In Winter’s midst, we make meatballs (and put them in beef and barley soup)

Beef and Barley Soup with Meatballs, Kale and MushroomsGourmandistan was fortunate enough to escape most of the massive snowstorm that engulfed America’s east coast in the past few days. However, several inches of snow and a somewhat ice-clogged creek have reminded us that, as in winters past, we may become stranded at home with no food options but what we have on hand.


With an eye towards the ugliness that February might bring, Michelle brought home some beef, veal and pork and spent some time making a batch of multipurpose meatballs, which we first used in a lovely beef, barley, kale and mushroom soup. Their next appearance may be in a batch of lasagna (we have some ricotta and mozzarella that need using) or perhaps in a warming bowl of pho.


Not much snow. Thank goodness.

Other than leaving out assertive spices such as oregano or coriander, there were several touches that made this batch of meatballs special, if ethnically unspecific. Michelle thinks sautéing onions and garlic before mixing them into the meat makes for a more delicate flavor. A batch of homemade hot dog buns Steve deemed only semi-good made for some exceptionally light and fluffy breadcrumbs, which also made these meatballs very tender. Added red pepper flakes provided a bit of heat, which should be welcome no matter what cuisine we choose to work within.

Beef and Barley Soup with Meatballs, Kale and Mushrooms

Hopefully we will continue to have a mild winter, and will not be forced to endure weeks of isolation as we did last year, when our propane reserves ran so low we could no longer use our stovetop. But even if the worst weather again passes us by, we will no doubt dip into our cache of meatballs, making something delicious in (or in spite of) the cold.


  • 12 oz. mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 3 TB olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 TB sherry, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 small carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • 6 or more cups beef broth (preferably homemade)
  • 24 small (1”) meatballs*
  • 1 small bunch Lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves cut in ribbons
  • ½ c. barley, cooked according to package directions

Cook mushrooms in 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet. Use relatively high heat to get a good sear on the mushrooms, tossing frequently. Season with salt and pepper. When mushrooms are browned, reduce heat and add 1 tablespoon sherry. Toss until sherry is absorbed. Set aside.

In a soup pot, cook onions in remaining 1-1/2 tablespoons of olive oil, stirring occasionally. When onion is soft and lightly colored, add garlic, celery and carrots. Season with salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes. When vegetables have softened slightly, add beef broth. Simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.

Add remaining tablespoon of sherry and meatballs and simmer for 5 minutes. Then add kale and simmer for about 4 minutes more. Add reserved mushrooms and let them heat. Taste for seasoning.

To serve, place about one-fourth cup of cooked barley in each bowl. Then, using a slotted spoon, add meatballs and vegetables to bowls. Pour broth over.

*We try to keep meatballs in the freezer over the winter months, saved in packages of 6 or 8 medium or more of the mini ones which can be pulled out to use on pizzas, for sandwiches, with pasta, in soups or in Michelle’s favorite, Spanish meatballs with almond sauce. There is no recipe as such. Just mix together ground meat (the traditional mix of veal, pork and beef is good), some finely chopped onion and garlic that has been sautéed in oil and cooled, a lot of chopped parsley, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, an egg or two, some tomato paste and some sort of liquid (cream, milk and/or stock) to moisten. Roll the meatballs and freeze on a tray. Once frozen, they can be vacuum sealed and re-frozen in small packages without sticking together.


  1. Great idea to store away for winter, when it finally arrives! Sitting in shorts at 6 am here in Australia marvelling at all the snowy photos from the US. margaret

  2. Barley is my new favourite grain. Husband made a hearty beef barley soup last week that 4/5 family members devoured enthusiastically. I like the look of this recipe and will give it a try. Soup is the best in the winter!

  3. I’ve already made an offer of a continental house-swap with friends in Maryland ( or alternatively to go there to cook and shovel snow all day in exchange for room and board)…

    Because here in Perth it’s 35•C with clinging humidity and all I’m inclined to do is succumb to all-day siestas!
    Stay safe and stay warm, friends!

  4. Greeting from a Virginian buried under a couple of feet of snow. Spent much of the day digging out the cars, but the good news is school has been cancelled for the next two days (it is a simple fact that school teachers/librarians look forward to snow days even more than the students!) … lots of time to undertake a culinary project such as these scrumptious looking meatballs. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. What a hearty, delicious looking soup. I like the idea of stocking up on meatballs as the weather rolls in. I actually did the same. Now I just have to make them. I never actually saute the onions beforehand. With meatballs I like to use the bowl as a catch-all affair and let it all cook together. I may actually have to make this soup tonight!

    • I’m so persnickety. 🙂

      Oh, and I hope you’re digging out up there! We’re just disappointed that the prior Snowmageddon record (when we were, actually quite happily, stuck up there for a week) has been broken!

  6. Love the idea of your ethnically unspecified meatballs, never thought of having them in a soup actually. Glad to hear your you´re doing alright on the snow front!

    • Yeah, it’s not something you see all that much, but there’s a dish called “Italian Wedding Soup” (likely of Italian-American origin) that uses meatballs. And the Mexican albondigas soup, too. So I certainly can’t claim any authorship!

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