Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chicken and Barley Soup

While we were in California, my good friend Carrie served us a delightful chicken and barley soup. Knowing her propensity to make things up as she goes, I didn't ask for the recipe, but took it upon myself to make up one similar. We enjoyed for dinner last night and for lunch this afternoon. This recipe is definitely a winner in our house (which is saying something since I don't typically like broth-based soups).

Chicken and Barley Soup
2-3 chicken breasts, cubed
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp dried red pepper, crushed
6 cloves garlic, minced
7 cups chicken or vegetable broth, divided
1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 sweet potato, chopped
1 small onion, diced
1/2 tsp rosemary
1 tsp tarragon
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp basil
Dash of dill
Dash of cinnamon
Splash of sherry
1 cup pearled barley

1. In dutch oven pan, heat olive oil. Add chicken and saute for approximately five minutes, but do not cook through. The chicken should start to brown slightly. Add crushed red pepper and garlic. Saute another 30 seconds to one minute, taking care not to burn the garlic. The garlic should be very fragrant.
2. Add 3 cups broth and reduce heat. Add chopped carrots, celery, sweet potato and onion. Add rosemary, tarragon, salt, basil, dill and cinnamon. Bring to a gentle simmer. Add sherry.
3. Add barley and 3 cups broth. Simmer over low heat until the barley plumps, the vegetables become tender and the chicken is cooked through. Add more broth if you want a more liquid soup.
4. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve with French sourdough.

Lessons learned: I really tried to keep track of what I put in the pot as I went. The more time I spend the kitchen, the more I learn about spices. I tend to overdo the "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" (do you have a song stuck in your head now?) in my soups. This time, I went through my spice rack, sniffing each spice before it went in the pot. I really liked the slight mintiness of the tarragon. And to me, it's an unexpected flavor. I think sage and thyme would ruin it; make it too Thanksgiving-y.
The sherry was an afterthought. But, I love the hint of sweetness it added. I only used 2 tablespoons at most.
I'm not sure the cinnamon did anything, but again, it was something different.
If you don't like spicy heat, omit the red pepper, or cut back on it. It does leave a little zing at the back of your throat.
The beauty of barley, aside from its health benefits, is that it adds great texture to the soup. And, it soaks up tons of flavor and liquid. As such, the broth measurement here is just an estimate. I used at least seven cups of broth (mixing canned broth and low-sodium bullion with water). When I served it for lunch, the barley had soaked up even more liquid overnight, so I added another cup of hot water. It did not noticeably dilute the flavor at all.
I probably let the soup simmer a good hour before serving it (partly because I was waiting on the bread to bake). I like the flavors melded together so well and that the chicken was so tender.
I suppose you could substitute beef for the chicken. Also, I meant to saute the carrots, celery and onion along with some mushrooms before I added the broth. It helps release more flavor, I think. Maybe next time, because there definitely will be a next time with this one.

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