Updated: Feb 5
As a service to my readers, food & feast posts will always feature the recipe first, with history, folklore, and cooking tips toward the bottom of the page. For background on this recipe and helpful hints for navigating technique, scroll down! Otherwise, dive right in with the recipe below.
cozy mushroom barley soup
for the full moon
Serves 3-4 guests
Vegan / Contains gluten
Prep time : 10 minutes
Cook time : 20 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 oz mixed mushrooms - cremini, oyster, maitake, shitake, or any you like!
1 cup barley
1 leek, split, washed, and sliced into ¼" slices
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 cups cooking stock or water*
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Salt & pepper to taste
*For this recipe, mushroom or beef stock is preferred. In lieu of stock, water can also be used, but seasoning should be adjusted for flavor.
In a small pot that can hold at least 2 quarts, begin by heating your olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add your mushrooms, and cook until just browning, about 5-8 minutes. If you would like to garnish your soup with whole mushrooms, remove these from the pot once evenly browned and set aside. Add the barley, and cook until the grains are toasted, about 2 minutes. The barley will release a nutty aroma when fully toasted, but take care not to burn the grains. Turn the heat down to medium, and add your leek and garlic, and cook until soft, about 4-6 minutes, stirring frequently. Deglaze the pan with the soy sauce, and cook for 1 minute before adding your stock to the pot.
Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes, or until barley is soft. Add your fresh thyme, and simmer for 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and spoon 4 tablespoons of barley from the broth to use as a garnish. Use a blender or immersion blender and puree the soup until smooth. Season to taste and garnish with browned mushrooms, cooked barley, and fresh thyme. Serve warm.
With the new year freshly begun, the first full moon of the year- the Full Wolf Moon- is upon us. This year occurring in Cancer (a perfect sign for lunar activities), this wolf moon occurs as a luminary in some of the darkest days of the year. Here in NYC, biting low temperatures, Mercury and Venus in retrograde, and threats of a new lockdown have made the first few weeks of 2022 especially gloomy. And when the gloom surrounding is out of our control, we can at the very least apply a salve to what ails ya- or a soup, in this case.
Being the ultimate in deep-winter comfort food, rich and creamy soups like this one will warm you to your bones without being too fattening or arduous to prepare. If you want to get very technical, this soup is classified as a mushroom bisque, because it is thickened with grains (here barley, though bisques traditionally use rice) as opposed to potatoes (like chowder). Though it lacks cream, the hallmark of a true bisque, the blended grains give this soup a delightfully smooth finish, while the nuttiness of toasted bran and browned mushrooms packs this recipe with hearty, savory flavor. For both true bisques and faux-bisques like ours, we cannot forget to go hard on garnishes- creamy soups are nothing without a little texture, and even a small pile of fresh herbs and a drizzle of olive oil goes a long way.
When it comes to planetary correspondence, this recipe features big flavors of the moon, too. Mushrooms are a key lunar ingredient- the not-plant / not-animal organism born of rot and water is squarely within the lunar domain. As are ferments, like soy sauce, and roots like garlic, both of which are used to build an umami base for the broth. While thyme and barley are both Venusian ingredients, they don't feel out of place here. Venus and the moon are both within the feminine archetype, and of the planetary spheres, these two are most associated with restorative and healing magic- a much needed cure in these times. Anecdotally, these are to me the two "gentle" spheres of planetary magic- gracious, beneficent, and peaceful in most of their attributes (though both Venus and the moon share a violent side). As comforting soup magic goes, turning to the moon and Venus as allies truly can't be beat.
But from a purely culinary standpoint, any dish dedicated to the moon will need to rely on ingredients from other spheres to compensate in terms of flavor. Lunar ingredients are regarded as mild and fresh, but not exactly flavorful- consider white rice, banana, coconut milk, potatoes, and oatmeal as examples. So while a feast to the moon using purely lunar ingredients would err on the bland side, it's best to bring in allies that work best with her influences, like Venus, as opposed to malefic planets like Mars or Saturn, which run counter to the grounding, restorative intention for this feast. However, if we wanted to be purists, we could make the following substitutions for this recipe to complete the lunar profile : swap olive oil for coconut oil, swap barley for rice, and swap thyme for chives, fresh yarrow, or anise hyssop. To read more on planetary correspondences for the moon, Venus, and the other classical planets, check out my planetary correspondence list here.