Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lamb and Barley Soup with a Parmesian Portabello Snack

First thing's first: I can't believe I forgot to take a picture of this wonderful stew when it was finished. Unfortunately, I can't show you the finished product, so we'll consider the cooking pictures to be teasers. I assure you, it looked like beef and barley soup is supposed to look only the beef was lamb, and it was spectacularly good.
The ingredient list is kind of long, so here's what all went into it:

  • About a quarter of a leg of lamb with bone (probably about a pound and a half of meat);
  • Three medium carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise and then into half-inch pieces;
  • Four small potatoes, cut into pieces of a similar size to the carrots;
  • One medium sweet onion, cut similarly;
  • Four cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped finely (and first);
  • Two red and one green Nardello pepper (mostly to use them, leave out or substitute any sweet pepper), chopped;
  • One red cayenne pepper, chopped finely;
  • Two stalks of celery, cut lengthwise four times and sliced rather thinly;
  • Eight white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered;
  • Half a cup of hulled barley (pearled is a fine substitute);
  • Two tablespoons Job's tears (optional);
  • Two tablespoons wild rice;
  • Two tablespoons brown rice (note: the rices are optional, but in Chinese medicine, mixing rice and barley is supposed to be very building to the system, so I usually include them in tandem when I can);
  • Four bay leaves;
  • Salt, freshly ground black pepper, Worchestershire sauce, and red wine vinegar to taste;
  • A long sprig of fresh rosemary and a handful of chives, finely chopped;
  • One bottle of beer (preferably something heavy and malty);
  • Four and a half cups of water;
  • Two to three tablespoons canola oil.
Here are all of the veggies cut up and ready to go. It's very helpful to have all of your ingredients prepared well ahead of time, although with a stew, I suppose it's not so important. I'm just in the habit, I guess. Having them this way is very helpful, however, if you want to saute the veggies first and deglaze the pan, which I usually do but didn't for this dish.
As for preparing it, I started with the lamb going into the oil and browning a little on each side. Once that was achieved, I put all of these lovely veggies except the garlic into the pan and stirred it around so that as much of it as possible got some pan time, although I wasn't aiming for perfection. After a couple of minutes, I added the garlic, bay leaves, and the beer.
Once that was in, I added the water and the grain along with a healthy amount of red wine vinegar. When all of that was in the pot, I stirred, covered the pot, and left it alone for about twenty minutes. Then I lowered the temp and added the herbs, by which point it looked like this. Right about then is when I was really starting to get hungry, and so while this did its thing, covered over medium-low heat, I whipped up a snack on the side for my wife and I: portabello mushrooms with herbs and balsamic vinegar, finished with a little Parmesian cheese (freshly grated reggiano, of course).
We ate those, mmm, and other than coming back to stir the pot occasionally, that was done and out of mind. I considered making a hearty, whole-wheat flatbread but decided against it figuring I wasn't feeding an army. It would have went perfectly with the soup, though!

A couple of hours later, there was something else to do: get the meat out of the stew and cut it up into little bite-sized pieces. I opted to cut it, instead of pulling it, because that way I could choose to go across the grain and have much more tender little morsels in there. The pieces, actually, were on par with those from the carrots and potatoes in size. It looked like this, in fact, just before I put it back into the stew:

To finish, I let the little meat bits cook in the stew for a while and get nice and saturated with the liquid. That also gave the barley, potatoes, and rice enough time to start to disintegrate a little, offering their starch into the broth to make it into a more gravy-like consistency. Finally, of course, I adjusted the seasoning (salt, pepper, and vinegar) and the served it in bowls. If more people had been around, freshly made flatbreads or (better) some nice crusty sourdough would have made the meal absolutely perfect. The lamb really gives it a nice touch being just a tad on the gamey side of red meat flavors, though not nearly so strong as venison (which makes an awesome stew of this sort also, hunters!).

You should try it, especially as the weather starts to turn a bit cooler like this. It's really wonderful!

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