Barley beans chard soup with a chile swirl


I am aware I just posted a soup with a fun little swirl on top. Well aware. People, it is cold in San Francisco. And buildings here are not properly insulated. And it’s a long and sad story, but I live in a house that lacks central heating. All I want to eat all day long during these bone-chilling damp months that pass for winter here is soup.

I have a feeling most of you know about the wonder that is barley bean chard soup – you cook up some barley (I boil mine in salted water until it’s tender to the bite which seems to happen in about 15 or 20 minutes), cook up some white beans (or use canned, but the canned ones are mushier – soak the beans overnight or use the quick soak method, then boil until just tender to the bite, add salt to the water and let them cool in the cooking liquid, then drain and use), heat those two things in some chicken broth, and add shredded chard leaves, cooking until they wilt. This soup is then most commonly topped with some grated Parmesan and some black pepper, maybe a swirl of olive oil if you’re feeling kicky.

When I made this, however, we had a small bowl of garlic- and chile-infused/cooked olive oil sitting on the counter – leftover from making pizza. I swirled it in. Divine. Perfection. Why the hell haven’t I been eating this for years?

And that’s how “recipes” are born.

Barley beans chard soup with a chile swirl

This soup can be as easy as dumping several cans together and throwing in a bag of baby spinach or as fancy-pants as making your own broth, cooking up dried beans, and growing your own chard. No surprise for regular readers, but I fall into that latter camp, although the chard I planted seems determined to stay at the baby stage, so we’re eating it in salads instead of working it into soups. Do you think it’s not growing bigger because we keep eating it? Maybe?

Note: You can cook the barley in the broth (you’ll need a lot more broth in that case), but I find it muddies the soup a bit – the barley releases starch and turns the whole thing cloudy.

1 bunch chard

3 Tablespoons olive oil

6 cups chicken broth (I like to make my own)

2 cups cooked white beans (or 1 can)

1 cup barley, cooked

3 cloves garlic

Red chile flakes

Cut white ribs out of green chard leaves. Slice stems crosswise as thinly as possible and set aside. Cut leaves into thin strips and set aside.Slice garlic into Goodfellas-style thin slices and set aside.

Heat a bit of the olive oil in a soup pot over medium high heat, add chard stems and cook, stirring, until they’re soft, about 5 minutes. Add broth, beans, and barley and bring just to a boil. Add chard leaves and cook until wilted, just a minute or two.

Meanwhile, heat remaining olive oil in a small frying pan. Add garlic and cook, swirling a bit now and then, jst until the garlic starts to turn golden. Add chile flakes to taste (I use about 1/4 teaspoon) and take off heat. Let sit in pan until garlic just starts moving from golden to brown. Pour flavored oil in a small bowl to stop the cooking.

Serve soup with a swirl of browned garlic- and chile-oil. Take it one more step with a grind or two of black pepper.