Napa Cabbage Hulled Barley Soup

Currently, we are experiencing wintry weather as a way to welcome Spring. What a damper!

And staying home to cook a hearty soup is my way to welcome the rain, winds and Spring. I am using these YIFON mushrooms in this everyday home-cooked fare. To have a little spice factor - I combined some Spicy Bailing Mushrooms - 白灵菇 and some Assorted Mushrooms-三味菇 in a vegetables and barley soup.

Practice makes perfect. I think I am getting better at creating tasty vegetarian dishes. Nah, vegetarian dishes are not bland. In fact, they can be flavorsome and delicious...ahem...speaking from this non-vegetarian here. And seriously, it is not difficult to develop flavors in vegetarian dishes. It is not the (huge) amount of oil you have to use. And you don't have to over-depend on excessively-rich, heavy hot sauces.

How then?

Napa Cabbage and Barley Soup
Ingredients: 1/4 medium yellow onion, finely diced; 4-6 thin slices of ginger; 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced; 2-3 celery, thinly sliced; 1/2 carrot, sliced to matchsticks; about 6-8 leaves of Napa cabbage, finely sliced/julienned; 1/2 tomato, diced; 2-3 tbsps of hulled barley (soaked overnight); some YIFON mushrooms (Note: you can use fresh shitake mushrooms as alternative); salt and white pepper to taste

Directions: Fry the onions and ginger - till the onions are slightly caramelized and soft. Add in garlic, carrots, celery, barley and fry to combine. After about 5 minutes, add some water and allow it to simmer for about 10 minutes. When carrots and celery are slightly tender and barley is partially cooked, add the napa cabbage,  tomatoes, mushrooms, more water, and simmer low heat about 15 minutes or more till more flavors develop. Salt and pepper to taste.

So how then? To flavor up a vegetarian soup like this?

Cooking Tips:
- You saw the tomatoes I have used (that I cannot emphasize enough);
- Then there is also a pre-fry of the onions (till slightly charred and caramelized) to deepen the flavor intensity.
- It is sometimes not everything-all-at-once-in-the-pot! The sequence of adding the ingredients is important as well. Since celery, and carrots cook longer than Napa cabbage - those were added first so that more time is allowed for developing flavors with the aromatics (onions, ginger, garlic) before the Napa cabbage is added. To zoom into details, you should add the "white" bottom stems of the Napa cabbage first (since those take longer to cook), then the leaves.

You can also do a multiplication of flavors to your preference, after your dish is almost done; and maybe?...make?...

(1) Hot and Sour Soup 酸辣汤 - add ~2tsps of black vinegar, and more freshly ground white pepper

(2) Sesame Miso-Flavored - add ~1 tsp of miso (dissolved in warm water) and 1/2 tsp of sesame oil

(3) Sesame Oil - just a drizzle of sesame oil before serving.

Seriously, I have cooked this soup more than once to be able to tell you (1), (2) and (3) all taste good!

I am sharing this at My Meatless Mondays, Hearth and Soul and Souper Sunday.

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