Cook up Hearty Mushroom Barley Soup with Your Kids

My paternal great-grandparents immigrated to the US from Eastern Europe. Though I don’t remember too much about my greats other than getting to play with my Grandma Fanny’s shiny gold lamé change purse, I know that my family’s tastes and culinary preferences were shaped by the vibes of that part of the world. I’ve heard stories of how my great-grandma used to cook and bake and frugally re-use tea bags, and I guess the proverbial acorn doesn’t fall far from the genealogical tree! (Acorn, here.)

A few years ago, my uncle V, who lives in Florida, came up for one of our yearly summertime family reunions. He came up a day early and we went down to the Lower East Side (aka - the old-time Jewish area of Manhattan) and we went to the Mecca of Jewish comfort foods: Russ & Daughter’s on East Houston Street.

Kids Cooking and Baking Classes Westchester NY - Eastern European Foods

After we delighted ourselves with picking up kippered salmon, smoked whitefish salad, different varieties of cream cheese for our family brunch…I took a personal walk down memory lane when my maternal grandparents would take us there and after getting gorgeous dried fruits, rugelach and the pickled herring my grandpa loved, they would let my sister and I get Swedish Fish (her fave) and chocolate espresso beans. In retrospect, I giggle at the idea of giving a child espresso beans albeit dipped in chocolate!

Kids Cooking and Baking Classes Westchester NY - Eastern European Foods

Would you like to learn more about Russia? Check out this post on Russian Christmas.

At my uncle’s suggestion, we had lunch at Vaselka, the iconic Ukranian restaurant where partygoers are known to stop in at 2 am for pierogi! While we were there, there weren’t any such festive folk - rather it was quiet and reminiscent of authentic Eastern European charm.

From my time in Russia, I already knew that subdued hellos and closely-guarded emotions were the norm until folks got to know you a bit. I put on my curious cultural cap and took in the sounds of babushkas (grandmas) talking loudly in the kitchen and the stark and sparse decor of the restaurant. I often find myself wondering what life must be like in other places, and I am almost sure that the hearty and warming foods that are famous in Eastern European cooking are what keeps everyone going through those cold cold days and nights.

Kids Cooking and Baking Classes Westchester NY - Eastern European Foods

When we were having lunch, I fell in love with the Mushroom Barley soup, and I may or may not have had 2 bowls of the divine dish. The gorgeous rustic bread with butter was the perfect accompaniment and I was very very happy. My uncle got blintzes and my girl ordered the pierogi.

Later in the year, at Hanukkah my uncle surprised me with a gift of the Vaselka cookbook in the mail. I immediately got reading to see what I could offer the kids in my classes.

The Vaselka recipe made an immediate appearance in my winter curriculum and I’m pleased to say that over the years we have turned lots of kids onto this recipe. My girl’s friend B discovered his love of mushrooms after cooking this soup with us! His mom still thanks me to this day!

If you need a few tips on how to get your kids helping you out in the kitchen, check out 5 Things Your Kids Can Do In The Kitchen.

Kid-Approved Recipes: mushroom barley soup

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This mushroom barley soup recipe is so simple, yet so comforting. That’s the name of the game for many Eastern European dishes. When I make this with the kids, I prep a few things ahead of time so that there are just 5-6 simple things for the kids to do.

I make the barley ahead of time. This requires some explaining. When you make the soup, you’ll want to use cooked barley and it’s helpful to make it in advance. Barley is one of those grains (like quinoa and rice) that in order to cook it right, you follow a certain formula. Do you remember those word problems in school (or from your children’s homework) that say: “If 1 cup of dry barley and 3 cups of veggie stock yields 3.5 cups of cooked barley, how many cups of dried barley and stock does it take to make 3 cups?”

Well, I’m no math whiz, but I know that when I use 3/4 cup of dried barley, and use 2 1/8 cup of veggie stock, I get 2.5 cups of cooked barley, and that works fine for me. In case you have trouble picturing what an 1/8 cup looks like, here’s a pic. It’s half of 1/4 cup.

Kids Cooking and Baking Classes Westchester NY - Eastern European Foods

To cook the barley, make sure you are rinsing it well to wash out the bitter taste. Then, combine the dried barley and stock and a bit of salt and olive oil and bring to a boil. Then, cover and cook on low for about 45 minutes, or until the liquid evaporates and the barley cooks.

The other prep I do is to blanch and roast the carrots and celery ahead of time. They look so pretty after blanching them…which means that I boil salted water and throw the carrots and celery (separately because my pot wasn’t big enough to fit all of them) for 3 minutes. Then, I take out the veggies and put them on ice. This process seals in the nutrients and the color is vibrant!

The recipe is a great one for a cold day, and you can have some thick bread slathered with butter to make a simple lunch or dinner.

To study more about Eastern Europe, your kids will love this fun Russian nesting doll coloring page! Be sure to check for more reading activities! 

Have you tasted Russian food before? What do your kids know about Eastern Europe? How can we help you educate your kids about the world? Comment below!

Kids Cooking and Baking Classes Westchester NY - Mushroom Barley Soup