Saturday, December 17, 2005

Recipe for Mushroom Barley Soup with Ham and Leeks

There's snow outside my window and I am getting my herbs from the grocery store, but no worries, I found a lovely package of fresh bay leaves at Wild Oats near my house. I was inspired to buy them when my herb blogging friend Mae asked a few weeks back what bay leaves are used for. "Soup, stew, and spagetti sauce," I muttered to myself. Turns out I was pretty much right. The leaves are not actually eaten, but are used to flavor dishes, usually things containing quite a bit of liquid.

When I did a little bay leaf research I found that bay leaves are the actual leaves of an evergreen type tree that grows mainly in the Mediterranean, particularly Turkey, but also in California. One internet site claimed that bay leaves, or laurel, promote good luck. Most sources mentioned the use of the leaves as a crown worn by royalty in ancient times.

The fresh bay leaves that I found appeared to be the California type, as most sources said Turkish Bay Leaves are shorter and less pointed. Some cooks prefer the Turkish ones, but the flavor of these was quite good. They were a beautiful, glossy green color. I used my fresh bay leaves to season three different kinds of soup, so I'll share one today and talk about the other two over the next few days.

Mushroom Barley Soup with Ham and Leeks
(Makes about 6 servings)

2 cups (loosely packed) dried Shitake mushrooms
1 large leek
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 T olive oil
10 cups chicken stock or water with chicken soup base
1 T Better than Bouillon mushroom base (optional but recommended)
3 fresh bay leaves or 2 dried bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups diced ham
1 cup pearl barley
2 T dried parsley
salt/pepper to taste

Put dried Shitake mushrooms in bowl and pour 2 cups boiling water over. Allow to sit 30 minutes or longer. Drain, strain water and reserve.

Trim most of green top off of leek, trim roots, cut into 1/4 inch strips and cut into small dice, then wash thoroughly and drain. In large soup pot, saute leeks in olive oil for 3 minutes, add celery and carrots and saute 3-5 minutes more.

Add strained mushroom water, chicken stock, mushroom base if using, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer 30 minutes on low heat. Add diced ham, barley, and dried parsley and simmer one hour, or until barley is completely soft and flavors are well blended. You may need to add more water during the cooking time. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot, with a drizzle of best quality balsamic vinegar if you wish.

South Beach Suggestions:
The addition of carrots, plus the use of barley in this soup would make it phase 2 or 3 for the South Beach Diet.
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  1. hi, just fyi.. the bay leaves in spain are shorter and drier i think.

  2. oh and btw this summer in galicia, i saw bay leaves everywhere and i plucked one as a bookmark and 1 month later it went into a stew I made ;)

  3. that was quick! hey, one thing, they never use it fresh here... it has to be dried..for the aroma. Is is common to use fresh bay leaves in the states?

  4. Kel, this was the first time I had used fresh bay leaf, but the internet sources I found said it is used fresh or dried, so I think it is used both ways. I am guessing you are right though that it is most commonly used dried.

  5. I think it's most commonly used dried, too. But now I have a fresh plant! Hah.
    Nice, K.

  6. Yey! a recipe for bay leaves! Thanks Kalyn. They smell gorgeous too, don't they? And yes, both my ears we're hot. LOL.

    What a great research you got which i lacking on.

    Will you be tempted now to buy a plant?

  7. Sounds good! I think Bay Leaves make almost everything taste better!

  8. Yum, what a perfectly lovely soup....especially since it's so cold up here with lots of snow.

    Thanks for sharing

  9. Those bay leaves look terrific. So nice and fresh looking! The ones I buy are very small and dried out. ;-( Your recipe looks great, too. Just the recipe for this cold weather. Thanks!


  10. Mae, I am sad to say that I don't think a bay plant will survive here in Utah where it gets so cold in the winter. I wonder if it would survive as an indoor plant? Anyone know?

  11. i remember a particularly gifted gardener friend mentioning that anywhere citrus could thrive indoors, bay would as well. haven't tried it yet, though.

    fresh bay is awesome. those leaves look beautiful and the soup sounds delicious. I am in definitely a "soup-y" sort of mood.

    Fresh bay leaves are good too in roast potatoes. The smaller red, white, orfingerlings work. cut them down the middle, not quite all the way, and tuck in a fresh bay leaf. even my low-carb friend savored two small ones with a pork roast :) if only i could learn to have such self control!

  12. I haven't tried growing Bay indoors. Hmmm. I will ask around for you. I'll keep you posted.

  13. Hi, Kalyn. I was researching fresh bay leaves for a poem, of all things, and your post was in the top three when I googled "fresh bay leaves in soup". Thought I'd say, "Hi." :-)


  14. Hi Nordette; hope you're doing well. That's fun, and such an old recipe; need to make it again and take new photos. A food bloggers work is never done!


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