I think beef barley soup gets a bad rap sometimes. Let’s face it… it's brown, kind of drab looking, and something we've all eaten since we were kids. It doesn't have a bunch of fancy ingredients in it. In fact, it's usually a soup that we throw together using a cut of beef that's usually on sale, chuck roast. So it's one of those dollar-stretching recipes. But why not make a homemade soup that's a little more special than what you are used to eating? If you're making it yourself, you can do things that make the ho-hum more hoo-hah!
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In a bowl, soak the porcini mushrooms in the hot water and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large 6-quart pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the beef and brown on all sides (you may have to do this in batches so you don't crowd the pan). Once browned, remove the beef to a plate.
Then, to the same pan, add the onion, leeks, carrots, and celery. Add a pinch of salt and sauté the vegetables until the onions begin to caramelize and the vegetables brown on the edges, 7-10 minutes.
Add the soaked mushrooms and the soaking water, browned beef, lentils, broth, sherry, thyme, bay leaves, a large pinch of salt, and several grinds of black pepper to the pot. Stir to combine everything and bring soup to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the barley in a large pot of water for 20 minutes. Then, drain the barley and set aside. After the soup has cooked for 90 minutes, add the barley to the soup and cook for 15 more minutes. Serve.