The most beloved of all American holidays has come and gone, and after so much planning, too. As I mentioned in my last post, I've got quite a few American friends here in Toulouse, and together we starting mapping out Thanksgiving almost as soon as we met, back at the beginning of October. Of all holidays, there's something particularly jarring about being out of the country over Thanksgiving. It's just so very American, obviously, centering on our (in)glorious beginnings as a nation; it almost doesn't translate, holding Thanksgiving in another country, and as bountiful and delicious as our expat Thanksgiving was, it just wasn't the same. And, of course, Thanksgiving is all about family; with all of us being so far away from ours, we instinctively banded together, eager to share our own family recipes so that we wouldn't have to go even one year without our grandma's stuffing, or our aunt's green beans.
I hosted Thanksgiving here at my house, and decided to tackle the bookends of the meal: the turkey, to start with, and pumpkin and sweet potato pies at the end (it was a potluck, and everyone who came contributed side dishes). Unfortunately, none of those recipes was a family one. But I decided to pay homage to my grandma Georgia, this year, with the Thanksgiving leftovers. My grandma hosts a feast of a Thanksgiving at her home in Pittsburgh every year: among an all-star lineup of dishes, my favorites have to be her sweet and sour meatballs, and her pumpkin pie. But another favorite of mine is one that slips under the radar: her day-after, turkey barley soup. She makes it with the stripped turkey carcass, of course, adding root vegetables and nutty barley to the mix, and it's the perfect after-Thanksgiving food: warm, hearty, and nourishing without being heavy, it's a welcome change from the rich, starch-heavy favorites of the Thanksgiving table. This was the first Thanksgiving of my whole life that I didn't spend with my grandma (and the rest of my family), but I figured I could bring her into my home here by making her soup.
Well, my own take on it, that is. I actually couldn't remember what all my grandma puts in her soup, but I knew that its two principal characters are turkey and barley. I had both of those things. I also happen to love mushroom barley soup, so I decided to add mushrooms to my recipe. Given that I succumbed to a nasty cold just yesterday, it was almost as if the soupmaking stars aligned.
I started by making the broth: when I woke up yesterday, I plopped the turkey carcass in a huge pot, added lots of cold water, and simmered that baby away for, say, 4 hours or so. Then I turned off the heat, skimmed the fat and foam off the top, strained out all the bones and bits, added some salt, and my broth was done.
Next, I set to work chopping up some tasty vegetables: leeks, carrots and mushrooms. I sautéed them in butter in a big heavy pot, adding some thyme for flavor and some flour for thickening. Then I slowly poured in the broth, and let the mixture simmer as I moved on to my next task.
I believe I've written about this on the site before, but I reiterate that soup is one of my favorite things to cook, period. It's a slow, relaxing process, building layers of flavor but never demanding very much effort or technique. And best of all, it feels so economical. That's what I was thinking about as I sifted through the soft, broken-down bones of the turkey carcass, pulling away the last remaining bits of meat and discarding the skin and fat. This turkey had already fed 15 or 16 people, with plenty of meat to spare, and there was still almost a cup's worth of flesh clinging to the bones. I felt like I was really doing justice to the bird, using every conceivable scrap it had to offer.
When the vegetables in the soup were tender, I stirred in the remaining turkey meat to heat it through, then ladled a steaming cupful into my barley-filled bowl (I cook and keep my barley on the side, stirring it in portion by portion, so that it doesn't get soggy in the soup). I don't know if my grandma would make this soup like I did--if anything, she would probably simplify it by dumping all the other ingredients right in there with the turkey carcass--but the flavors were almost exactly the same as the ones in her version, and they were powerful enough to transport me all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Turkey Mushroom Barley Soup
- 1 turkey carcass, or 2 turkey legs
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into half-moons and rinsed of any grit
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into a medium dice
- 1 lb. white or brown button mushrooms, sliced
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 2 tsp. flour
- 1 cup barley, rinsed and cooked in boiling salted water until tender
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chopped parsley, for serving
1. Place turkey carcass or turkey legs into a large stock pot and add 8 - 1o cups of cold water. Place over medium heat, bring to a boil, then drop to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered, for 3 to 4 hours.
2. Turn off heat and skim any foam, fat or impurities off the surface of the stock. Strain stock through a fine colander to remove all bones and grit. Set bones aside.
3. In another large, heavy-bottomed pot set over medium heat, sauté the vegetables in the butter until softened, about 8 - 10 minutes. Add the thyme and the flour and cook, stirring, for 5 more minutes.
4. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring to combine. Bring soup to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
5. As soup cooks, remove all edible turkey meat from bones, discarding everything else. When vegetables are tender, add turkey meat to soup to heat through. Check soup for seasoning.
6. To serve, place a small amount of cooked barley in each bowl and ladle hot soup over it. Garnish with parsley.