I wholly believe that part of the difficulty of eating affordably is, in some cases, completely solvable by learning simple cooking techniques. This won`t solve all the world`s problems but I know that some easy tricks could make a difference.
Last night was a good test of our committment – it`s a busy week and the evening was chock full. I had a 30 minute chunk of time between arriving from work and needing to head out the door to meet Dana for a walk. 30 minutes to get dinner on, change, clean a little, return some calls – you know the drill.
I decided on a chicken barley soup. The goal was something warm and hearty for last night as well as something that could be used for lunches through the week. I spent $7.50 on ingredients – barley, tinned tomatoes, a 2-pound bag of onions and a full (`double`) chicken breast with skin and bones in tact.
Before we discuss the recipe, a few tricks.
Onions from Canada were $2 a pound when purchased individually. $0.50 a pound would buy you onions from Peru. I was frustrated by this choice until I dug a little deeper – a 2-pound bag of onions from Keswick, Ontario were $0.99.
Canned tomatoes can be bought affordably and often with little to no additives. I would have prefered crushed tomatoes to extend the flavor of my broth but a quick crush was my only option.
I bought the smallest chicken breast possible – the skin and bone are a bonus in this case – they are all flavor. Instead of spending $3-4 on a 1-litre box of commercial stock, $4 of chicken and $0.50 of Onions will make 2 litres of stock – and also provide actual chicken for the soup. Vegetarians could replace the $4 chicken with $4 of root vegetables.
Place some olive oil in a pan and heat. Through in about 1 pound of onions and season to your taste (we used salt, pepper and chilli flakes).
When te onions are on, bring 1.5 litres (6 cups) of water to a boil. Rinse the dried barley and add it to the boiling water; stir occasionally. Simmer for 20 minutes. While you could cook the barley in your stock, it would absorb so much broth that you would have to add more water and lose flavor from your soup. 2 cups of dried barley make 4 cooked; you could easily use less. Cooking it separately is a key to extending your broth without losing flavor.
As the onions soften, clear a spot in the middle of the pan and place the chicken to seer it quickly. You are looking to add some brown on both sides. If you don`t get a great sear, don`t fret – this is a bonus stage.
Cover the onions and chicken with water. We used about 10 cups of water. When in doubt, use less water as you can always add more at the end. We can get away with more water than you think as we`re going to add flavor with the tomatoes.
Boil the chicken on a low simmer. It`s tough to overcook like this so accuracy is not of great concern, as long as it is cooked.
Remove the chicken from the broth after 20 minutes or so. You should be able to shred it with a fork – if not, chop finely with a knife. Discard the skin and bone and add the meat back to your pot. Add your can of tomatoes at this point.
Strain about half of the barley and add it to the soup. You can add the remaining unstrained barley at this time as well. Straining some of it simply reduces the overall starch content in your soup. Some starch is good (it adds thickness and flavor), too much just makes it feel like glue.
Allow the flavors to lightly simmer together – we did this after our walk.
The total work was about 15 minutes and the soup took about 45 minutes to make. The taste is phenomenal, warming and hearty.
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