamental and pot plant for pet cats to nibble on.
While you can make this beef and barley soup recipe atop your stove, I recommend using the slow cooker as it gives the flavor profile a longer time to develop (about 8 hours in total). You will have to do a small bit of ‘precooking’ though. You’ll want to brown your meat first. After your meat is browned you add it to the slow cooker and then boil water in the same pan. This will allow you to get all of the flavor of the meat left in the pan. You’ll add this to the slow cooker too, along with all of your other recipe ingredients. Twice you will need to stop the slow cooker to add ingredients. At the six hour mark you’ll want to add your potatoes and carrots. An hour later you’ll add your barley. This is so that these foods don’t completely break down during the six hour cooking time. After your barley has simmered and softened, the soup is ready to be eaten (or slurped – my favorite way to eat warm, hearty soups!).