We took a good 'ol hunk of chuck steak, trimmed it and sliced it into cubes to use for the meat - if you'd rather not deal with that, you could pick up a pound of stew meat at the market and save yourself some time. The original recipe had you soften the onions and try to brown the beef at the same time, but that adds a lot of moisture to the pan and I find the beef doesn't get a chance to caramelize as well as it should that way. I'd rather add another step so you get the development of flavor and brown all the cubes of beef first, then soften the onions in the drippings left behind.
To the beef and onions, we added chopped carrots and celery - once they were given a few minutes to mingle in the pot, we tossed in a generous amount of minced garlic cloves. Pearl barley, along with beef broth, water, tomato puree and a couple bay leaves are added into the mix and left uncovered until the liquids came up to a boil. The pot is covered at this point, the heat is turned down to a simmer and the soup bubbles away until the barely plumps up and the vegetables are tender.
Paired with a hearty slice of crusty bread to dip in, the combination of nutty, chewy barley, the abundant variety of vegetables and the cubes of tender beef, this was a gratifying way to fill up our stomachs! It may not be much to look at, but what a way to warm up from the inside out and I'm betting it is one of those dishes that will be even better tomorrow as leftovers. If you've been wanting to try out lamb by chance, I also think this dish would be a great way to introduce it to you or your family since there is a plethora of other familiar ingredients used.
Barley and Beef Soup