A Tearful Reunion with Mushroom “Barley” Soup
Nothing heralds soup season like an early Noreaster, and the cold, rainy assault of ghastly unpleasantness it brings with it.
In weather like last week’s, I miss barley. More specifically, I miss me a bowl of warming, filling and comforting mushroom barley soup in all of its earthy, satisfying glory. I’ve come to terms with the fact that wheat has gluten, but et tu, barley?
As fate would have it, I was walking through a health food store last weekend and I spotted an unusual vaccuum-packed bag of some strangely named grain-looking product called “Job’s Tears.” Immediately, I notice this grain looks exactly like pearled barley. I read the label. It reveals frustratingly little about this unusually-named food, except to confirm that it is, indeed a grain. From Japan. And it is best used to add some heft to slow-cooking soups. Cautiously optimistic (I’ve been hurt by grains before), I buy these so-called Job’s Tears and promptly return home to start the research.
My own eyes welled up with tears when the grain list on the Celiac Sprue Foundation website confirmed what I had been hoping: the grain called “Job’s Tears” (aka: Coix seed, Hato Mugi, or Adlay) is not only gluten-free, but it serves as a perfect substitute for pearled barley in recipes.
What are Job’s Tears?
Job’s Tears, like other cereal grains, is a grass. In this case, it is a tropical grass native to parts of Asia (but since transplanted to some parts of the U.S.) that got its nickname from the tear-like shape of the grain it produces. The ones I bought are white, meaning that they have already been hulled. Apparently, however, one can readily find the brown (unhulled) version sold in Japan.
From what limited information I could gather, Job’s Tears are not nearly as high in fiber as an equivalent
amount of pearled barley, but are significantly higher in protein and iron for roughly the same number of calories and net carbohydrates. They also contain an equivalent amount of B-vitamins. According to my analysis of an unpublished report posted on the website of Purdue University’s Center for New Crops & Plants products, a 50g portion (1/3 cup) of uncooked Job’s Tears contains 190 calories, 33g of carbohydrate (of which a negligible amount is fiber), 7.5g protein, 2.5 mg iron. Compare that to an equivalent 50g portion of pearled barley (1/4 cup; its grains are smaller than Job’s Tears), which would contain 175 calories, 39g of carbohydrate (of which 8 huge grams are fiber, leaving 31g of actual energy-producing carbohydrate), 5g protein and 1.25g iron.
As I continued my research into Job’s Tears, I learned that its extract is used as a dietary supplement in Chinese Medicine to treat inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis. I further noted that several sources warn that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid taking Job’s Tears supplements. I dug deeper into this warning and found some studies in pregnant rats fed extracts of Job’s Tears which showed an increased rate of miscarriages. Apparently, there are some compounds in the grain that increase uterine contractility, and these compounds appear to be much more biologically active in the hull (and, by definition, any extracts made from the hull) than the de-hulled seed. (Most Job’s Tears sold in the US will be de-hulled; hence the flashy white color and low fiber content.) Of course, the doses in these studies tend to be significantly higher than in any amount you’d reasonably ingest from eating a physiologically normal food serving, but I thought I’d mention it in case any pregnant celiac readers of mine decide go on a pickles/ice cream/Job’s Tears bender and start devouring it 3 meals a day in copious amounts. My advice, based on this albeit limited research, would be not to do that.
Where to buy Job’s Tears
Your best bet is online. The cheapest one I could find was from an online store called Simply Natural for $4.50/lb. (If my math serves me correctly, that’s the equivalent of about nine 1/4 cup raw servings, or nine 1 cup cooked servings.)
Recipe: Mushroom Barley/J.T. Soup for all (Ok, well for four. Double the recipe if you wish).
Of course, the beauty of pairing Job’s Tears with mushrooms in a soup is that the high-fiber mushrooms will help make up for JT’s fiber shortfall. If you can eat barley, then this soup is a major-league fiber powerhouse, which explains why a bowl at lunchtime will keep you set until dinner, easily. This recipe is only slightly adapted from a near-perfect old favorite from my dog-eared copy of the Daily Soup Cookbook.
2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/4 lbs mixed mushrooms of your choice, stems removed and reserved and caps sliced (For reasons of economy, I use mostly cremini or button and then top them off with a few exotic species for sex appeal. Adding some reconstituted dried shiitakes adds nice texture, too.)
5 cups cold water if using barley, 6 cups if using Job’s Tears
1/4 cup white wine
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
3/4 cup Job’s Tears (gluten-free) OR 1/2 cup pearled barley (gluten-full)
2 tsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
- Heat 1 TBSP oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add mushroom stems and sweat 5 minutes until soft and releasing liquid.
- Add water and wine and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer for 20 minutes. Fish out the stems with a slotted spoon and set the stock aside in a separate pot.
- Using the original soup pot, heat remaining 1 TBSP oil. Add onion, celery and carrot and sweat until soft, 4 minutes or so.
- Add thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Stir to coat veggies.
- Add sliced mushroom caps and saute 5 minutes until soft and releasing liquid.
- Add the stock and the Job’s Tears OR barley. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer for 1 hour until the grain is tender.
- Remove from heat and stir in vinegar and garlic.
- Fish out the bay leaf and serve!