healthy slow-cooker recipe of the week: beef, barley, and mushroom stew

This week's healthy slow-cooker recipe features barley, a yummy and healthy grain. I especially love the chewy texture.

Barley is one of the four oldest grains to be cultivated by humans.* Unfortunately, whole-grain barley is difficult to find. The more common pearl barley is not a whole grain. I haven't found a convenient place to buy whole-grain barley, so I reluctantly use the pearl version. It's just as tasty and contains fibre, but lacks the full-impact health benefits of whole grains.

I don't know if it's cultural predisposition, being raised on mushroom-barley soup as I was, but to me barley's natural partner is mushrooms. I prefer the cremini variety, but you could use any kind you like.

This recipe was adapted from my friend and cooking guru Matthew Bin. I got the barley idea from Matt, but I suspect this version would be too mushroomy for him.

2 lbs. beef cubes, preferably locally sourced and traditionally raised
1 large onion, chopped or run through food processor
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or food processor
1 large carrot, sliced
1 large rib of celery, chopped
16-20 cremini mushrooms, sliced or quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
1 cup barley
3 cups low-sodium beef broth
1/2 cup of red wine
salt & pepper

Brown the beef on all sides, put in cooker, cover.

Soften the vegetables in olive oil, one type of vegetable at a time, or skip this step. Add vegetables to cooker.

Add broth and wine, season with thyme and S&P according to your preference.

Cook for about 4 hours on low.

Add barley, stir, cook for another 4 hours on low. If it's too thick, add more broth.

* The other three are wheat, rice, and millet. Corn and quinoa came much later in Mesoamerica and the Andes, respectively.


johngoldfine said...

I was raised on mushroom and barley soup too, but my mother always used leftover lamb and added cream at the end--she called it Scotch Broth, but a quick google shows me no Scotch Broth with cream, so... just one more mystery in the thick catalog of them Ma left us with.

Even though lamb is no longer on our table (Jean is a vegetarian), I still make a cream of mushroom and barley soup, and in Ma's honor call it Scotch Broth, not sure why.

laura k said...

Interesting! Even though my family didn't keep kosher, passed-down recipes would never mix meat and dairy. Was your mother Jewish?

My mother was never a great cook, but her mushroom-barley soup was one thing she made that I absolutely loved. I tried to make it, but it never worked.

So last summer when she was visiting, we made it together, and I wrote down what we did.

I got the idea from M@ (aforementioned cooking guru), who was cooking with his Chinese father-in-law, and (I believe) recreating his Italian family dishes too.

It was really fun to cook together and the soup was AMAZING.

I can't remember if I blogged about this at the time.

johngoldfine said...

My mother was Jewish, in that her parents (and particularly her mother, of course) were Jews. But already in the first decades of the 20th Century, the family was largely secular and deracinated.

My mother was an excellent cook, but how she came to be one is another of those mysteries I'll never solve, since the kitchens of her youth were ruled by Irish cooks. Maybe she schmoozed below stairs, though that wasn't her adult M.O. Anyway, the Irish cooks were not likely versed in Kashrut so meat and dairy mixed were probably as much a part of her diet as a girl as they were of mine as a boy.

laura k said...

Ah, even more interesting.

We didn't keep kosher, and my mother wasn't even raised in a kosher home. We ate anything we wanted out - Chinese food, ribs, cheeseburgers, and especially shellfish.

But at home, there were some things that my grandmother and mother would never do. They didn't mix meat and dairy, and they never cooked pork in any form. Ever never. I guess it was just beyond the pale to them - going too far.

My grandmother used to make split pea soup with slices of kosher hot dogs in it, which I later realized was a substitute for ham.