I call it Gospel soup. In my memory, it was one of those things served up before we headed to church on Sunday nights — a bowl full of a hearty and warming goodness served with toasted white bread slathered with melting butter.
Mine was a church-going family, committed to the core. Though Sunday morning was the main event, a second round on Sunday night — the Gospel service — was for those with mettle. We were those. Clearly, mum knew we needed sustenance. Her lamb and barley brew did the trick. And that toast. Mmm. Really, all that crusty sourdough with cultured butter aside, thick-sliced Tip Top spread liberally with Flora was Sunday night heaven. I was Gospel ready!
I do like soup. I’ve written about it before. There is something wonderfully universal about it, yet so immediate. As part of a meal or as the main event, soup is almost democratic in its inclusivity, yet its execution from one culture to the next — from one family to the next — is particular, quirky and personal.
When it comes to comfort, my soup can come in many guises: cream of tomato, pea and ham, chicken noodle, potato and leek, Minestrone, pumpkin and ginger, or French onion. As the only menu item in the earliest European restaurants of the 18th century (named from the French restaurer meaning ‘restore to a former state’), soup truly is a restorative. Soup sustains. It heals. It warms. What’s more, soup is generous and hospitable — there’s always enough for one more.
There’s no recipe for mum’s lamb and barley soup in her book, but I can recreate it without missing a beat. It’s the vibe that counts. That Gospel vibe.
Here’s what you need
- 2 – 3 meaty lamb shanks (or lamb necks will do the trick)
- 2 fresh bay leaves (dried if you must)
- 6 black peppercorns
- 2 cloves
- 2-3 litres of water
- 2 brown onions, diced
- 4 sticks of celery, diced
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced
- 2-3 leeks (whites only), halved lengthways then thinly sliced (you can soak them in water if you spot any dirt, otherwise you might have unwanted grit in your soup)
- 2 large waxy potatoes, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- 1 cup of barley
- A generous handful of flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
Here’s what you do
- Heat your oven to around 250c.
- Place the lamb shanks on a baking tray, douse with olive oil and season liberally with salt and pepper.
- Put the lamb shanks in the hot oven and let them roast for around 20 minutes. They should come out sizzling and smelling delicious.
- Add the shanks to a large soup pot along with the bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves and cover with water. The two to three litres suggested is an approximate. This is not the time to be literal!
- Bring the pot to the boil then lower to a simmer, cover and let the shanks cook for an hour.
- Remove the pot from the heat, take out the shanks and set them aside.
- Drain the remaining stock into a large bowl, removing the bay leaves, peppercorns and cloves.
- Put the empty soup pot back on the stovetop on a high heat and add a little olive oil and bring it to a sizzle.
- Add in all the veggies: onions, celery, carrots, leeks and potatoes along with the garlic and thyme. Let them cook together, stirring with a wooden spoon, for around 10 minutes.
- Add the stock back in and bring it a simmer.
- Add in the barley and stir it through. Leave the pot simmering for around 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, once the shanks have cooled sufficiently, remove the meat with a knife and pull into edible pieces.
- Add the meat back into the soup, then add the parsley.
- Season to taste. If the consistency of the soup is too thick for your taste, you can always add water, but thickness is goodness!
Now it’s ready, ladle the soup into bowls and serve with buttery toast. Sourdough if you must.
Now, get yourself to church pronto! Or all that comfort will be for naught.