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Spicy Chicken Barley Soup with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach

(recipe, Melissa Clark)

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  1. 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  2. 1 Spanish onion, chopped
  3. 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  4. ½ tsp. sweet paprika
  5. ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  6. ¼ tsp. chili powder
  7. ¼ tsp. ground coriander
  8. ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  9. Pinch of cayenne
  10. 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  11. 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  12. 6 cups low-sodium or good homemade chicken broth
  13. 1 cup pearled barley, rinsed well
  14. 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  15. 12 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  16. 5 oz. (1 bag) baby spinach
  17. ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro or mint
  18. 1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
  19. Lemon wedges, for serving


  1. Heat the oil in a large soup pot over high heat. Add the onion and salt and sauté until limp, about 3 minutes. Add all the spices and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and sauté for another minute, until darkened but not burned. (If the tomato paste looks too dark too quickly, lower the heat.) Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 1 minute longer.
  2. Return the heat to high if you lowered it, then add the broth, 2 cups of water, and the barley to the pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Add the sweet potato and continue to cook until the barley and sweet potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes or more, adding more water if needed.
  4. Add the chicken, partially cover the pot, lower the heat, and simmer about 10 minutes. Add the spinach and cilantro and simmer until wilted. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt.
  5. Serve with the lemon wedges on the side.