In the beginning of February I tried out this Miso-Spiked Vegetable Soup with Barley from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker cookbook. This involved sending my husband to the international grocery store that I had just discovered (not to far from me either) to find miso because I couldn't find it on my regular shopping trip. So he brought back a giant tub of miso, but if you have to get a giant tub like we did, there are tons of things you can add miso to, as the August 2012 issue of Cooking Light pointed out.
Now, I don't know if I've mentioned this already, but my sister got me these awesome prep bowls (see image above) so now I can be like those chefs on TV who have all their ingredients already cut up when they make the recipe. Anyway, you start out this recipe by cooking onions, carrots, and celery in a skillet with some oil, adding some thyme and pepper after its been softened.
Then you add the barley and some vegetable broth. Now I think I mentioned this before, but one of the cool things about this cookbook is that it tells you what steps you can make ahead and refrigerate. So you could make the recipe up to this point the night before and then put it in the fridge overnight and cook the soup in the morning. The cookbook does note, however, that if you do that you're going to want to add some extra broth in the morning because a lot of it will have been absorbed by the barley.
Anyway, you add the vegetable-barley mixture to the crock pot. I adapted this recipe at this point a little, adding a cut up potato (see image below). My husband had said that if we were going to have a vegetarian soup for dinner, he needed it to have some more substance to it, hence the potato.
You add the rest of the broth to the crock pot and then cook it on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. After it's done cooking, you stir in the green beans and miso and cook for fifteen more minutes, stirring in parsley at the end. The book also suggests you garnish it with freshly grated Parmesan, but I skipped both the parsley and the Parmesan.
This is what it looks like with the broth when you turn it on.
This is what it looks like when it's done cooking (with the green beans and miso).
Now, I've always had trouble cooking with barley in the crock pot because it basically absorbs all of the broth and you end up with mush. I wrote in the cookbook that it "turns out mushy and quickly loses its soup-like consistency." I did note that it "tastes okay," but isn't "very yummy looking." This was one of the recipes that we didn't bother finishing and just threw it out eventually. But, I think it could have been better if you made it differently (see below).
As you can see in the picture to the left, I'm convinced that whoever made the soup in this picture did not follow this recipe and/or did not even make the soup in a crock pot. There was a whole discussion in this crock pot online community about using grains in the crock pot and many people recommended adding them toward the end of cooking so they don't absorb so much of the liquid. Someone specifically said that whole (hulled) barley is best for staying firmer. I used pearled barley because that is what I already had on hand. So if I were to try this recipe again, I'd probably (a) use hulled barley or rice and (b) cook it separately and then stir it in with the green beans and miso.
Before I give you all the calculations, I left out the parsley and the Parmesan cheese because I didn't use them. Without the cheese especially, this soup is super light, even with the potato added, 190 calories for the six servings the book says you should get and 142 servings for the eight servings I think you'd actually get (without the potato, it'd be 147 and 110 calories). So this is a soup that you'd definitely want to pair with something more substantial, or make it a side dish to whatever your main meal is. If you had to purchase everything, including the potato, it'd be $5.76 per serving for the six servings and $4.32 for eight ($5.27 and $3.95 without the potato). Although that's not too bad in terms of cost, it's definitely on the higher end of the things that I've cooked in the crock pot. Of course, part of the reason I chose this recipe (as usual) is because I had most of the things I needed. I got green beans in my produce delivery and already had the olive oil, carrots, spices, barley, and potato. So for the other ingredients that I needed, it ended up being $2.73 per serving for six servings and $2.04 for eight -- a little more friendly to my budget!