After a long journey through Japan, I returned home with a craving for vegetables. I had never eaten as well as I did over there, but finding a hearty bowl of fresh veggies took some effort in the land of the rising sun. Back home, my vegetable garden had started growing without me and the shelves in the produce store were brimming with delicate Dutch spring greens. I went to my local park to forage some more, and while I was basking in the warm sun, my oven was baking a nourishing soup that brought tears of joy to my eyes. Actually, this is a recipe sans recipe. I use pearl barley as a base, because it’s so nutritious and retains its bite for a long time. Feel free to use whatever you like—farro, orzo, brown rice, or whole wheat grains; pasta is tasty too. But be sure to adjust the cooking time if you do. To prevent having to turn on the oven only for a pot of soup, I made something else with the rest of the vegetables (see the The Greenest Crustless Pie).
Pour the stock into a heavy pan, add the barley, cover, and place in the oven. Set your timer for 35 minutes and go play outside.
Taste whether the barley is almost done or needs a couple more minutes. Presoaked barley could be tender by now, unsoaked barley takes longer; almost 1 hour.
Now add all of the vegetables, except for the herbs. Generously grind black pepper on top.
Place the pan back into the oven for 8 to 10 more minutes, until everything is al dente. Stir in the herbs and spoon into large bowls. Sprinkle with some feta and a splash of oil.
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