Cook's Illustrated Recipes»Soups»American»Vegetables»Farmhouse Vegetable and Barley Soup Recipe

Richly flavored vegetable soup is no problem when you’ve fussed over homemade stock. For a weeknight version, we needed to get creative with pantry staples.

The Problem

A soup made with a plethora of flavorful, cold-weather vegetables should have all the makings of a satisfying dish, but the problem is time: The best versions start with a rich, full-bodied broth that serves as its flavor foundation. And it usually takes a weekend to make a good one.

The Goal

We wanted to pack all the earthy-rich flavor and depth of a long-simmered stock into a recipe that only took about an hour’s toil.

The Solution

We already knew that the most effective way to get big flavor in a hurry is to bolster a prefab broth with ingredients rich in flavor-enhancing umami, the fifth taste in Asian cuisine that describes savory, almost “meaty” flavor. Just a bit of two of these ingredients-soy sauce and dried mushrooms-gave the soup a savory depth and complexity. And because dried mushrooms can vary in size, we ground them into a powder and measured out a set amount to add to the pot. This ensured we used the same amount each time we prepared the recipe. These two ingredients gave us such a flavorful base that we could substitute water for a good bit of the store-bought broth to eliminate any vestige of heavily cooked commercial flavor.

Next, we addressed the soup’s lack of body. The vegetables themselves were substantial, and rough-chopping (rather than fine-dicing) them amped up their heartiness. But even the starchy potatoes didn’t do much to thicken the broth. We were struck with an interesting idea: adding a grain, like barley, to bulk up the broth. We added some of the pearl variety to the pot just as we poured in the liquids. The beads were partially plumped by the time we added in the vegetables, and they were perfectly al dente when the soup was ready to be served.

For another dimension of flavor and richness, we finished the soup with flavored butter. Stirring in a dollop at the table contributed a burst of fresh flavor and plush body that only dairy can give, but without the cloying, flavor-dampening effect of milk or cream.