February 8, 2013

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.

Barley Soup with Greens, Lemon and Dill
adapted from Epicurious, by Anna Thomas

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.

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  • Kristina Strain: I love this soup! I have made it many times. I think there’s a similar one out there, somewhere, with fennel greens in place of the dill, and maybe a few potatoes too, which is also divine.2 years ago

  • Arwen Lynch, Professional Joy Seeker: Did you add the greens after thawing it out? I always worry that the greens won’t freeze well. But now I must try this. 😀2 years ago

  • lisa: I can’t wait to see and hear about your trip!! I was thinking of you, hoping you were having lots of fun. (Is it weird to think of someone you’ve never met, but still hope they’re having fun on their trip? ) Yay! (and the soup looks great!)2 years ago

  • Art & Lemons: I love Anna Thomas’ cookbooks, especially Love Soup. I recently heard Thomas on The Splendid Table when she talked about her signature green soups that all begin with very slow cooked caramelized onions. I made a note to make her recipe. Your version speaks to me now as well, even post sniffles.2 years ago

  • Kristina! Hi friend! This soup was supposed to have fennel greens in it as well as dill, but the grocery store had lopped all the green feathery bits off. Criminal!

    Arwen, I froze about half of the soup when I made it, greens and all (I usually do that so I can have a batch later that “fresh”). The greens weren’t slimey or anything, but of course they weren’t quite as vibrant as when they’d just been wilted.

    lisa, If it’s weird then I’m a weird, too! Just uploading all 800+ pictures to SmugMug today. Coming soon!

    Art&Lemons, It’s true! Those browned onions added so much! These weren’t quite all the caramelized, but it was just such a simple smart thing that added so much flavor. I don’t own any of Anna Thomas’s books, but sometimes I’ll come across a quote and think, My, she’s really got some things figured out.2 years ago

  • Anne-Liesse @ Bulle & Blog: I thought about you during your trip – everybody seems to be going to visit northern Europe these days, and I’d love to do it, too. I’m anxious to hear all about this “Life Design Inspiration Trip”. I always love to hear your take on things.

    Glad you’re back sound and safe with lots of wonderful memories to share and grateful for a new post 😉 This nice soup will hopefully help scare your cold away.

    Love from France !2 years ago

  • Amy C: Welcome back!

    That soup looks like it was absolutely MADE for blustery February days. I’ve been experiencing that February ennui with increasing frustration, and I keep asking my husband, why can’t it be spring yet? Even crueler, when the sun warms up the earth just enough in my backyard, it smells like blossoming spring. This seems like a really mean tease. Even the birds have been chirping in the early mornings, and in my sleepy haze I think I feel a warm breeze shift through my window (it is just my giant dog breathing on my face.). Le sigh. I think a vacation is just the thing for this sort of listless waiting, I’m so happy you got to get away and clear your mind. I want to hear everything about it!2 years ago

  • Lana: Ohhhh, how am I just seeing this post? I hope you are feeling better and that you had a great Valentine’s Day! I love lemon in soup. So cheery when it’s dreary! :)2 years ago

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Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.
- Harriet Van Horne