I had one of those rare and amazing nights last night. You know those Saturday nights where you have absolutely nothing on – nothing at all that requires putting a face and clothes and shoes on and walking out the door. Things were already looking up.

Rare yes, but amazing why? Because I did everything and nothing! I put on two loads of washing (and cleaned the lint out of the dryer)… I changed the sheets… I opened weeks worth of mail… I paid bills… I wrote a grocery shopping list… I sorted the odd socks in my over-stuffed underwear draw… I emptied my wallet of bits of old paper and receipts… I tore out recipes from past issues of Gourmet Traveller and Delicious magazines… and I made a big pot of chicken soup.

To you, this may sound like a terribly dull way for a 32-year-old woman to be spending her Saturday night, but to me, it was such a pleasure to just find this ‘time’, for everything and nothing. I’ve taken on the occupational hazard of being a organised person, so restoring this mundane order – in my terribly unbalanced and busy world – was bliss (the wine and dark chocolate helped of course).

If this sounds like far too much excitement for your Saturday night and you’ve already fallen asleep, I don’t blame you – because it had the same effect on me. I was tucked up in bed with a cup of sleepy tea by 9pm and I even managed to read some of a non-food-related book – it may have only been a few pages that I could get through, but I’ll take anything.


So while all this wild activity was taking place, a pot of chicken soup was slowly bubbling away on the stove top, steaming up the windows and filling the house with the most restorative and comforting of smells. The rain bucketed down, washing away the chaos and aiding this cleansing mood I found myself in. It’s my combination chicken and vegetable soup because it takes inspiration from an old favourite, Fennel Brodo, and the rest is a bit make-it-up-as-you-go.

Chicken, barley and vegetable soup
Serves: 4-6; Prep time: 10 minutes; Cook time: 2 hours

1 whole organic chicken
1 leek, washed and roughly chopped
3 large carrots; 1 carrot roughly chopped and 2 carrots peeled and diced
1 brown onion, quartered
1 fennel bulb, sliced
1 cup barley (soaked overnight if possible)
3 cloves garlic, whole
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp salt
1/2 bunch of spinach
1 can white beans, drained and washed

– Combine the chicken, celery, leek, onion, garlic, the roughly chopped carrot, bay leaves, thyme, black peppercorns and salt in a large pot and cover with cold water (approximately 10-12 cups). Bring to boil then lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 2-hours
– Strain the stock into a clean pot and discard the cooked vegetables. Pull the meat off the chicken and cut in to a rough dice
– Return the stock to the heat and add the soaked and drained barley. Cook for 10 minutes until the barely starts to turn tender. Add the diced carrots, fennel and cook for a further 5 minutes
– Turn the heat off and add the chicken breast, spinach, beans and lemon juice. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste
– Serve as-is or with some crusty bread


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