This week I've been challenged to cook from my pantry as much as possible in an effort to cut my grocery bill. I'm reaching the end of the line with proteins from the freezer, and I'm limited to the few root vegetables left in my crisper drawer. I invented this light but satisfying soup from what remained in my refrigerator. Roasting the sweet potato before adding it to the soup adds a lovely, burnt-sugar complexity to the dish. Barley is more toothsome than pasta and a nice textural contrast to the soft sweet potato. The orange zest brightens the soup and subtly reminds diners of summer as fall begins to wane.
Autumnal Chicken Soup
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
2 chicken breasts
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup barley
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a large soup pot, combine the chicken stock, water, and chicken breasts. Heat over a medium flame until the liquid begins to boil; reduce to a low simmer. Cook until the chicken is done, approximately 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, in another pot, combine the barley with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer until the barley is tender, about 30 minutes. While the barley and the chicken are cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss them on a sheetpan with some olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven until the sweet potatoes begin to brown around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve. Drain the cooked barley and reserve. Remove the chicken breasts from the broth and let cool on a cutting board for a few minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull the meat off of the bones and shred into bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken, barley, and roasted sweet potatoes back to the stock. Zest the orange and add that to the soup. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
Variation: Add a bunch of chopped spinach or swiss chard at the finish and cook until wilted.
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