Springtime in San Diego reminds me of Ireland with its moody rains scattering showers in sudden bursts over canyons that for only about a month each year, here at least, are soft, baby green instead of desert dry. Visible patches of blue, white and gray race through the sky now, dappling the earth in patches of rain-kissed side light.
People here ask one another, “Are you enjoying the rain?” Overall, it is rare and always much needed, so when it comes, Yes, thank you, we enjoy it very much. In fact, we run right out and get ourselves soaked in the glory of holy Spring!
Yesterday was a day like that, so after our soak we got out the soup pots for dinner. We agree with Domenica Marchetti, author of Glorious Soups, “Too many cooks associate soup with (winter) weather, and that’s a shame because soup is a wonderful way to showcase the ingredients of spring, especially the young, delicately flavored vegetables that are now turning up at farmers markets, and the flowery herbs that complement them so well.”
Turning up fresh in our garden just now are asparagus, chard, basil and spring onions, so in honor of the day’s rain we turned to Ireland for inspiration ~ creating a Barley Asparagus Soup that my husband called “probably the best soup you’ve made yet.”
While this soup recalls Ireland to me, in the Springtime we could find a version of this soup in almost any kitchen in Europe. The Germans, Irish and Portuguese love Barley, while the French and Spanish are champions of the asparagus. In Spain, spears will be white, fat and creamy, while in France they are green and skinny. The Italians love them, too, especially in Risotto. The British serve them with hollandaise sauce, whereas those creators of the hollandaise, the Dutch, make an Asparagus Tart with ricotta, parmesan and tarragon that is calling me to Amsterdam.
Europeans know innately, that Mother Nature’s loving intelligence offers elegant solutions to her seasons, so that in the Spring, when the Water element is dominant (rain, cloud, swollen rivers), these ingredients ~ barley, asparagus, chard, garlic, spring onions, and the many varieties of Spring greens, are naturally detoxifying foods, helping us to warm up and lighten up after the heaviness of winter.
Ireland is a place where Spring reaches its maximum expression, so many of the foods you would find in the Irish Kitchen are Spring balancing, and Kapha-reducing. That means the balance of the Six Tastes are weighted towards Pungent, Astringent, Bitter.
The primary Astringent and Bitter tastes come from the Asparagus. Pungent is the garlic, onion, basil. We always need something sweet in our meal, as that gives substance. But in Springtime we want a lighter “sweet.” In this Soup the Sweet Taste comes from the grain, but Barley is light and slightly astringent, therefore drying, ideal in a wet season (or a “wet” constitution).
While we want to reduce the Salty and Sour tastes in this Water dominant season, the Salty taste brings out flavor and initiates digestion, while Sour feeds the digestive fire, so we don’t want to eliminate these tastes altogether. A bit of seaweed and a dash of Shoyu finish it off with perfect balance.
Seaweed is an excellent salt substitute because its secondary, bitter taste helps detoxify, while its gelatinous action helps ease toxins and encourage elimination.
Shoyu Sauce is a healthy, low sodium Japanese Soy Sauce which can be replaced with Tamari, or Bragg’s Amino Acid, although Shoyu is the best for a salty-sour seasoning that both enriches and defines the flavors of this soup.
“The soups of spring … wake up the palate and celebrate new life. Their delicate flavors are a reflection, in a bowl, of the rebirth taking place around us in nature, and so require only minimal tampering,” says Marchetti, reminding us that Spring’s bounty is also, mostly, effortless.
Barley Asparagus Soup
2 T Ghee
2 t Masala (see below)
1/2 Onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, optional
3/4 c. Barley
2 c. Vegetable Broth
4 c. Water
1 large bunch Asparagus Spears, chopped into bite-size pieces with hard ends removed
3-4 Leaves of Chard, shredded
1/2 t Seaweed (Dulse, Wakame, or Kombu)
1 T Shoyu (or Tamari, Bragg’s Amino Acids)
3-4 sprigs Basil
Optional: 2-3 Spring Onions, chopped
Melt the ghee in a large saucepan on medium low heat. Stir in the onions and allow to gently cook until they yellow. Add the masala and garlic and sauté for one minute.
Rinse the barley, and stir into the onion and spice, coating well. Add the vegetable broth, turn up the heat to bring to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water, bring to a boil, simmer for 40 minutes.
Stir in Asparagus, Chard, seaweed, and gently simmer for another 10 minutes. Instead of Salt and pepper, adjust seasoning with Shoyu and red pepper flakes. In serving bowls, garnish with Basil and Spring Onions, optionally.
My Spring Masala
1 T Ginger
1 T Cinnamon
1 T Basil, dried
1 t Red Pepper Flakes
1 t Turmeric
1 t Fenugreek Seeds
1 t Clove Buds
Grind the seeds, clove buds, red pepper and dried basil in a mortar and pestle or a spice or coffee grinder. Add the Ginger, Cinnamon and Turmeric powders and mix well.
Save in an airtight container to use with your Spring sautés, soups, pastas, and bean dishes, to help the body “melt winter’s accumulation.”