Most days, I do my best to cook from scratch. But some days, I do take shortcuts. I’m only human, and life gets hectic sometimes. If it comes down to a meal prepped at home that’s not quite from scratch or some pricey, possibly nutritionally questionable takeout, I’ll generally choose the first option.
Not only is home-prepped food better for our budgets and bodies, it’s comforting to the heart and mind as well! Oh yes, I’m well aware that some days, nothing tastes quite as comforting as some questionable takeout. 😉 I’m a New Yorker after all! Takeout is a big part of our go-go-go culture as a city. But we’re talking most days here.
My go to items on non-scratch cooking days? Canned beans (thoroughly rinsed, of course). Canned or jarred tomatoes. Stocks and broths from a carton (low sodium). Sometimes I even use simmer sauces. Yes, simmer sauces–think marinara sauce, but from pretty much any culture you can think of.
Flipping through the channels recently, I noticed a show where chef Todd English traveled to Southern Thailand. The food and the scenery looked amazing. What struck me the most, though, was that there were entire markets devoted to curry pastes. Essentially Thai simmer sauce starters.
Red pastes, green pastes, yellow pastes. Each was gorgeous and I’m sure delicious in its own way. The curry paste markets reminded me of markets I’ve seen in the Middle East where specific spice mixes and zatars are sold. So using such shortcuts works for the Thai people, I figure it can’t be all bad.
Today’s soup is a vegan, slow-cooker Persian Barley Soup. It’s not based on any specific recipe. My friend Nedarah sort of inspired it with her amazing Soup-e-jow, which I’ll share with you guys one day. Soup-e-jow has a lot of dairy in it, and I preferred something vegan on this particular day. So this is what I came up with with when tossing barley, lentils, a simmer sauce, a few extra spices, and some dried lemons into my crockpot.
It has a soothing mild flavor and a creamy texture. If there is a Persian soup that’s similar to mine with a specific name, please feel free to leave a comment to give me the heads up. Speaking of heads up. . .
Heads up: a mere cup each of lentils and barley might not look like enough when you are fixing this soup. Trust me, it IS enough. The barley almost quadruples in size, and the lentils puff up quite a bit too before they disintegrate into a gorgeous mustardy yellow color. Same thing with the liquids–it might seem like too much liquid at first. But trust me, the barley will soak up the veggie stock and water like a sponge!
Vegan Persian Barley Soup in a Slow Cooker
1 cup of red lentils (rinsed)
1 cup of pearled barley (rinsed)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 potato, diced (okay to leave peel on. I usually do!)
1 large dried lemon or 2-3 small, pierced (a.k.a known as limon Omani)
1 garlic clove, grated or in small pieces
1 Tablespoon turmeric
1 Tablespoon ground fenugreek
3 Cups vegetable stock (low sodium)
2 1/2 cups filtered water
1 Tablespoon Saffron Water (a few pinches of saffron dissolved in hot water and set aside in your fridge to store. Take this out and measure out a tablespoon of it for your soup)
8-12 ounces tomato-based simmer sauce of choice (I used 8 ounces Seeds of Change Organic Jalfrezi Simmer Sauce; I would have used the entire jar, but wanted to save some of it for another use)
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh chopped herbs of choice for garnish (cilantro, parsley, dill are some possibilities.)
1. Toss all dry ingredients into a large slow cooker (mine is a 5 1/2 quart beast). Stir thoroughly. Add liquids. Stir again.
2. Cover and cook for at least 4 hours on high, 8 hours on low. Adjust seasoning to taste and top with chopped herbs of choice when serving.