Chicken, Barley and Kale Soup

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I have a confession to make. I am not a huge fan of “hearty greens” – kale, collard and mustard greens have never really “done it” for me. Now, this might have something to do  with  the fact that we  just haven’t been properly introduced.   The first time I tried them, they were harsh,  acerbic and didn’t seem to have much substance – and despite the fact that they are tremendously nutritious, I just couldn’t get myself to eat them.  From that point forward, I have pretty much avoided them. Lately though, wherever I turn it seems  I come face to face with them. Given how many people rave about them (kale chips anyone??) I decided that I really needed to give them another try. So, when I saw this soup  recipe I thought it would be a great opportunity to once again try hearty greens  since I loved all the other ingredients – fennel, onions and barley swimming in a flavorful broth. Chunky and hearty, this is my kind of soup!! So when the rains hit this week, I was ready. I made some adjustments – adding and subtracting from the basic recipe.  The verdict? Good, very, very  good. In all honesty, this soup may never be my absolute favorite, but it will definitely be part of my soup “repertoire”. My experience with the kale was a good one and I know I will be trying other recipes that feature kale and other hearty greens.

As I was writing  this post, I kept thinking that my experience with hearty greens  is a lot like our experience with people. Sometimes first introductions don’t go well – people can seem harsh, acerbic and lacking in substance and it’s easy to dismiss them.  Sometimes though, after getting to know them, you find that you actually like them or that they  really aren’t as bad as you initially thought  – something perhaps to ponder as we head into another acrimonious  election season.


Chicken, Barley and Kale Soup

(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

  • 3 cups water
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. boneless, chicken breasts, rinsed and dried and  cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 3 cups chopped onions
  • 1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed, leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh fennel fronds
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
  • 1 lemon, juiced


1. Combine 3 cups water and 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock. Add barley and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook until barley is tender, about 40 minutes.

2. While barley cooks, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil to a large dutch oven (or your favorite large soup pot). Add chicken to pot, browning on all sides. Remove chicken from pot and set aside.

3. Add onions, fennel and white pepper to the pot and cook, over medium high heat until onions are browned and fennel is softened, about 10 – 15 minutes.

4. Add the wine and stir, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining stock to the pan with the barley and any remaining liquid. (Soup can be made up to this point 1 day ahead – cover and refrigerate).

5. Bring stock and barley mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the kale and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes.  Add fennel fronds, dill and mint and simmer for 5 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp. of the lemon juice – taste and adjust seasonings, adding more lemon juice as desired.

6. Ladle into bowls and serve. Accompany  the soup with some good crusty bread and/or a small salad.

Cooking Notes: To properly brown chicken dry it thoroughly. Wet chicken will stick to the pan and won’t brown as well.



  1. says

    Soul sisters!? I’m the same; I think it was my introduction to them when I was 28 and moved from St Louis to Raleigh, NC. Grits I could do but those greens. Overcooked mush that just never tasted very good to me so I’ve avoided all these years; just no interest at all.

    But like you I’ve heard the chatter and am wondering if I should give them another shot (and I would probably start with kale chips!). But truth is, I still don’t think they’ll ever be a big part of my diet; I’m just not that crazy about the idea of soggy greens and that includes spinach (which I love fresh).

    • says

      Hi Barb!!

      Adding the greens to a soup is a great way to try them out – even my 14 year old thought it was good – and he is not known for liking his “greens”!!! I def think we are “soul sisters”! REALLY hoping oldest goes to Boulder since it would give me a chance to come and visit you!!!

    • says

      Hi Jean!!!

      Like you, I generally make soup once a week during the fall and winter. This soup is a great make ahead one. You can finish the soup and then just add the greens while you are reheating it!!

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