Local news: weather and food

The local weather has been mostly very pleasant recently, normal temperatures for this time of the year (highs in the 70s), of course no rain (it’s the dry season), and good air (no haze or actual smoke from wildfires). So on Wednesday I undertook to cook something, using ingredients in the house: peppery barley and vegetable soup. (With my wonky hands, I don’t cook much, and certainly don’t try any culinary procedure that takes manual dexterity; just opening cans is a slow and arduous process for me.)

Then…  the intersection of the weather and food preparation.

Weather notes. The weather reports from KQED-FM this week were almost identical day to day: highs in the upper 60s by the ocean, in the upper 90s in the inland valleys (plus a footnote for the Sacramento area, where things are almost always worse). Listeners are expected to make adjustments for their local situation (distance from the ocean, local topography, etc.). I failed to check on-line very local predictions on Wednesday and so embarked on a morning of working at a hot stove on a day when a brief heat wave was predicted. Soaked with sweat in the early afternoon, I checked the temperature and discovered it was 86. Just that one day.

Mostly, here in Palo Alto we’ve been in an island of pleasantness. Terrible heat throughout most of California (and Arizona and New Mexico), and forest fires, three huge ones: one way to the north, near Redding; one in the center of the state, near Yosemite Park; and one to the south, in Riverside County. For the moment, the fires aren’t threatening us, and no smoke is blowing in.

The soup. I had a pile of fresh carrots, celery, and bell peppers, intended for making salads or just eating raw. At the end of the food week (Thursday morning is shopping time for a week). So I chopped these coarsely, opened a small can of sliced mushrooms, and sautéed all of them in butter to soften them a bit.

Then: juice of a Meyer lemon (a gift from a neighbor), a lot of dried shallots, a lot of coarsely ground black pepper, a dried herb mixture (chives, basil, tarragon, chervil, bay, dill), and beef stock. Simmered everything on low heat  until the vegetables had softened.

Meanwhile, barley was cooking in the rice cooker. When it was done, added it to the pot of vegetables in broth, let the soup simmer briefly for the ingredients to get friendly with one another, and there you are.

Roughly one third for dinner on Wednesday. Delicious. Refrigerated the rest.

A great many soups are better on the second day; the ingredients share their juices with one another. In this case, sitting around in the broth, the barley absorbs some of it, and at the same time gives up some of its starch to thicken the broth. The result is something on the soup/stew border; see my 11/14/15 posting “cioppino, sopa de mariscos”, with a section on the soup/stew distinction.

Day 2, Thursday. Heated up another third of the soup/stew, adding a considerable amount of marinara sauce (from a jar) — marinara sauce in the American sense, a thick tomato sauce (without any kind of seafood or other marine connection, and also, in this case, without meat or cheese in it). Also delicious.

Day 3, Friday. By now the stuff was a thick stew. Heated up the final third of it, adding marinara sauce again, plus some defrosted beef meatballs, cut up. The last bowl (with a still-life of peaches in the background):


Mushroom barley soup. In many culinary traditions, barley is combined with mushrooms, especially mushrooms with texture, aroma, and meaty or earthy flavors. There are then tons of mushroom barley soups: some have a variety of types of mushrooms in them; some are creamed soups; carrots, celery, or other vegetables (especially kale, Swiss chard, or flat parsley) are often added; the base stock can be chicken, beef, or vegetarian broth; and chunks or shreds of cooked chicken, turkey, beef, or lamb can be added.

From this panoply of mushroom barley soups, one illustration: from the Eating Well site, “Cream of Mushroom & Barley Soup”:

(#3) “This sophisticated take on creamy mushroom soup is rich with earthy porcini mushrooms and has the added goodness of whole-grain barley

Barley. Though the grain has been mentioned many times on this blog, I haven’t given it any attention in detail. So, from Wikipedia:

Barley (Hordeum vulgare), a member of the grass family, is a major cereal grain grown in temperate climates globally. It was one of the first cultivated grains, particularly in Eurasia as early as 10,000 years ago.

(#4) A field of barley

Barley has been used as animal fodder, as a source of fermentable material for beer and certain distilled beverages, and as a component of various health foods. It is used in soups and stews, and in barley bread of various cultures. Barley grains are commonly made into malt in a traditional and ancient method of preparation.

In 2014, barley was ranked fourth among grains in quantity produced, behind maize, rice and wheat.

…  Hulled barley (or covered barley) is eaten after removing the inedible, fibrous, outer hull. Once removed, it is called dehulled barley (or pot barley or scotch barley). Considered a whole grain, dehulled barley still has its bran and germ, making it a nutritious and popular health food. Pearl barley (or pearled barley) is dehulled barley which has been steam processed further to remove the bran. It may be polished, a process known as “pearling”. Dehulled or pearl barley may be processed into a variety of barley products, including flour, flakes similar to oatmeal, and grits.

(#5) Hulled and dehulled barley seeds

Barley meal, a wholemeal barley flour lighter than wheat meal but darker in colour, is used in porridge and gruel in Scotland. Barley meal gruel is known as sawiq in the Arab world. With a long history of cultivation in the Middle East, barley is used in a wide range of traditional Arabic, Assyrian, Israelite, Kurdish, and Persian foodstuffs …  Cholentor hamin (in Hebrew) is a traditional Jewish stew often eaten on Sabbath, in a variety of recipes by both Mizrachi and Ashkenazi Jews, with barley cited throughout the Hebrew Bible in multiple references. In Eastern and Central Europe, barley is also used in soups and stews



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