Grounding, Sure-Footed, and Simple
We touched home at JFK on Sunday night, and I could already feel a cold creeping up. It reminded me of stormy fights that brew just when it’s time to say goodbye; at least getting sick would make it easier to leave beautiful and charming Copenhagen. Which I want to tell you all about in potentially florid detail–all those vacation breakthroughs and epiphanies and a sense of wide-eyed awakeness. Right now I’m still sorting through them and testing them against the light of real, everyday life.
I am also blowing my nose into oblivion. But I was enormously grateful to open the freezer and find I had the foresight to freeze a bit of this soup before our trip. It has bunches and bunches of greens in it, dill and a lively squeeze of lemon. It’s soup at its best: filled with the kind of clean, bright flavors you long for in the dark of winter or after too much indulgence or when you are sniffling endlessly. It feels nourishing, as if just breathing its lightly-scented steam will put you right again. It’s the kind of food we need when we’ve had major upheaval: it’s grounding, sure-footed, and simple. It’s what I was craving before I set off on what I called my Life Design Inspiration Trip, and what I’m wanting even more now that I’m home.
For all of you with mid-winter colds, heartaches, or who are just experiencing the dull, panging ennui that February so often brings on–this one’s for you.
I very much liked cooking the barley separately in this soup. Whereas cooking in the soup itself can often lead to bloated, supersaturated grains, here the barley is cooked on its own until just tender. Then the rest of the slow-cooked onions, broth, and finally, the quick-cooking greens, are added. One more pot to clean, but in my book, worth it. My grocery store’s chard looked nasty, so I subbed escarole. Of course any host of greens will do.
4 cups water
8 cups (or more) vegetable broth, chicken stock or water, divided
1 scant cup pearl barley (about 6 ounces)
1 teaspoon fine sea salt plus additional for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling
3 cups chopped onions
8 cups coarsely chopped stemmed kale leaves (about one 7-ounce bunch)
6 cups coarsely chopped stemmed chard leaves (about one 7-ounce bunch)
5 cups spinach leaves (about 5 ounces)
3/4 cup sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Bring 4 cups water, 2 cups broth, barley, and 1 scant teaspoon sea salt to boil in large pot. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions, sprinkle with sea salt, and sauté until golden brown, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed onions and remaining 6 cups broth to pot with barley. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill. Rewarm before continuing.
Add kale and chard to soup. Simmer until greens are tender, about 15 minutes. Add spinach, scallions, dill, and mint; simmer 5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Season soup with sea salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice, thinning with more broth, if desired.
Divide soup among bowls. Drizzle with oil, and serve.