There are 150 valleys in the canton of Graubünden and each probably has a different version of this, the region's most famous soup.
Different meats and vegetables can be used, but the unchanging ingredient is pearl barley, and it's the texture of the barley that makes this soup particularly satisfying.
Apart from an occasional soup or salad, I don't often use barley, and actually didn't know much about it. So here are some hard facts:
- Although it is hardly as ubiquitous as rice, wheat or corn, it is the fourth most produced grain in the world, and one of the oldest (13,000 years to be exact, as Wikipedia informs me).
- Its biggest producer is Russia, followed by France, Germany, Ukraine, and Canada, with a total yearly harvest of 144 million tonnes (however, to put that in perspective, wheat is at 749 million tonnes, rice at 738, and corn at over 800).
- Apart from barley soups and breads, the grain figures largely in Middle Eastern cuisine, and is used extensively in beer and whisky production and as animal feed.
I surveyed numerous sources while looking for the perfect recipe—the Graubünden tourism website, Betty Bossi's Schwiizer Chuchi, a cookbook full of regional specialties called Bündner Küche, even Sam's military cookbook (you know you can trust a recipe with 6kg of bacon and 1 litre of cream)—then finally put a few together to come up with this one.
It remains endlessly adaptable. Make it vegetarian. Add some parsnips. Toss in a pig's foot. Leave out the celery root. Whatever. Just don't forget the barley.
1 celery root
200 g bacon
50 g bündnerfleisch
knob of butter
100 g pearl barley
1.5 litre stock
salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
splash of cream
Chop the leek, carrots, celery root, bacon, and bündnerfleisch.
In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter, then add the vegetables, meat, and pearl barley. Fry this for about 5-10 minutes, then add the stock.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 hour.
Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
Stir in a splash of cream just before serving.
- Bündnerfleisch is a dried meat from Graubünden. If you don't have it you could use another dried meat, or even cooked ham.
- You can dice the veg and meat as finely as you like. I like a thicker, more rustic chop.
- Leave out the meat and you've got a vegetarian soup. I saw one recipe that stirred in smoked tofu just before serving.
- Depending on how fatty the bacon is, you may want to leave out the splash of cream.