I promised you soup yesterday. And pictures too. I do want to warn you that there’s also a favor I need to ask, but we’ll get to that later.
First, let’s eat.
Timing’s a bit off because this is a soup for a cold night when the first wafts of fireplace fill the brisk air. Instead, today was sunny and nearly 70 degrees here in Boston. One of those open-all-the-doors-and-windows kind of days. But soup I wanted, and soup I made.
This whole thing started with a mushroom wheat berry soup at a favorite cafe. The soup was dark-colored and light-flavored, rich with mushroom-y earthiness. The wheat berries, surpassing barley and farro along the firm and chewy spectrum, gave the soup enough heft to be filling but not so much as to be heavy. And a sprinkle of dill brightened the whole thing up. I was determined to recreate the soup while its aroma and texture and flavor was still fresh in my memory, weather be damned. Which is how we got to where we are today.
I realize that this soup might sound like a certain other soup I made last week, what with the mushrooms and ancient grains and all. But that one was barley soup with mushroom. This one is mushroom soup with wheat berries. (Barley and farro would work well here too.)
Here’s what makes this a soup with grains rather than a grain soup: I cooked the grains and the soup separately. If you cook the grains in the soup, you get a starch soup. If you cook the grains in advance (or in parallel) and then drain them of their starchy water, you get a broth with chunks of vegetables, slices of mushrooms, and nuggets of wheat berries.
I’m sure you’re probably thinking that it’s a pain to pre-cook the wheat berries, but hear me out. Wheat berries take a bit of time to cook, generally at least an hour and often with an overnight soak first (though the brand I used was parboiled and only took about 15 minutes), so it’s great to have them on hand when you have a craving. Cook up a big batch and keep some in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for many weeks. (This works particularly well if you recently made some extra space in your freezer by using up those blueberries that you tucked away over the summer). Pull the grains out in the next few days or weeks to top a salad, throw in a soup, or bolster up some vegetables.
While we’re on the subject of cooking grains, here’s where the favor comes in. I know you were searching for it, skipping past the pictures, scrolling down the text. So I’ll repeat it: here’s where favor comes in.
Click on the picture of the wheat berries and take a close look. See how they’re split? The same thing happens whenever I make barley and farro. I can’t seem to figure out how to get those beautiful, smooth little kernels that everyone else seems to achieve with ease. Mine always end up popped open, their fluffy little insides spilling out.
Can anyone tell me the secret to cooking up perfect grains? I have a pantry full of wheat berries, farro, and barley waiting.
Mushroom soup with wheat berries
This soup is adapted from Smitten Kitchen who made it with farro and who adapted it from the New York Times‘s Marian Burros who made it with barley. Rather than cooking the grains in the soup, I cooked them in advance. As for the best way to cook the wheat berries, well, that’s where I need your help. For now, I’m just following the directions on the bag I bought, but hopefully I’ll figure this out soon (hint hint).
A few notes on ingredients that you may not have lying around. I used one tablespoon of tomato paste which gives the soup a richer flavor. If you don’t feel like opening a can, you can skip it. I keep in my freezer a bag of tablespoon-sized cubes of tomato paste that I froze in an ice cube tray way back when. If you don’t have sherry, I’ve heard that you can replace it with half the amount of cider vinegar. Try it and let me know how it works out. If you don’t have a bunch of fresh herbs sitting around, add a few pinches of dry dill. It will be almost as good. Or add your favorite herbs – thyme would work great here.
Makes about 6 cups
- 1/2 C dried or 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries (or farro, pearled barley, or spelt)
- 1/2 cup dried mushrooms like porcini
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium carrot
- 2 stalks celery
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 lb mushrooms (I used 1/2 white button and 1/2 cremini)
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 T tomato paste
- 4 C vegetable (or other) stock
- 1/4 C dry sherry
- Salt and pepper to taste
- handful of parsley (~1/4 C chopped)
- handful of dill (~1/4 C chopped)
Make grains. Follow the directions on your wheat berries package. The brand I bought is parboiled, so it only took about 15 minutes to make. Most recipes, such as this one, suggest first rinsing the grains, then simmering them in water (3:1 ratio) for about an hour. I’ll get back to you once I get a good method down.
Soak. Boil 1 1/2 cups of water. Cover dried mushrooms with the water, and set aside for 20 minutes. When the mushrooms have softened, drain them and reserve the liquid (you’ll be straining it and then adding it to the soup later). Finely chop the mushrooms.
Chop. Finely chop the onion, carrot, and celery. Slice the fresh mushrooms.
Sauté. Heat the oil in heavy-bottomed deep pot. Sauté onion, celery, and carrot over medium heat until onions begin to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 minutes, until they begin to release liquid. Keep sautéing until the mushrooms reabsorb their liquid. Add the re-hydrated chopped mushrooms and the tomato paste. Strain the reserved mushroom liquid to remove any grit and add it to the pot. I used a coffee filter in a manual drip coffee cone for this. Scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any browned bits that are stuck.
Simmer. Add the vegetable stock and sherry and adjust the heat so the soup comes to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the cooked wheat berries, simmering for just a few more minutes until the grains warm up.
Sprinkle. Chop up the parsley and dill and stir into the soup, reserving a few pinches to garnish each bowl.