Persian cream of barley soup with shredded chicken
This soup is my medicine. When I am feeling under the weather or need a hug in food form, this is what I cook. Many Iranians are more familiar with our turnip soup for illnesses (Ash-e Shalgham) but for me it will always be our version of the classic concept of chicken soup that I turn to when in need. Creamy, hearty and comforting which is the prerequisite for a medicinal chicken soup – am I right?
I was introduced to this soup during a visit to a ‘Khaleh’ (Persian name for aunt on your mother’s side – ‘Ammeh’ for your dad’s side), who lived in Bognor Regis, a town and seaside resort in West Sussex, on the south coast of England. I loved visiting her for two main reasons: the first being that she lived beside the seaside (where the brass bands play ‘Tiddely-om-pom-pom!‘); and the second being this soup, which she would cook for me as she knew I loved it. In Farsi ‘Jo’ (pronounced ‘joh’) means barley – we like to keep our dish names simple.
This soup is super easy to cook. Unlike most our recipes, it does not include turmeric or saffron. The ingredients, as you can see below, can be easily sourced from most local supermarkets. If you are not a fan of coriander, then replace with parsley, which is the herb more commonly used in this recipe.
You can convert this into a vegetarian recipe by using vegetable stock and using mushrooms as an alternative to the chicken. I recommend frying the mushrooms in a little butter and garlic and then adding them to the soup for the last 10 mins of simmering and before serving.
Traditionally this soup is thickened with a bechamel, which I feel is unnecessary and makes the soup too thick and gloopy. With the availability of the handy stick-blender you don’t need to use a bechamel and can thicken the soup by blending a little bit of it. Also cream makes for a luxurious addition to the soup so my variations to the traditional recipe actually results in a velvety and lighter soup. It is such a hearty soup you don’t need to have bread with it but do feel free to have a buttered crusty roll or whatever you fancy to dip into the soup.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion or medium leek (finely diced)
- 3 cloves garlic (crushed or minced)
- 2 celery sticks (finely diced)
- 1 large carrot (or 2 medium carrots grated)
- 200 g pearl barley (washed and then soaked in cold water for a minimum of 1 hr)
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1.8 litres chicken stock
- 2 chicken breasts
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 3 tbsp single cream
- Small bunch of fresh coriander (finely chopped)
- Salt and pepper (to taste)
- Take a large stock pot or saucepan and place on a medium / high heat. Add the olive oil and follow with the onion and cook until it turns golden.
- Add garlic, the celery and 1/2 the grated carrot to the pan and stir. Cook for 5 mins, stirring occasionally to ensure it doesn't stick to the pan.
- Drain the pearl barley and add to the pan with the bay leaves and the stock. Bring to the boil and then lower the heat to allow the soup to simmer.
- Add the chicken breast to the soup and place a lid on the pan. Poach for approximately 15 mins, or until the juices run clear in the thickest part of the breast. Remove the chicken breasts from the soup and set aside to cool. Once cooled, shred the chicken and put to one side.
- Add the juice of a lemon to the soup and leave to simmer for a further 30 mins or until the pearl barley has cooked with the lid of the pan partially off. Check and stir the soup on occasion.
- Take a stick-blender and blend a little of the soup on one side of the pan to thicken. Then add the cream, the shredded chicken breast, the remaining grated carrot, the chopped fresh coriander and season to taste. Simmer the soup for a few minutes to ensure the shredded chicken is warmed through.
- Ladle into bowls and drizzle with a little more cream, chopped fresh coriander and olive oil to serve.