As I write, it is currently four degrees below zero outside.  Yeah, you heard me right.  Here we don’t even need to calculate the wind chill factor to make ourselves feel important.  “Oh, it ‘feels’ like ten above to you?  You poor baby.  Well, here it’s eleventy-million below zero, so take that.”

Needless to say, there have been lots of warm, comforting casseroles (darn!–I meant hot dishes) and soups consumed around here lately.  And one of my all-time favorite soups, second only to the amazing zuppa toscana, is a hearty vegetable beef and barley.  After much trial and error, I think I’ve finally perfected my version of the recipe, and this time I discovered that it works beautifully with venison, as well.

The original recipe calls for beef boneless chuck; I think any kind of beef stew or roast meat will work, really.  Even tough cuts of meat should tenderize as they simmer.  If using venison, be sure not to overcook it–the meat only needs to be browned, not cooked through, in the first step.  You can use any vegetables you like; I usually use frozen corn (from the garden) and peas, but you could substitute 2 1/2 cups frozen mixed vegetables instead.  Or leave out the fresh carrots and add an extra 1/2 cup frozen veggies at the end.

A terrible picture of delicious soup

A terrible picture of delicious soup

Vegetable Beef (or Venison) and Barley Soup (inspired by this recipe)
Prep time: about 30 minutes; total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Serves 8-9

2 T. olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds beef or venison, cubed (see note above)
1/2 tsp. salt (1 tsp. if using homemade broth)
1/4 tsp. pepper
10 cups beef broth
2 bay leaves
2 medium carrots, peeled, cut lengthwise in half, then cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup uncooked pearl barley
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn

Heat oil in large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat (medium heat if using venison).  Cook onion, garlic, meat, salt, and pepper in oil 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until meat is browned (do not cook through).

Add broth to pot; bring to boil.  Add bay leaves, carrots, and barley.  Reduce heat; gently simmer 45 minutes or until barley is tender.

Add frozen peas and corn.  (You may also need to add a few additional cups of tap water if too much broth has evaporated.)  Return to boil; gently simmer 10-15 minutes.  Remove bay leaves.