Southwest Bean and Barley Veggie Soup

This recipe makes a lower sodium version of a favorite Campbell's soup. There's nothing like simmering a pot of soup  all afternoon, filling your house with good smells and some extra humidity - a bonus on a cold winter day.

If you aren't regulating your sodium, feel free to use your regular bullion and tomatoes and throw in salt to your taste, if your diet allows. And since this soup is a hodgepodge of ingredients, leave out what you don't like and add other things you love - make it your own! I think diced summer squash would be a nice addition near the end of cooking. I didn't have any on hand or I would have done that, too.

First, fill a large soup pot with vegetable broth. I use my own homemade stock, made by simmering each week's worth of collected vegetable scraps - mostly carrot peelings, bits of celery and onion, spinach leaves, whatever gets generated while prepping my veggies. I strain out the spent veg from the broth, then simmer off a lot of the water so I can freeze it in a concentrated form. Note: I don't add cauliflower or cabbage to my veg broth, as they both have heavy flavors that would drown out everything else.

To the pot of veggie stock, add:
1-1/2 cups mixed dry beans and peas, whatever combination you like.
2 bay leaves
Simmer uncovered on low for one hour.

My weapons of choice: dry barley, and a bean/pea mixture, both from Fresh Thyme. Fun Fact: I love glass storage jars.

After the hour's simmer, add to the pot:
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
½ large white onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 packets or cubes of chicken bullion. I use Herb-Ox no sodium packets.
¼ cup dehydrated diced green bell pepper (if you use fresh, don't add it till later, at the same time I mention adding orange bell pepper.)
One 14.5 oz can no salt added diced tomatoes, and the juice.
¼ cup dry barley
2 cups frozen green beans (I had some from the garden laying around in a Ziploc in the freezer, looking sad, so I tossed them in. They're optional.)
1 tbsp garlic powder, or two minced fresh cloves. I make my own garlic powder from my own garden's garlic, so I used that.

Notice it's 1:20 in the afternoon here. Also, did I mention I love glass storage jars? I also love my ancient, battered, no longer pretty soup pot and I would not trade it for a shiny new one.

Continue Simmering on low for two hours.

Now, fish out the two bay leaves and discard them, then add to the pot:
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup shredded cooked chicken breast
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp oregano
2 tsp Hot Mexican style chili powder
¼ tsp McCormick Hot Shot Extra Bold Pepper Blend if you are lucky enough to have some, otherwise cracked black pepper.
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ cup each of shredded Gruyere cheese and shredded cheddar or cheddar/Swiss blend. I use pre-shredded cheese from the store, life is too short to shred cheese. I like my cheese to always be ready to go at any given moment.  Stir cheese in gently.

It's starting to look like soup! It's also starting to look like dinner time.

Continue simmering for as long as it takes for the beans and barley to be almost tender.

Taste and adjust seasonings. Dice up half an orange bell pepper and add it to the pot. (If you are using fresh diced green pepper instead of dehydrated, add it now as well.) Simmer one last hour, or as long as it takes for the beans to be tender.

Just before serving, add a cup of shredded cheddar or cheddar/Swiss blend to the pot and stir it gently but completely into the broth.  If luck is with you, the cheese will vanish into a creamy, tasty broth.

Serve, preferably in a bright yellow Fiesta Ware gusto bowl!

Besides my adoration for glass storage jars and my beat up soup pot, I dearly love Fiesta Ware.
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