Barley Chicken & Vegetable Soup is just what the doctor ordered for a warm-up on cold days. Since the soup starts with cooked chicken, it can be done in just about an hour—just be sure to soak the barley overnight. OR, use my suggested modifications to make the soup in your slow-cooker.
Barley Chicken & Vegetable Soup: for those times when you just need a big bowl of comfort food
It’s Groundhog Day, and the danged rat has predicted 6 more weeks of winter. This has put me in a foul mood. It seemed like a perfect time for a hearty soup recipe.
I’m a born and raised California girl, transplanted to Wisconsin (with stops along the way). Even though I’ve lived in Wisco USA for over 15 years (yikes!), I will never get used to the winters here. Sure, it looks bright and sunny outside right now, but…
…THE SECOND I step outside, we’re talking snotcicles, folks.
Suffice to say that I get a bit bummed during the long, cold winter.
That’s why I call this dish soul-warming barley chicken & vegetable soup: not only is it clean and tasty, but it’s also a bowlful of warm coziness—if a big bear hug came in bowl form, this would be it.
Strategies for making barley chicken & vegetable soup
Barley chicken & vegetable soup came about because I had part of a rotisserie chicken in my fridge and I was cold. I also had vegetables to use up and a bit of barley in the pantry.
I work from home, so this was easy to make “in the background” in the late afternoon. Given that most people don’t work from home, a good strategy for making this soup is to meal-prep the veggies, pick the chicken, and soak the barley in advance, then start the soup when you get home. Plan to let it cook for 45 minutes to an hour, until the barley reaches the texture you like.
You can also use a crockpot strategy. The night before, meal-prep by:
- picking the chicken and cutting into bite-size pieces;
- measuring out the herbs and seasonings (I like to keep mine in a covered ramekin);
- slicing/chopping the onion, celery, and carrots;
- giving the mushrooms a sauté until they’re soft; and
- storing everything in the fridge: the onion, celery, and carrot in one container; the chicken and sautéed mushrooms in another (they’ll be added to the soup together).
In the morning, add the barley (unsoaked, in this case), broth, vegetables, herbs, and seasonings to the crockpot and cook on low while you’re at work. Then add the chicken and mushrooms and let the soup continue cooking for about 15 minutes more to warm everything through.
All that being said, the stove top is my preferred method because browning the vegetables imparts an additional layer of flavor. Either way, this soup is plenty flavorful, so I leave the cooking method up to you!
Barley Chicken & Vegetable Soup: about the ‘shrooms
I adore mushrooms, but I get it: not everyone does. Not to worry! Zucchini—cut into ~1/4″-thick half or quarter rings—would make a wonderful alternative: just be careful, as zucchini tends to get mushy if it cooks too long. For the stovetop method, I’d suggest adding the zucchini for about the last 15–20 minutes, checking to be sure that it doesn’t go too far. You can do a light pre-sauté for the crockpot method, adding the zucchini to the soup just until warmed through and tender.
No cooked chicken on hand? Not to worry: you can also use cubed boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thighs. You can brown it with the veggies on the stovetop before adding the broth, or add it straight to the crockpot.
There you have it: barley chicken & vegetable soup is about as versatile a recipe as you can ask for. I love to serve the soup with a sprinkling of parsley and Romano cheese, a few grinds of black pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. I hope that this soup is as much of a pick-me-up for you as it is for us!
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Barley Chicken & Vegetable Soup is just what the doctor ordered for a warm-up on cold days. The soup starts out with cooked chicken, so it can be done in just about an hour—just be sure to meal-prep the veggies and soak the barley overnight. OR, use my suggested modifications to make the soup in your slow-cooker.
- 2 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin)
- 1 cup onions, diced
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- 1 cup celery, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup pearl barley (see Recipe Note #1)
- 3 tsp mixed herbs (e.g., Italian or Herbs de Provence)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 qts chicken stock (preferably homemade)
- 3 cups water
- 8 oz cremini mushrooms, trimmed and cut into bite-sized chunks or thick slices
- 3 cups cooked chicken (or see Recipe Note #2)
- 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to taste)
- 1/4 cup Romano cheese (for serving, optional)
- 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped, for garnish
Add the oil to a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the carrots, onions, and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent and the vegetables are softened slightly, 5–7 minutes.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, barley (pre-soaked and drained), mixed herbs, and bay leaves; sauté an additional minute.
Pour in the chicken stock and water, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover partially with a lid (I crack the lid open about 1/2") and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the cooked chicken. Continue simmering for 25 additional minutes. Check the barley for texture: if you prefer a softer consistency, continue to simmer up to 1 hour. (If the broth gets low, add an additional cup of water.)
Check the seasoning of the soup, adjusting if needed. Serve topped with a sprinkling of Romano cheese, parsley, and a couple grinds of black pepper.
The night before: sauté the mushrooms in a skillet until they give up their juices. Scrape the mushrooms and any juice into a plastic container and keep in the refrigerator.
Add all ingredients through the chicken stock and water to the slow-cooker. Season with salt and pepper. Set on low and cook for at least 6 and up to 8 hours.
Check the broth: if it's low, add an additional cup of water. Add the chicken and mushrooms. Cook for an additional 15–20 minutes until warmed through. Check the seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Serve topped with a sprinkling of Romano cheese, parsley, and a couple grinds of black pepper.
- If you are using the stovetop method to make the soup, soak the barley overnight in 2 cups of water. Drain the barley before use.
- You can use uncooked chicken breasts and/or thighs: cut into bite-size pieces to make 3 cups.
- For the stovetop method, add the chicken to the pot after the carrots, onions, and celery have sautéed for 3 minutes, then continue with the recipe.
- For the crockpot method, add the chicken at the beginning of the slow-cook.
- If you're not a fan of mushrooms, zucchini would be a wonderful alternative. Slice it into half- or quarter-rings about 1/4" thick. For the stovetop method, add it during the last 15 minutes of cooking, checking to be sure that it doesn't overcook. For the crockpot method, do a pre-sauté the night before until the zucchini is just tender, then add to the crockpot for the last 5 minutes before serving so to warm it through.
WORK-AHEAD: prep the veggies and the chicken the night before. Alternatively, the completed soup will be even better 1–3 days after you make it. Just keep it covered in the refrigerator!
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