On Friday night, when the cool rain was falling, I looked into the cupboard to see what I had to make for dinner. I had some pearl barley, some mushrooms that were a bit withered, a celery heart (mostly leaves), and a few carrots. I threw in an onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and one chili pepper, and there were the ingredients for a hearty, delicious meal.
Mince the garlic and onions, dice the celery, and slice the carrot into rounds. Saute in olive oil in a pressure cooker (ideal for making legumes and winter soups with a minimum of cooking fuel) or a soup pot. Add the lentils (brown lentils are best for this; do not use red lentils as they will fall apart) and barley until coated. Add the bay leaf and chili (pepper optional; slice thinly for more heat; leave whole only for a touch of flavor). Add a little salt. Add water (5 to 2 ratio water to lentils/barley will make a thick stew-like porridge; add more water for the consistency of soup). Add diced mushrooms. I used crimini mushrooms. Shitake would work well. You could also use dried mushrooms (just pre-soak and then use the soaking water, strained to remove sediment, as part of the liquid).
If using a pressure cooker, bring to full pressure, then lower heat and cook for 25 minutes at full pressure. Turn off heat and let sit for 10-15 minutes allowing pressure to release naturally. If cooking on stove, bring to boil, stir, lower to a simmer, and then cook until tender, stirring periodically (will probably take 1 1/2 hours).
When I sat down to eat this healthy, inexpensive, warming meal, I felt full gratitude, not only for having plenty to eat, but for the ability to enjoy the change of seasons, to know to change my diet and my rhythms to make the most of the shifting of light and temperature to bring greatest delight.
On Saturday, I diced some roasted eggplant and stirred it in to have a different taste when I reheated the soup. Chopping up some tender greens (chard or spinach) when reheating to serve also is a wonderful way to tranform the soup for a second time serving.