Mmmmmmm……nothing beats a bowl of rustic, hearty soup right in the middle of winter.  Tender pieces of beef in a rich, spiced tomato broth, laden with veggies and nutty pearl barley, topped with a delicious dollop of sour cream.  Let us not forget the smoked paprika and parmesan bread that was used to mop up the bowl…..dare I say it?  Emmalicious!!

This recipe would be suitable for the slow cooker, brown the meat first and then add the rest of the ingredients.  8 hours on low should do it!   Believe it or not it would also be suitable for vegetarians……just remove the beef!!

Prep time:  30 Minutes                  Cooking time:  3 Hours                $  Low Budget

Serves 6-8

Olive oil for frying

1kg of chuck steak, cut into bite sized pieces

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 large brown onion, finely diced

1/2 bunch of thyme sprigs, tied together with a piece of kitchen string

2 tbs of smoked paprika

1 tsp of chilli flakes

1 cinnamon stick

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 punnet of button mushrooms, halved

1 cup of pearl barley, rinsed

1 small red capsicum, seeds removed and diced

1 bag of baby kale  (baby spinach will do)

400gm tin of tomatoes

1.5 litres of beef stock, salt reduced if possible

500ml of water

3 tbs of tomato paste

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 tsp of sugar

Sea salt and cracked pepper

Sour cream, to serve

2 tbs of finely chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish

Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

For the Cheesy Paprika Bread:

1 large turkish loaf, halved lengthways

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

1 tsp of smoked paprika

1 cup of grated parmesan cheese (tasty would be good too)

Heat a large soup pot and add a little olive oil.  Brown the meat on all sides, in batches and remove and set aside in a bowl.  Don’t drain it on paper towel as you want all the juices for flavour.

In the same pot, add a little olive oil if needed and lightly fry the onion until soft.  Add the garlic, thyme, carrot, celery and capsicum and fry for a few  minutes or until the veggies just start to soften.  Add the paprika, chilli flakes and cinnamon stick and stir the mixture to prevent it sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the stock, water, tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well to combine.

Bring the mixture to the boil, add the meat back to the pot and season with salt, pepper and sugar.  Pop a lid on and simmer for 11/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

After 11/2 hours, pour in the barley and simmer for a further 45 minutes or until the barley is tender.  It will still be a little chewy…..that is ok!  Remove the lid when the barley is tender and add the kale just before serving so that it retains its colour and is just wilted.  Remember to remove the thyme stalks as they look a tad unsightly once stripped of their leaves.

To make the bread, preheat the oven to 180°C.  In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, smoked paprika and salt and using a basting brush, paint the fleshy side of the bread.  Sprinkle over the parmesan and place it on a baking tray.  Bake in the oven for 1o-15 minutes or until golden.

To serve, ladle a generous amount of soup into serving bowls.  Top with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkling of parsley and a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil if you wish.  Cut the bread into wedges and serve with the soup……emjoy!!