Growing up, I remember eating a lot of stews my mother made that showcased barley. It wasn’t until this fall that I realized I had gone at least 12 years without having barley; this October 2013 marking 12 years since my mother passed away of cancer.
Being too young to have observed her closely in the kitchen and being too young to have appreciated the process of making a good soup, I now try to imagine what ingredients she would have used to make a hearty barley stew. I try to envision what ingredients she would have always had on hand to make these soups and stews. I remember rows upon rows of spices and dried herbs in the cupboard. I distinctly remember bay leaves and thyme being a common theme. With my memory fading, it would be impossible to recreate these recipes. So, I’ll do my best to reinvent. I think she would have liked that.
- 2-3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
- 3/4 cup pearl barley, rinsed
- 3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- 3 medium sized onions, diced
- 3-4 stalks of celery, diced
- 1 large carrot, diced
- 4-6 garlic cloves, smashed
- 4 cups homemade or store-bought chicken stock (see simple homemade stock recipe)
- 1 tall can or a couple bottles of any light beer (whatever you have handy in the fridge)
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp dried thyme
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup butter
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Heat oil in large soup pot over medium heat. Throw in chicken and season with salt and ground pepper. Turning occasionally, cook for 10-15 minutes, or until all sides of chicken are cooked. Remove the chicken and set aside.
Add carrots, onion, celery, and garlic to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, stir occasionally until vegetables soften; about 10 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, beer, thyme, bay leaves, barley, chicken, deglaze the bottom of the pot and bring to a boil.
Lower the temperature and gently boil until barley expands and softens; about 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, take a small sauce pan and heat butter over medium low heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk the flour in slowly and let thicken. This will happen quickly, so be careful not to brown. Once thick, remove from heat and add to stew in the remaining 15-20 minutes. Let the stew thicken, simmering on low heat, uncovered.
If you’re like me, you’ll soak up some broth with a stack of saltines! Not much beats a salty, soggy saltine.
Serves 4 – 6.