Friday, 24 November 2017

Pearl barley and tuna soup

budget soup recipes

When I was a student at Canterbury, I had to be frugal and cook budget meals for myself. I was lucky to have a British Council scholarship which covered my degree fees and living expenses, but obviously living on my own I couldn't rely on my parents' help if there was an emergency. They were thousands of miles away.
I lived on soups and sandwiches.
One of the soups that I often made was actually from my student days back in Russia. Pearl barley is a cheap ingredient, and bulks up any meal. Add any tinned fish (better in brine, but in tomato sauce would work well too), some sliced pickles, a potato and whatever you have in the larder - an onion, a bay leaf, a carrot, or a handful of frozen peas. You can vary and swap ingredients, but tinned fish and pearl barley are two main ingredients.
This soup could be also cooked with fresh or frozen fish, but that's more of a luxury version.
I think it's a very Russian combination of flavours - fish and pearl barley. At least I haven't heard anyone cooking them together here.

When I spotted a tin of tuna in the latest delivery from Degustabox, I decided to cook the soup from my Uni days. This was Rio Mare Tuna in oil (I didn't use the oil).

budget soup recipes

Pearl barley and tinned tuna soup
4 heaped tbsp pearl barley
1 bay leaf
1 shallot
1tbsp oil
a tin of tuna
1 fish stock cube (optional)
1 small carrot
4-5 cherry tomatoes
2 pickled cucumbers, sliced thinly
2tbsp brine (optional)
1 medium potato

Rinse the barley in cold water, and put in a medium sized pan. Add plenty of water. Barley absorbs a lot of water, so you'll need to top up the soup a few times, while it cooks. The barley will take about an hour to cook on low, simmering.
Add the bay leaf. Bring to boil, then cook, simmering on low.
Fry the thinly sliced shallot with the carrot in the olive oil for 5 minutes, then add to the barley soup with tuna and fish stock cube (about half way through the cooking of barley). You might skip the frying bit, but it adds a depth of flavour. Add the tomatoes, chopped cucumbers and brine.
Add the chopped potato in the last 12-15 minutes of cooking.
Add a bit of chopped parsley, dill or spring onions before serving, or a thin slice of lemon.
I also like to add a teaspoon of Greek style yogurt or soured cream.

I used Polish pickled cucumbers, those which you can buy in Tesco or Polish delis, they are called Ogorki Kwaszone or Ogorki Kiszone. I don't know what the difference is between these two words. I asked in the Polish deli, but they were not able to explain. They are different from standard British pickled cucumbers or gherkins, and I prefer them to too vinegary British pickles.
You can buy them in big jars or in plastic bags. The brine is also tasty, and is fab for hangovers.

And by the way, barley is very good for you - it helps digestion and improves blood sugar levels.


  1. I've been making pearl barley soup with bacon and veggies but had never thought about using fish - I love the idea of adding tuna so I'll definitely have to try that. You piqued my interest with the pickles - I loved them on our work trip in Poland (although I'm not sure I'd be up for drinking the brine, even with a hangover !!). If you translate wikipedia from Polish it says this : "Sickness and acidification are equivalent terms that can be used interchangeably. Pickled cucumbers and pickled cucumbers are the synonyms for exactly the same product: Cucumber, which is naturally lactified , whereby the simple sugars present in the plant cells are converted to lactic acid . It can not be ruled out that some dishonest food manufacturers use acetic acid to acidify cucumbers, but even then there is no meaning to this name, which will later be used by such unethical producers: vinegar with " as well as "quail".)" So, I guess one is natural fermentation with sugars from the cucumbers and one has vinegar/acid added ?

    1. Yes, both of these cucumbers taste fermented. I love pickles. I imagine Poland has a rich tradition of pickled vegetables, like many other Eastern European countries.

  2. I would never have thought of using tuna in soup. It sounds odd but your soup looks delicious. I will have to give it a try. I love gherkins, but not seen this type of pickled cucumber, will have to look our for them

    1. I guess it does sound odd to a Brit. :) It is very common n Russia though. A bigger Tesco in Oxford has a big section of Polish foods, I always find new things to buy.