It was a few weeks ago. I had just eaten at a ramen bar and was quite possibly transfixed on the mushroom broth. How was it so flavorful, so mushroom-y, peppery, so meatless-ly meaty, and still light. Partial to thick soups and stews, I often forget the world of delicate broths. But forget no more. In fact, immediately upon returning home, I quickly sorted out ideas for a recipe. And so resulted my Mushroom + Leek Broth Soup. This recipe has leeks, ginger, garlic, barley, tofu, and a homemade pesto when dolloped on top or layered on some toasted bread alongside is the perfect compliment to this light vegetable soup.
Fat adds flavor. So I begin by sautéing the vegetables in olive oil before adding the liquid. It starts with leeks and you’ll notice almost immediately when they start to turn golden, the bottom of the pan develops caramelization. Those seemingly burnt pieces are full of flavor, so adding white wine and lemon juice will help lift those beautiful bits and incorporate them into the soup. After cooking the leeks with ginger and garlic, I add the mushrooms, tofu, and barley. This is to help introduce them into the mixture and absorb all juices. I like to use a variety of mushrooms for different textures and flavor profiles. Shiitake mushrooms are my favorite, along with white button mushrooms that hold well in the soup. Mushrooms are inherently meaty, so any mushroom that can retain structure well in the liquid will do! Just make sure to cut them about the same size for even cooking. The uncooked barley will toast, and this will bring out its nutty, earth flavor.
Because this is a broth soup, the liquid part is quite important. It is what holds the vegetables together. The first time I made this soup I used way too much store-bought broth. It was too overpowering, so I cut down and now either use homemade vegetable stock or water. I’d say homemade vegetable or mushroom stock is ideal, but if not water will absorb the flavors of the soup and the longer it sits the better. I’ll make a post on how to make vegetable stock but it’s REALLY simple and it's a difference you can taste. It involves bringing a large pot of vegetable scraps and water to a boil, reducing and let simmer for like 30-45 minutes. Strain, then you have delicious homemade stock at arms reach (especially that is stores wonderfully in the freezer). And depending on what vegetables you use, it will influence the flavor.
Just when you think this soup is over, it takes a very green turn..and that is, homemade green pesto. Perhaps it’s a summer nostalgia that has me craving pesto, but this addition makes the soup that much more special and it’s couldn’t be easier. I call it green pesto, because I just use whatever greens I have on hand — spinach, kale, chard, peas, mint, parsley, and the stems too! The recipe is written in portions so that you can freely add whatever ingredients you like. You can add your favorite greens, herbs, and nuts. In this case I used kale, spinach, mint, parsley, garlic, almonds, lemon, and olive oil; a little nutritional yeast will add creaminess. The pesto, dolloped on or spread on some toast and let soaked into the soup, adds an unexpected but delicious, fresh flavor.
The holiday season is among us, which means for many, busy schedules, parties, and lots to do. The world seems to spin fast up until the new year. But for me, one of the joys during this time of year is to spend time with friends and family over a cooked, homemade meal. This soup is light and brothy, but also substantial from the mushrooms, tofu, and cooked barley. Pesto, spooned on top or slathered on some toast, adds a bright and refreshing taste. Happy Holidays!
In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks and salt and stirring frequently, sauté until translucent and starting to turn slightly golden in color, about 3-4 minutes. Add the lemon juice or a little more olive oil if the mixture gets too dry. Once translucent, add the ginger and garlic and cook through, about 1 or 2 minutes, continuing to stir frequently. Lower the heat to medium low and add the mushrooms and white wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden to spoon to help lift the caramelized bites, and cook until it’s incorporated into the mixture. Introduce the barley and tofu into the mixture and stir to combine, about a minute or so. This will also help toast the grain slightly. Pour in the liquid (water or combination of vegetable stock/water), red pepper flakes, and black pepper, and bring the soup to a boil. Cover and let simmer for about 25 minutes or until the barley is cooked. Season as needed. Serve warm and enjoy!
to make the pesto:
In a food processor, pulse together the greens (I used kale and spinach), parsley, mint, garlic, almonds, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper until combined. Turn on and slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the pesto comes together. Optional, but add a few small spoons of nutritional yeast for extra creaminess and season to taste. When the soup is ready, dollop on top or slather on some toasted bread for a crunchy and delicious finish. Enjoy!
total time: about 45 minutes
1 tablespoon (or 2) of olive oil
1 large leek (or 2 small leeks), sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced into 1/4 inch slices (I use a combination of white button and shitake, feel free to use your favorite)
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 package of firm tofu, about 8 ounces, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup uncooked barley
6 cups water (or vegetable stock) ***
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
*** I like using water or my own homemade vegetable stock. If I use store bought vegetable stock I only use a cup or so and the rest water, because I find it is too overpowering otherwise, and because this is a broth soup you will be able to taste the flavor of it quite easily.
2 cups packed greens (kale, spinach, chard, etc)
1/4 cup packed herbs (I used parsley)
2 tablespoons fresh mint
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup nuts (almonds, cashews, pine nuts, etc.), preferably toasted
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
optional 1-2 tablespoons nutritional yeast