Grandma’s Mushroom-Barley Soup

Preparation info

  • Makes


    Main-Course Servings
    • Difficulty


Appears in

Get in There and Cook: A Master Class for the Starter Chef

Get in There and Cook

By Richard Sax

Published 1997

  • About

This recipe is adapted from one my mother has been feeding our family for years. A small amount of dried mushrooms provides lots of flavor. This recipe looks long, but it couldn’t be easier.


  • 1 to 1½ ounces dried mushrooms (porcini, cèpes, or other)
  • 2½ to 3 pounds short ribs of beef (or meaty soup bones), cut by your butcher into 2- to 3-inch pieces, excess fat trimmed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, or as needed
  • 2 medium-large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 or 4 carrots, trimmed, peeled, and sliced ¼ inch thick
  • 2 or 3 celery ribs, trimmed (leafy tops chopped and reserved), strings removed (Celery Stringing)
  • 10 ounces fresh mushrooms, white or wild, such as shiitake, chanterelles, portobellos, or a combination (Mushroom Basics), stems trimmed flush with the caps, caps sliced ¼ inch thick, and the stems coarsely chopped
  • cup barley
  • cup dried lima beans
  • Fresh parsley stems, tied in a bundle (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley


    1. Soak the dried mushrooms in enough warm water to cover until softened, usually 20 to 30 minutes.
    2. Meanwhile, pat the beef ribs dry with paper towels. Salt and pepper them lightly. Heat the oil in a large heavy pot or casserole over medium heat. Add the ribs, working in batches if necessary to avoid crowding the pot; sauté, turning several times with tongs, until nicely browned on all sides, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer the ribs to a plate and set aside. If there are more than about 2 tablespoons of fat in the pot, discard the excess.
    3. While the ribs cook, drain the dried mushrooms over a small bowl, allowing the liquid to go through a sieve lined with a paper coffee filter or dampened paper towel. Rinse the soaked mushrooms under cold running water to remove any grit; trim and discard any tough stems. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.
    4. After the ribs are browned, make sure the fat in the pot is still hot. Add the onions, garlic, about one-third of the carrots, and half of the celery to the pan; stir. Add the chopped fresh mushroom stems and the dried mushrooms along with the soaking liquid. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables soften and begin to turn lightly golden, about 8 minutes.
    5. Return the ribs to the pot, along with any juices they have given off. Add the barley, limas, and 9 cups of water; the solid ingredients should be covered. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon (Deglazing Basics). With a skimmer or large metal spoon, skim off any froth that rises to the surface as the liquid comes to a boil.
    6. Lower the heat to maintain a steady, gentle simmer. Stir in the reserved leafy celery tops and parsley stem bundle. Partially cover and simmer until the beef is nearly tender, about 2 hours. Watch the heat and adjust if necessary; the liquid should not boil. Skim occasionally and add a little more cold water from time to time if needed to keep the solid ingredients covered.
    7. Add the remaining carrots and celery. Stir the sliced fresh mushroom caps into the soup. Again, add a little more water if needed to cover. Simmer, partially covered, until the carrots are tender, about 35 minutes longer.
    8. Remove the ribs from the soup with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate. Remove and discard the parsley stem bundle, if using. With a skimmer or large metal spoon, remove any fat from the surface of the soup. With a paring or boning knife, cut the meat away from the bones, discarding the bones. Cut the meat into bite-size pieces and return them to the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Stir most of the chopped parsley into the soup. Serve in soup bowls, sprinkling each portion with a little more chopped parsley.