Barley and mushrooms are a wonderfully earthy combination, especially in winter. If you have some dried mushrooms on hand, reconstitute a small handful and add them to the fresh mushrooms about halfway through cooking. (Strain and use their soaking liquid to replace some of the water or stock.) You can also make this soup even heartier by stirring in chopped parsnips, sweet potatoes, or potatoes after cooking the carrots and mushrooms.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
10 to 16 fresh shiitake or button mushrooms, stemmed (shiitakes only) and roughly chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced
¾ cup pearled barley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1. Put the olive oil in a large, deep pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the mushrooms and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the barley and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes; sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.
2. Add the bay leaf and 6 cups water (or stock if you prefer). Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer; cook until the barley is very tender, 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Taste and add more salt if necessary and plenty of pepper. (At this point, you may refrigerate the soup, covered, for up to a day; reheat before serving, adding a little more water to thin the soup if necessary.)