My souperinspiration: Bhutanese inspired beef and barley soup
Traditional Beef and barley soup
This soup is one of the classic Western style comfort foods. It’s thick, hearty and delicious.It is nutritious as it’s packed full of vegetables, pearl barley and meat; perfect to keep your vitamin levels up during the cold season. Beef barley soup is one of my favourite soup. It has a rich and silky broth packed with beef cubes, carrots, onion, celery and lots of barley! This is the basis of my inspiration and I wanted to make something that was Bhutanese inspired as I realised that one of the major grains eaten here was barley. When we were in Bumthang, there was a memorable soup we had, something we never had before, a roasted barley flour soup. Apparently, this is a soup eaten in the mornings when it is cold in fall and winter and when one has a hangover or not feeling well. Indeed soup and comfort go hand in hand.
The best moments of my Bhutan trip were spent here in Bumthang valley, faraway from all the other reaches of the world. You’d be forgiven for thinking we’d transported ourselves to Switzerland but, no, this is Bhutan’s cultural heartland, Bumthang. Four bucolic pine-clad valleys make up this area of the country where the main activity is farming. Every lane is filled with placid grazing cattle of the doe-eyed Jersey kind, so calm they pay no heed to passing vehicles or pedestrians. The small fields are neatly cultivated with crops of buckwheat and potatoes. Orchards are full of lichen encrusted apple, plum, peach and apricot trees. Clouds of blossom rise up into the blue sky, set against the fresh green of pollarded willows. One great Tibetan saint said of Bumthang “Its pleasure meadows and cascades are beyond all description”. And yes, superficially it’s the very image of Darling Buds of May. Underneath it’s the result of hard graft of the kind few of us have to trouble ourselves with in the 21st Century. There are two possible derivations of the name Bumthang. The more literal one is that the main valley is shaped like a bumpa or vessel of holy water. When combined with thang, the word for field or flat place, we arrive at Bumthang. I prefer the translation which refers to the notoriously pretty women of the area –bum meaning girl. There’s more to Bumthang’s similarity with the Alps than just the landscape of pine-clad mountains and flower filled meadows. Our accommodation had many rustic features, including wooden chairs with little carved hearts, roaring wood-burners and enviable quantities of top-notch logs. It even served up homemade jams, pear ara (locally brewed alcohol) and pancakes. Down the road in the optimistically signposted “Industrial Area” there are tiny factories making Swiss cheese and apple juice. Red Panda beer, a cloudy Bavarian-style weissbier, is manufactured in the brewery and very good it is too. Alcohol goes to your head twice as fast at this altitude and quickly disables your legs!
The cooking process
With hearty ingredients and rich broths they warm you up on cold nights and keep you nice and full longer. In Bhutan, there is no better time to love soup more than during the fall. The weather outside is cold yet beautiful and refreshing yet poetic. I wanted to recreate a classic soup with a Bhutanese twist, reminding me of good days we had in Bumthang hence we have a special beef and barley soup steeped with traditions of an old world traditional soup, with robust flavors and hearty ingredients.