Chicken soup is good for the soul, yes—but it’s also so nourishing for the body. There are dozens of versions out there—with noodles, rice, dumplings, and more. But this one, with barley and vegetables, is my healthy best. To preserve texture, preventing the vegetables from getting too soft and the chicken too hard, I cook the chicken meat, carrot, and celery separately from the simmering stock, stirring it in about 10 minutes before serving.
• 2 large bone-in chicken breasts
• 2 cups water
• 4 cups homemade or good store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
• 2 small onions, divided (one onion whole for the stock; one chopped to make 1 cup small dice)
• 4 ribs celery, divided (one rib cut in large pieces for the stock; three ribs diced to add later)
• 3 carrots, divided (one cut into chunks for the stock; 2 cut into rounds to add later)
• Bay leaf
• 4 pepper corns
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 2 cups fresh spinach leaves, chopped, stems discarded
• 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
• 1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
• 1/2 cup barley
Cut the meat from the chicken breasts into small pieces. Set aside. Place chicken bones with water and four cups chicken stock into stock pot over low heat. Add 1 whole peeled onion, 1 rib celery cut in large piece, 1 carrot cut into chunks, bay leaf, and four whole peppercorns to the pot. Simmer, partially covered, over low heat for 2-1/2 hours. Add barley and continue simmering until barley is tender. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add olive oil and chicken breast meat. Cook until chicken no longer shows any pink. Add chicken and juices to soup pot. In sauté pan over medium-low heat, add 1 cup diced onion, dice from three ribs of celery, and rounds from two sliced carrots. Ladle ó cup of the simmering stock into the sauté pan with the vegetables. Cook until firm-tender and not mushy. Add to the soup. Stir chopped spinach leaves, thyme, and rosemary into the soup pot. Simmer all for 10 more minutes. Serve hot.