Lentil Barley Soup

It’s 49°F, outside. Time for soup, inside.

Soup is generally one of those things I just make. It’s the original put it in a pot and make it hot meal. That being said, I also like to see what other folks have put together – different spice blends or soups from different countries or cultures.

Since we’re heading right in to soup season, I ordered a copy of Soup Beautiful Soup by Felipe Rojas-Lombardi from and online used book dealer. Felipe was James Beard‘s assistant for five years and shared his philosophy on cooking. His premise was If you can boil water, you can make soup. Words to live by!

Born in Peru, he was also the founding chef of Dean & DeLucca, America’s Bicentennial Chef, and is credited with bringing Tapas into the mainstream in America.

While waiting for it to arrive, I started scouring cookbooks in the house to see what I had overlooked. I found a Lentil and Barley Soup from Jacques Pépin in Encore with Claudine that sounded pretty good. And then the new book arrived, and I was torn… What to make first?!?

Jacques won – I had everything I needed already in the house.

Soup Beautiful Soup has an introduction by Craig Claiborne – and he quotes M.F.K. Fisher in the opening paragraph:

Years ago she noted that the basis of French cooking is butter, that of Italy olive oil, of Germany lard, and of Russia sour cream. Water or drippings are attributed to the English kitchen, and to those of America the flavor of innumerable tin cans.

Claiborne goes on to state that he believes this is the reason why Americans, by and large, have never spent a lot of time making soup in the home.

Being the second of six kids, I ate a lot of homemade soup – my mother was the master at making them – but I get what he means. Campbell’s Soup averaged about 10¢ a can in the mid-’50s to mid-’60s. On those occasions where we had a canned soup, it was the even less-expensive Lady Lee store brand from Lucky Market. Canned soup was pretty affordable. Why make it when you can just open a can and add water?!?

Besides my mom’s soups, there are certain soups that stand out for me. When I worked at Pirro’s, our Minestrone Soup was a mixture of 2 different canned minestrones – Homestead and Riviera. It would sit in the steamtable and get so thick you could stand a spoon up in it. It was excellent and no one ever dreamed it came out of cans – and pretty much proves M.F.K. Fisher‘s observation. The Sizzling Platter house soup was every leftover in the kitchen thrown into a pot. Even the family-style salad bowls that came back from the tables went into the pot. People bought it by the quart to take home. They loved it.

The Hyatt Lake Tahoe had a number of excellent soups on the winter menu, but two will always stand out all these years later – a thick, golden Mulligatawny and a Hot and Sour Soup with Short Ribs. I’d love to have those original recipes. I’ve replicated the Mulligatawny pretty well, but I still think theirs was better. I’ve never even tried to replicate the Hot and Sour.

The Fish Chowder at the No Name in Boston was a favorite back in the day. It’s been many years since I’ve been there but I remember it well – a thin milky broth as opposed to the thick, creamy sauce usually associated with a Boston Clam Chowder.

Soup… I still can’t get enough of it.

Here’s Jacques’ soup from today. Felipe’s soups are forthcoming!

Lentil and Barley Soup

  • 1 lb lentils
  • 1⁄2 cup pearl barley
  • 4 quarts beef stock
  • 2 Hot Italian sausages, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 1 tbsp herbes de Provence
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 2 medium leeks, cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces and washed
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
  • 5 large cloves garlic, peeled, crushed, and coarsely chopped
  • 1⁄2 tsp Tabasco
  • 1⁄2 cup shredded Swiss cheese

Place all of the ingredients except the hot sauce and cheese in a large pot and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook gently for 1 1⁄2 hours.

Emulsify the soup with a handheld immersion blender for 8-10 seconds to make the mixture somewhat creamy. Or, process 2 cups of the soup in a blender or food processor for 20 seconds, then combine the purée with the remaining soup.

Add the hot sauce and serve with the grated cheese.

It’s not dramatically different from our regular lentil soup – but different enough. I didn’t blend any of it because we both tend to like a more broth-y soup. And we topped it with freshly-grated parmesan – not swiss.

I upped the Tabasco at the end – because I like Tabasco – and I browned off the sausage and vegetables before adding the broth and the lentils. It makes a lot, so we are set for lunch for the week!