Monthly Archive: January 2008

Lentil Barley Chicken Soup

I roasted a little 4 pound chicken yesterday, and we ended up devouring the whole thing in one meal. Never saw the kids eat so much chicken or gravy. Bother were especially good, though.

That left me with a carcass that could still be used for stock and some meat for a smaller soup, but nothing as meaty as usual when I do that. That came together with my itch to try something different, like a lighter soup (usually I make more of a stew), or something with beans or lentils, and with my realization (duh) that I could cook some standalone chicken to add if I had a skimpy carcass, or wanted to make soup without having roasted a chicken. It’s just something that comes to mind with a whole chicken in the name of maximizing food value.

I decided to try inventing what amounted to a lentil soup in chicken stock. I hadn’t eaten lentils, as far as I can recall, since my mother made lentil soup from surplus food lentils when I was a teenager. I didn’t even consult recipes for inspiration, as I do most of the time. For instance, to see what people spice lentils with in soups or other dishes.

In an effort to get a bone-free cooking down of the carcass, I used the pasta insert in the stock pot, with maybe an inch of water up into the insert at its height, and the carcass simmering and steaming there. I turned it regularly to cook the chicken flavor and residual spices into the water, while softening up the remaining meat to shred off.

That worked well. Once I had the meat off the bones, I removed the insert and put the meat in the water, then added things like celery flakes, red pepper flakes, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf pieces, and I forget what else. It was completely unmeasured, but not huge amounts of any one thing.

I started thawing three boneless chicken breasts, one tiny and the other two maybe middling. While that happened, I cut up two modest cloves of garlic and a small onion, cooked them up lightly in butter in the frying pan I planned to used for the chicken, then put the majority into the pot, turning the heat off until I could cook the chicken.

When the chicken was thawed, I trimmed as needed and cut it into tiny pieces, not exactly cubes, but on that idea. That went in the frying pan and cooked through, with the residual onion and garlic, to the point of browning on one side. As it started cooking, I added a little red pepper, some sage, a lot of black pepper, some savory, a little more celery flakes, and probably something I’m forgetting.

When that was done, I added it to the broth, then immediately added some barley and close to half a bag of lentils. The lentils could have waited a little longer, as they cook fast, but they didn’t liquefy completely as peas seem to do. Or perhaps I didn’t cook it long enough to find out…

When the rest was essentially done, I added half a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, more for added color and interest than because there was any need. Where I didn’t add raw carrots as I usually do in a chicken soup, you could easily. I also tend to use frozen peas in a chicken soup, but lentils and peas would kind of overlap. Both of those were represented in the mix, at any rate.

I also spiced it a little more as it cooked and as I tasted. That included a little basil, as I thought it needed the sweetening effect that would bring, though the frozen veggies also help take out the kind of bite I wanted to counter.

In the course of it I used a tiny pinch of nutmeg, earlier, and a tiny amount of turmeric, which I have been using in, well, nothing really. It felt right. It’s a spice that I didn’t find I could match well to foods based on how it smelled. You know, smelling it and being able to say “that would go well in that dish” or “that would complement those other spices in this dish” almost intuitively.

Oh, so the soup? Raves. The kids each got a taste ahead of time. One loved it, then didn’t touch hers to speak of. The other one wasn’t excited by it, but ate a significant portion, mainly the chunks of chicken I made sure were in her bowl plentifully. Deb and I could barely get enough of it. I had feared it being too onion flavored, but that didn’t stand out at all. In fact, nothing did. I’d say I could detect a hint of the turmeric, but the flavors blended nicely, and the textures and relative amounts of the barley, chicken and lentils were perfect.

I took some pictures, but I was enthusiastic enough that I thought I’d post rather than trying to remember after some delay.

I will definitely make something like it again. We served it with French bread on the side, which doubles as something the kids will fill up on, even if they aren’t keen on the main dish.