It’s still chilly out there at night (see photo above), in spite of our unnaturally dry winter weather. I had a bag of barley half used up and a packet of dried wood ears someone had given me which made me think of the warming properties of a vegetarian stew.
I served it with cheese toasts made with an aged Emmental that claims to be lactose-free. When hard cheeses age the lactose mostly (or entirely) disappears. I usually only buy cheeses that are older than a year — even though I have no idea if that truly makes a difference — but I find these strong tasting old cheeses delicious to boot.
Mushroom Barley Stew a la Chinoise
1 cup pearl barley (well rinsed)
1/2 cup dried woodears (soaked in water overnight and chopped coarsely)
1 cup crimini or other brown mushrooms
1 cup chopped onions (I used super sweet cipollinis)
1 small zucchini or other green veg, sliced
1 clove of garlic, chopped
4 cups of vegetable broth or water and a cube of good stock (I used a Telma mushroom cube)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
Chop all your veg and sauté the onion in sesame oil until it starts to wilt in a big soup pot. Sesame oil burns more quickly than olive oil, so pay attention. Add zucchini, then mushrooms, then garlic. Cook until the mushrooms are slightly reduced, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add the barley and coat in oil before deglazing the bottom of the pot with the soy sauce. Add the broth (or water and the soup cube) and simmer on a very low heat until completely absorbed, about one hour.
As an optional accompaniment, toast small slices of good bread (I used my favorite, Acme Walnut Levain) until lightly brown. Remove from toaster (or oven) and add thinly sliced lactose-free cheese such as Emmental or aged Gruyere to tops of toasts. Put toasts on a baking sheet in your toaster (or toaster oven) and bake until cheese is melted and bubbling.
Serve with lactose-free yogurt. Serves about four good eaters.