Sorrel-Flavored Mushroom Barley Soup

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield: About



Appears in

“A bread of affliction,” the Passover Haggadah calls it. And the first matzoh probably was. Made of barley flour, like the Hebrew breads at that time, it was dense and tooth-defying. As the lighter, more delicate wheat flour became available, baked goods made of barley flour took on an air of poverty and deprivation, gradually losing favor among Jews.

Not so fluffy barley kernels. For soups and pilafs, where it offers a creamy, risottolike richness, barley has remained a kitchen staple. Jewish cooks classically combine it with earthy dried mushrooms to accent the grain’s toasted nut taste.

Meaty mushrooms provide the base for this full-bodied vegetarian soup. I use tart sorrel to play up the sweet barley and dairy flavors. Add buttermilk for a fresh light dish; rich palates will choose instead a dollop of sour cream.


  • ½ cup pearl barley
  • About 2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • ¾ pound onions, chopped (3 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About ½ pound carrots, finely chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped, or 2 cups coarsely chopped fennel
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • ½ cup dry red wine
  • A few fresh thyme sprigs, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ cup finely chopped shallots, or 1 cup chopped onions plus 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 cups tightly packed fresh sorrel (about 6 ounces), washed well, stems removed, and leaves coarsely shredded (sorrel leaves should be crisp, bright, and unwilted—avoid torn or yellow leaves or those with wet or soft spots; sorrel can be stored 1–2 days in perforated bags in the refrigerator)
  • Sour cream or buttermilk
  • Chopped fresh dill, for garnish


  1. The night before, or several hours prior to starting the soup, soak the barley in a bowl with cups of cold water. (Barley soaked for 5–6 hours will cook in about 15 minutes in the soup. Unsoaked barley will absorb a great deal of the soup liquid while cooking, so if you don’t have time to soak it, parboil it in about cups of water for about 20 minutes, then drain and add to the soup when called for in the recipe.)
  2. Start the mushroom stock. Put the porcini in a large, heatproof bowl and add 4 cups of hot water. Cover and set aside for about 45 minutes to soften. Drain the mushrooms through a strainer lined with paper towels or a coffee filter, reserving all the soaking liquid. Wash the mushrooms under cold water to remove any remaining grit, then chop them coarsely and set aside.
  3. While the porcini are soaking, in a 6-quart Dutch oven or large, heavy saucepan, sauté the onions in the butter and 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderately high heat. Stir occasionally at first, then more frequently as they begin to caramelize, until they are very fragrant and colored a rich butterscotch gold, about 15 minutes. Salt and pepper lightly, then add the carrots, celery or fennel, and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are softened and dotted with gold and deep bronze, 10–15 minutes. Wipe the shiitakes clean with a damp paper towel. Cut off the stems flush with the caps. Slice the caps thinly and set them aside, covered with plastic wrap, for finishing the soup. Trim off and discard the tough woody end of the stems. Slice the stems and add them to the sautéed vegetables along with the wine, and cook for 3–4 minutes. Add the porcini soaking liquid, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste, bring to a boil, and then simmer gently, partially covered, for about 1 hour. Strain the mixture through a wire mesh strainer into a large bowl, pressing down hard on the solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids and set the strained mushroom stock aside.
  4. Wash out the saucepan and dry it thoroughly. In it heat the shallots (or alternatively the onions and garlic) in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil (or use 1 tablespoon each of butter and oil) until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved sliced shiitake caps and sauté over moderately high heat until they’re nutty and aromatic and bronzed at the edges. Stir in the soy sauce and chopped porcini and cook over high heat for about 3 minutes, evaporating all the liquid. Add the reserved mushroom stock. Drain the barley and add it, along with the sorrel and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15–20 minutes, or until the barley is very tender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  5. To serve, spoon a dollop of sour cream into each bowl, then ladle in the soup, stirring until smooth. Or gently warm some buttermilk (don’t let it boil or it will curdle) and stir 3–4 tablespoons of it into each bowl of hot soup. When enriched with buttermilk, the soup is also delightfully refreshing served tepid, so you need not go to the trouble of heating the buttermilk on sultry summer days. Garnish with chopped dill.