Friends often ask me how I find the time to cook so much. While I get paid to do so at times, I also make it a priority in my non-work life. That is, when I can actually distinguish the two. Some people spend their evenings at the gym or the pub. I usually spend them in my kitchen. But here's the thing - I probably cook way less than they imagine. When I cook, I almost always make meals that go further than just one occasion. I embrace leftovers and usually get at least a lunch or second dinner out of each meal. You might find me almost always enjoying a home cooked meal, but that doesn't mean I cook up something new every single day. Soup is the perfect example of winter cooking that really stretches itself during the week. Even if it's just me I'm cooking dinner for, I'll make a big pot of soup anyway. If for some reason I realize I won't finish it all within a few days, I just freeze it. Soup freezes great and will defrost in no time. I'd rather make more than necessary to have ready to go than scramble on busier nights or opt to eat out more often than I can actually afford.
While beef and barley is the classic soup combo, I had some ground sausage hanging out in the freezer and figured it would work just as well. If you have beef, certainly use that here, instead. I started the soup, as most soups start, by browning onions, carrots, garlic and herbs in olive oil. These are the aromatics.
I added the sausage and broke it up with a wooden spoon, letting it cook until browned.
Next, I added the barley, letting it sauté for a minute or two. I think barley is excellent in soup. It doesn't turn mushy or puff up like how most other grains or pasta. Barley maintains a nice chewy texture and adds some heartiness. Try subbing it for other grains in your favorite soups or those soups needing something to make them more filling.
Then in went the liquids - broth and crushed tomatoes. I used vegetable broth I already had opened, but beef broth would work too. I also found a couple of turnips hanging out in the fridge that I decided to add in as well. That's what I love about soups. You really can add in a little of anything. It's the perfect way to clean up those odds and ends you might have accumulated.
After letting the soup simmer a good 30 minutes, I mixed in a few cups of spinach. It'll cook down a ton, as I always seem surprised to find, so don't worry if it seems like too much at first. Then, the soup just needed a few minutes more for the spinach to wilt. Before serving, I added a splash of lemon juice for brightness and salt and pepper as needed. Adding acidity like citrus or vinegar at the end of a soup will help bring out the flavors and add a level of freshness.