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The first time I make a soup recipe, I follow it closely. If I like how it turns out, I tweak the recipe, because surely I can improve it, right?

That is how this recipe started. The original calls for beef stew meat, which I eliminated when I stopped eating beef. But I still make the soup. It is different each time, depending on what kind of tomatoes I might have handy or whether I remembered to buy cumin or garlic.

Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat and toast a heaping spoonful of cumin seeds. Put them into a slow cooker and add whatever canned tomatoes you have handy. If the tomatoes are whole, chop them with a wooden spoon until they are chunky. Two to three cans are probably good, plus a can or two of water. A can of tomato sauce is fine, too, plus salt and pepper, maybe garlic, maybe even a dash of cinnamon.

I usually cook about a half cup of mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil and add them to the slow cooker. After about 45 minutes, I add another half cup or so of raw mushrooms, just to have different textures. If I have frozen mushrooms, they’ll go in, too.

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In about an hour, add 3/4 cup of barley. It won’t look like there’s much, but trust me: It will be plenty. Cook until the barley is done, another hour or two. The soup will get thicker with each day, so just add a little water if you’d like.

There you have it: comforting, yummy, easy and healthy. I promise to not take offense if you tweak it for your own tastes. I just might take that as a compliment.

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