In my home, winter means, “Honey, when are you going to make the yummy soup?”  This yummy soup is beef and barley soup, my husband’s favorite and a crowd pleaser.  In the past, I have made this beef and barley soup with carrots and celery, and it is delicious that way.  This time, I decided to add T’s Ecuadorean twist to it, using other vegetables which you would traditionally find in many Ecuadorean soups, namely potatoes (I know, this one is a tuber), and corn.  Of course, cebada is another staple in the Ecuadorean diet, grown in la Sierra, the mountains of Ecuador.

I didn’t like soup when I was little girl.  Who does?  Growing up in Ecuador, la sopa (lah SOH-pah), was the first part of the almuerzo (ahl-moo-EHR-soh), which consisted of a soup, followed by a main course, usually rice and a protein.  We were not allowed to eat the second portion of our almuerzo (my favorite part), without eating la sopa first.  Ugh!  What a torture!  The worst part about the soup was, of course, the vegetables.  Seeing the little leaves (cilantro or parsley) floating around along the onions and the carrots… BLECH!  I was more less like Mafalda… If you are familiar with Latin American comic strips, Mafalda was the creation of Argentinian cartoonist Quino (pen name for Joaquin Salvador Lavador).  It first appeared on Argentinian weekly Primera Plana in 1964, and it spread to other newspapers until 1973, when Quino decided to pull the plug.  Mafalda was known for her out-of-this-world love for The Beatles, her idealist views, and her aversion to LA SOPA!
Back to Sopa de Cebada con Carne de Res…  The Ecuadorean way is to use refrito as the base for the soup, and season the meat with aliño. If you can marinade the meat in the aliño for an hour or more, the better.  If you don’t have aliño handy, you can season the meat with salt, pepper and cumin instead, and it would be equally delicious.    This soup takes two hours to cook, so it is perfect to make it during a lazy Sunday afternoon.  Talk about comfort food!  This sopa de cebada con carne de res is bound to warm up your heart and your stomach.  Like my abuelita used to say, “Esta sopa es levanta-muertos!”  Translation: “This soup will raise the dead!”  Yeah, it is that good!  Enjoy!

Sopa de Cebada con Carne de Res
(serves 4-6)
Ingredients:
1 lb beef stew meat, cut in smaller cubes
Aliño, or salt, pepper and cumin to season the meat
1 small tomato
1 small green pepper
1 small red onion
Olive oil
2-3 ears of corn, cut in 2-inch sections
6 small russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 cups of water or stock (beef or vegetable)
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp red hot pepper flakes
1/2 cup barley
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Preparation:
Season the meat with aliño, or salt, pepper and cumin.
Prepare the refrito by processing or finely chopping the tomato, pepper and onion.
In a large stock pot, heat some olive oil and sautee the refrito on medium heat.  Season the refrito with salt and pepper.  Add the meat to the refrito and sautee the meat until it turns brown in color.
In a separate frying pan, heat up a bit of olive oil and sautee the cubed potatoes.  This will help maintain the starch content of the potatoes, and prevents them from falling apart in the soup.  Sautee until slightly golden in color.
Add the water or stock to the sauteed meat.  Add the potatoes, the corn, the bay leaves and the hot red pepper flakes.  Simmer for 2 hours on medium-low heat.  Taste the liquid for seasoning, and adjust by adding more salt and pepper if necessary.
Toward the last 20-25 minutes of cooking, add the barley, and simmer until the barley is soft.  You may need to adjust for water, since the vegatables and the barley absorb the water.  Turn off the heat.  Add the lemon juice and the chopped cilantro.  Serve warm.