It’s the verboten, not-as-intended foods that I’ve always been drawn to — cake batter, cookie dough, pilfered leftovers straight from the fridge, cold canned spaghetti, uncooked 2-minute noodles. To this list, we can add today’s Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli in its ice-cold, waiting-for-tonight state. Despite the unappetising prospects of congealed barley, I could not stop swiping spoonfuls of it. Luckily for those of you who do not share my deranged tastes, it’s also excellent in the more expected temperature of piping hot — but it does benefit significantly from cooling down before being reheated. In that time the barley hungrily absorbs the murky broth while the beans mind their own business, and the flavour develops from 480p to 1080p in that mysterious way food can do.
When I was a kid every winter would see the stove bearing a bubbling pot of what we called Dog Bone Soup, where some cheap animal limb and a packet of King’s soup mix danced over a low heat, and I marvelled at how much better the soup tasted the next day despite nothing having been added to it — somehow all by themselves the cartilaginous meat, the lentils fuzzed almost into nothing, and the swollen barley all gained so much flavour just by sitting around. You wouldn’t think to look at pearl barley — a greyish-brown grain — that it could have so much power, and yet! Something in its tenderness and rice-fragrant plainness is very comforting and crucial to the success of this dish. I’ve taken the shortcut route with a can of mixed beans, and while there’s nothing stopping you from soaking and simmering each individual variety of dried bean here, the barley does the heavy lifting for making this soup taste like it was cooked for hours with loving, studied intention.
If you don’t have time to let it cool, this soup is still delicious — creamy bumps of beans amidst the barley like the colourwork in a Fair Isle cardigan, the familiar soffrito background of onion, carrot, and celery, and fat cloves of garlic simmered into submission in the soup before being smashed into Kewpie mayo and dolloped continentally into the soup. Although there is a culinary precedent for souping up your soup with aioli, if the idea doesn’t sit right with you it can always be spread over bread for dipping. The sweet lushness of Kewpie and the mellowly simmered garlic, however, add an extra spike of flavour and silky richness as it seeps into the broth. This is simple, soothing food, but not without panache.
I never thought of myself as a soup person but have blogged about it frequently this year — there’s probably some psychological or sociopolitical reason swirling around this decision-making, in the manner of Meryl Streep’s Cerulean Monologue. Whatever it is, soup is good, and should you be of this same mindset there’s also my Tomato and Bread Soup with Fried Carrot Pesto, the Chilled Cannellini Bean Soup with Basil Spinach Oil, and this Roasted Garlic Lentil Soup to consider.
Four-Bean Soup with Kewpie Aioli
A low-stress soup studded with barley and beans, ideal for cold rainy days — it’s all the better if you can let it sit for a while before reheating but if you need it now, it’ll still taste great. Simmering the garlic cloves in the soup before mashing them means their flavour will be softened and any harsh bite removed, without having to roast them. Recipe by myself.
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried celery
- 1/2 cup pearl barley
- 1L (4 cups) water, plus more for topping up
- 2 chicken stock cubes
- 5 cloves of garlic, peel on
- 1 x 400g tin four-bean mix
- 1/4 cup Kewpie mayonnaise
- leaves from 2-3 sprigs of thyme
- salt, to taste
1: Very finely chop the onion and carrot, or — as I did — chop them into a few large pieces then throw them in a blender or food processor and blitz them into mush. An extra dish to wash is a happy trade-off here in my opinion. Warm the two tablespoons of olive oil in a large saucepan and then tip in the onion and carrot, along with the teaspoon of dried celery. Stir for about a minute over a medium heat.
2: Add the half cup of pearl barley to the pan, then add 750ml (three cups) of the water. Crumble in the two stock cubes, then drop in the five cloves of garlic, still with their peels on. Bring this mixture to the boil, stirring occasionally, then lower it to a simmer and let it bubble away gently until the pearl barley is tender, stirring now and then. This should take between twenty minutes to half an hour.
3: Once the barley is tender, fish out the garlic cloves and set them aside for a minute. Drain the liquid from the tin of beans, and tip them into the saucepan along with the remaining 250ml/cup of water. Let it simmer for another five or so minutes until the beans are warmed through, and taste for seasoning — I added a hearty shake of salt here, and then more after reheating and topping up with water. Meanwhile, squeeze the cloves of garlic from their casings into a small bowl and mash with a fork, then mix in the 1/4 cup of kewpie mayo. You can add a tablespoon of olive oil to thin it down a little if you like.
The soup is at its best when it’s had time to cool down and sit for a few hours, before being heated up again (at which point you will likely need to add another 250ml water). Divide the soup between your bowls with a dollop of the Kewpie aioli and a scattering of the thyme leaves on top.
Serves two with seconds, or three without.
- You can replace the teaspoon of dried celery with a whole stick of celery (throw it in the blender or food processor with the onion and carrot) or, failing that, a dash of celery salt, bearing in mind the effect on the seasoning
- If I’d found a five-bean mix then that’s what this soup would’ve been so go right ahead if that’s what is on your shelf
- If you have an extra mouth to feed, just throw in a second can of beans instead of doubling the entire soup, but you may need more aioli
- I love the specific Kewpie flavour, but you could replace it with regular mayo or aioli, or use sour cream instead, or very thick yoghurt would work too
No. 1 Fan by Majesty Crush, the kind of swirlingly immersive song that consumes you right back.
El President by Drugstore featuring Thom Yorke, speaking of haunting songs with the lyric “kill the president”, those prowling strings are so sinister they could be accompanying a pneumatically powered prop shark named Bruce as he moves into frame.
Oh, Lady Be Good by Cleo Laine. I recently watched the film Lady Be Good (such is my love for Eleanor Powell that I will follow her into the flimsiest of storylines) and the titular Gershwin tune has been stuck in my head ever since; in Ms Laine’s spectacularly buttery contralto it sounds even better.
Eple by Röyksopp, the actual captured sound of shivers going up your spine.
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