I toyed with calling this ‘Swiss chard & pearl barley soup’ in an attempt to up the fashionability of this simple, but incredibly delicious recipe. In the end, I decided to proudly stick with ‘silverbeet’ as this recipe isn’t about trying to be flashy, it’s about carefully cooking simple ingredients to bring out their best flavours; a great example of Lois’ approach to cooking. Slowly cooking quality, locally-grown and seasonal vegetables, adding some beans and cooked barley to create a soup with a lovely background sweetness and interesting textures. Inexpensive and entirely nourishing, I wish more people knew how to make this soup for themselves.
Silverbeet & pearl barley soup (adapted slightly from Lois Daish, Listener, April 10, 1999, p. 55)
1/3 cup pearl barley
1.5 litres water
3 tablespoons cooking oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 can peeled tomatoes
1 small bunch silverbeet
1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
grated parmesan or grana padana for serving (optional)
Simmer the barley and water in a pot for about 45 minutes until the barley is tender. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot and cook the onion, carrot and celery together over a medium heat until softened; you don’t want to brown the vegetables. It’s important to allow some time for this ‘soffritto’ stage, as this will give a lovely sweet base to the soup.
To prepare the silverbeet, cut the leaves from the stems and wash both thoroughly. Slice the stems into thirds lengthwise, then slice into thin ribbons across the width. Slice the leaves into ribbons, keeping the stems separate from the leaves. Add the silverbeet stems to the onion mixture as well as the can of tomatoes. Add a sprinkling of salt, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to low. Leave to cook for about 15-20 minutes.
Add the cooked barley along with its cooking water to the soup, and add the beans and silverbeet leaves. Season with more salt and lots of ground black pepper. Place the lid back on and bring to the boil. Serve the soup in warmed bowls, grate over some parmesan if you fancy it, and enjoy with a piece of chewy wholegrain sourdough on the side.