Wednesday, January 13, 2010
a new year and yogurt-barley soup
I've had this soup recipe since forever. Last time I made it, earlier this week, it was even better than I'd remembered; maybe I've found the exact right moment of the year to eat it. It does make a perfect New Year tonic: soothingly creamy, rich enough to stand up to winter but with the healthy tang of yogurt, extremely simple to make but just enough offbeat spice (offbeat to this American palate, anyway) to remain interesting.
To make the soup, you saute some onion and garlic in olive oil, then stir in some spices, chopped scallions, and cooked barley. It occurred to me this time that you could stop right there and have a pretty nice side dish:
But today we're making soup. So to the barley you then add a mixture of broth, yogurt, and beaten egg, and heat ever so gently until it gets thick and velvety. Sprinkle on some chopped mint and serve. See? I told you it was easy.
I can't remember where I got the recipe--probably from some cookbook that I borrowed from the library way back in high school. Like all the other cool kids, I spent quite a lot of Saturday nights back then copying out intriguing-sounding recipes from library cookbooks. What, that's not what the cool kids at your high school did on Saturday nights?
My notes say that this is the soup that Armenian mamas make for their children when they are sick, and while I can't vouch for the reliability of my long-forgotten source, I can vouch for the reliability of the soup. It'll cure what ails you, especially if what ails you is January.
Armenian Yogurt-Barley Soup (Tanabour)
Traditionally this soup contains ground lamb, but I have always made this vegetarian version. If you add meat, you will probably want to cut the amount of barley down some.
1 C (a generous one) pearled barley
4 C water
1/2 tsp salt
3 T olive oil
1 small onion
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp white pepper
4 C vegetable stock
3 C plain yogurt
2 T finely chopped fresh mint (or 1 T dried, or, uh, one peppermint tea bag, supposing your mint died back at the end of summer and what was in your spice cabinet turned out to be horribly stale)
In a large saucepan, bring the barley, water, and salt to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, until the barley is plenty tender--about 45 minutes. (You could do this part ahead, of course.)
When the barley has been cooking for about 25 or 30 minutes, start heating the olive oil in a large soup pot. Finely chop the onion and add it to the oil. Peel the garlic and mince it if that's the way you roll, or press it if you're like me--either way, add it to the pot. Saute the onion and garlic over medium-low heat until they are soft but not brown.
Meanwhile, slice the scallions (white and some of the green parts) thinly. Get your spices out and measure them into a small bowl so they're handy. When the onion and garlic are nice and soft, stir in the spices and the scallions.
The barley should be done right about now. Turn it into the soup pot, along with any water that hasn't been absorbed, and stir together. Turn off the heat.
Crack the two eggs into a large bowl and beat them lightly with a whisk. Add the stock and yogurt to the bowl and whisk together. Then gradually stir this mixture into the soup pot. Heat slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until thickened. Absolutely do not boil, or the soup will curdle. The recipe says that this step takes 10 minutes, but I am going to be honest with you, if you're being really careful about the not-boiling thing, it's probably going to be longer, maybe more like 20.
Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle a little bit of mint over each one.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.