Lisa Abraham

We all have our family sayings, those short phrases that we use to convey an idea without having to tell the whole story.

My grandmother once ate a cousin’s chicken soup, and dismayed by how tasteless it was, commented after she came home that it tasted like “the chicken just walked through it.”

For decades now, that simple phrase has been synonymous in my family for weak broth or tasteless food.

A week or two ago, I made a giant kettle of chicken noodle soup to fill the request of a family member who is recovering from surgery. I made enough for him and his freezer, and had several quarts left over to pass out to other family members and in-laws.

A certain branch of the family, whom I won’t name here, critiqued the soup and complained, “Too much chicken, not enough noodles.”

How did that happen? Isn’t it usually the other way around? How did my chicken-to-noodle ratio get so off balance?

Apparently my chicken had not only walked through the kettle, but stayed to roost as well.

Oh well. Making soup is never a sure thing.

I’d share my recipe if I had one. Mostly, I start out with a kettle of water and a chicken and hope for the best.

It always reminds me of the story Stone Soup.

Recently, I ventured into my basement where the boxes containing my childhood are stored to retrieve my copy. My mother wasn’t so much of a saver of items as she was a preservationist.

All of the books, dolls, games and toys from our childhood were lovingly maintained, and promptly delivered in boxes the moment my brother and sister and I had basements to call our own. I suspect most of them now qualify as antiques.

I got my copy of Stone Soup at my school’s Scholastic book fair. It’s an ancient tale that has been retold for centuries. It is the story of a vagabond who claims to be able to make soup from a stone in a kettle of water, all the while tricking a village woman out of the ingredients needed for a proper pot of soup: yellow onions, carrots, two fat chickens, beef bones, salt and pepper, butter and barley.

My own chicken soup recipe isn’t too different, although I do pass on the stone.

January is hailed as National Soup Month, and while the month is almost over, there’s still plenty of winter left for putting on a kettle of soup.

You can start with a chicken and pray she doesn’t have her walking shoes on.

Or you can try out this recipe instead:

SOUTHWESTERN STYLE CHICKEN WITH BARLEY SOUP

3 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

2 tbsp. chili powder

1˝ tsp. garlic powder

1˝ tsp. cumin

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

2 medium onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

˝ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes with their liquid

5˝ cups chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth

1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed

˝ cup medium pearl barley

1 (4-oz.) can diced mild or hot green chiles

1 tbsp. tomato paste

2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon chili powder, ˝ teaspoon cumin and the garlic powder. Place the chicken breasts in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice mixture and toss to thoroughly coat the chicken.

In an 8-quart Dutch oven over moderate heat, warm 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add the chicken and cook, turning once or twice, until browned and cooked through, about 12 minutes total. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil along with the onions and garlic to the Dutch oven and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the black pepper along with the remaining 1 tablespoon chili powder and the remaining 1 teaspoon cumin and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and their liquid, chicken stock, black beans, barley, chiles and tomato paste and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to moderately low, cover and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.

Cut or tear the chicken into bite-size pieces. Once the barley is tender, stir the chicken into the soup along with the corn, and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

— The Epicurious Cookbook

Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or at labraham@thebeaconjournal.com. Find me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter @akronfoodie or visit my blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/lisa.