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Spicy Chicken Barley Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

From the book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by
Serves 6 to 8
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1½ hours
Total Time 2 hours

Culinate editor’s note: Whole grains, lean protein, dark greens, and an orange vegetable add up to a delicious, nutritious meal-in-a-bowl. As with all barley soups, this one gets thicker the longer it sits; when reheating, add a bit of water to thin.


3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
½ tsp. sweet paprika
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
~ Pinch of cayenne
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups low-sodium or good homemade chicken broth
1 cup pearled barley, rinsed well
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
5 oz. (1 bag) baby spinach
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
~ Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté until limp, about 3 minutes. Add all the spices and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and sauté for another minute, until darkened but not burned. (If the tomato paste looks too dark too quickly, lower the heat.) Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 1 minute longer.
  2. Return the heat to high if you lowered it, then add the broth, 2 cups of water, and the barley to the pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet potato and continue to cook until the barley and sweet potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes or more, adding more water if needed.
  4. Add the chicken, partially cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and cilantro and simmer until wilted. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt.
  5. Serve with the lemon wedges on the side.

This content is from the book In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark.

There are 2 comments on this item
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0% recommend this recipe
1. by Teno1010 on May 11, 2011 at 12:40 PM PDT

If I use quick cooking barley, will it effect the texture if I continue to cook the Sweet Potato, or wouldn’t it make any difference.

2. by Carrie Floyd on May 13, 2011 at 10:27 AM PDT

I haven’t used quick-cooking barley before, but I’m guessing that if it cooks pretty quickly (say 10 minutes?) you can add it after instead of before you add the sweet potatoes. Otherwise, I have a feeling the sweet potatoes will cook to mush, i.e. dissolve into the soup.

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