If there were two foods that were made for each other, it’s peanut butter and chocolate. This isn’t about them, but in the sake of full disclosure, I felt I should mention it. If there were two other foods that were made for each other, it’s lentils and collard greens. The earthiness of lentils with the vaguely tinny taste of collard greens melt in the mouth and eat like a meal. Together they are hearty and rich in a stick-with-you kind of way.
For that reason, collards and lentils play a consistent part in my weekly meals. I love making a batch of slowly cooked, garlicky greens and topping them with brown lentils in coarse mustard. On days when soup fits the bill, it’s this Double Lentil Mushroom and Barley Soup that calls my name. This is my current favorite soup, and I make it regularly.
Sometimes I make it with less mushrooms, sometimes with more. Sometimes I make it with farro or brown rice instead of barley or leeks instead of onions. Sometimes I make it with garlic, and sometimes I make it with even more garlic. Any way it’s modified, it always turns out beautifully. This is the kind of soup that I’d want if I was starting to feel a bit under the weather, because with all of that garlic and collard green goodness, surely I’d snap out of it by the time my bowl ran dry.
Initially I always made this soup with brown lentils alone, and then one day my husband stepped in to make it. After the soup was ready he called me in from the kitchen. “We were out of brown lentils, and so I used red,” he said. I anticipated that it wouldn’t turn out that way since red lentils just kind of disintegrate, but as it happened, it was quite a discovery. The red lentils made for a creamier soup that is more dense. By adding a mixture of brown and red lentils, we get the toothsome quality provided by the brown lentils along with a fuller viscosity thanks to the red lentils.
Lately I’ve been making this soup by dry sautéing the mushrooms to start. Then I’m able to sauté the garlic and onions in the mushroom liquid. I’ve read varying opinions on how to best do this. Some people claim that the mushrooms should be stirred constantly. Some people vote for a low or medium-low heat. My preferred method is adding sliced mushrooms to a large, dry soup pot on a medium to medium-high heat and not overcrowding them or moving them too much.
My experience has been that if I leave them alone, they get all hot and bothered within a few minutes, and I’m able to use that mushroom liquid for sautéing instead of oil. By the time the liquid has burnt off, I add a couple of tablespoons of extra dry vermouth to deglaze the pan, and that does the trick for the remaining sautéing until I add water or broth to the pot.
If you would prefer going the regular route and using oil instead, feel free to sauté the onions and garlic in a teaspoon or so of oil, and then add mushrooms and continue as followed in the directions.