Enjoy this delicious, healthy and easy Cajun chicken barley vegetable soup that's packed with vegetables and protein. Not only is it a tasty and nutritious meal, it also makes a lot, making it great for meal prepping and freezing in portions for later.
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There's a fun backstory to this flavorful chicken barley vegetable soup with Cajun spices - the idea actually came from a reader of An Oregon Cottage.
I think it was in response to an email about recipes for using up pantry and fridge ingredients (Are you on my email list? You're missing out if you're not!).
I saved the idea just for a time like this when we need delicious recipes that will help us to eat well, waste less, and save money.
In full disclosure, this reader (hi, Sharon!), called this recipe idea a "gumbo" because while it could include any vegetable it "always, always includes okra" - which you will see I don't include in the main recipe because it's not my favorite.
It does, however, include the holy grail of Cajun cooking, the onion, pepper and celery sauté, as well as Cajun seasonings. If you would like more of a gumbo by all means add the okra (it's one of the reasons I like cooking, since I can tailor recipes to our liking).
Cajun Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup Recipe
As you can guess, the ingredients for this soup, like many soups, is pretty flexible.
I always add the chicken and some kind of sausage, plus the Cajun trifecta of onions, peppers and celery. After that, anything in the fridge, freezer and pantry that needs to be used up can be added.
- Chicken - use chicken thighs or breasts, your choice.
- Sausage - while a Cajun andouille sausage would be perfect, you can definitely use any cooked sausage you have.
- Onion - any type of onion works.
- Peppers - I used both sweet and hot peppers, but you can use one or the other (the the small round bowl below the barley above contains Anaheim peppers I roasted and froze).
- Celery - the combo of the onions, peppers, and celery is classically Cajun (and Creole, too).
- Garlic - minced fairly fine for this recipe.
- Cajun seasoning - you can purchase a cajun seasoning, or quickly make a small batch of your own with spices in your pantry using the recipe I've included below (it's also great as a rub before grilling just about anything!).
- Barley - both pearled barley and hulled barley can work in this recipe, the different cooking times are listed in the recipe card.
- Diced canned tomatoes - I like using home canned tomatoes, but any diced tomato works, of course.
- Chicken Broth - if you've got homemade broth in the freezer or on the shelf, this is a great place to use it. If not, this easy bullion, recommended by America's Test Kitchen, is cheaper and better than boxes.
- Other vegetables - frozen corn, grated carrots, and spinach are pictured, but you really can use just about anything you need to use up.
Easy Ingredient Swaps
Here are a couple ingredient substitutions I can recommend for Cajun chicken barley vegetable soup:
- You can use cooked rotisserie chicken you may have in the freezer (one of my favorite things to meal prep), instead of starting with raw chicken. Simply skip cooking the chicken with the veggies in the first steps and add the cooked chicken at the end, warming through along with the spinach.
- To use okra, add it chopped along with the onion, pepper, and celery.
- To use other vegetables, just be aware of the differences in cooking times, if there are any. For example, to use kale instead of spinach, you would add it with the other vegetables before cooking, as it benefits from longer cooking than spinach.
- Besides pearled and hulled barley, there is also a quick cooking barley that will only take 10 to 15 minutes of cooking after bring to a boil.
- For gluten sensitivity, you can replace the barley with brown rice. You may need to increase the cooking time by 10 to 15 minutes.
- Replace store bought seasoning with Homemade Cajun Seasoning (makes about 1/2 cup): 2 tablespoon paprika, 2 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon cayenne, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon black pepper - mix all together and keep in an airtight container.
How to make Cajun Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup
Once all your ingredients are ready, this soup comes together fairly quickly, with about 15 minutes of sautéing and then cooking about 30 minutes or until the barley is tender.
- Heat oil in a large soup pot (a 6-quart pot like this will hold it) and then add the onions, peppers, celery and garlic, cooking until they have softened a bit, 2-3 minutes.
- Add cubed chicken and cajun seasoning, tossing with the vegetables and cooking 5-7 minutes until chicken is cooked through.
- Add tomatoes, corn, carrot, chicken broth, barley and sliced sausage. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn to low and cook, covered, for 30 minutes or until barley is tender.
- Stir in spinach and cook another 5 minutes until it's wilted.
- Season to taste with salt and serve.
Cajun Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup FAQs
Yes, it freezes really well! Simply add cooled soup to freezer-safe containers (individual portions are the easiest to use, like these 1-cup portions) and freeze for 3-4 months.
Barley holds up well when reheated on the stove, too, making it really nice for meal prepping.
It is like a gumbo, but with the addition of barley. To make it more truly a gumbo add okra. Also gumbo is thicker, more like a stew, so decrease the chicken broth to 4-5 cups.
Barley has many healthy benefits, including being an incredible source of fiber, vitamins and minerals and even having some cancer-fighting properties. (source)
Barley does contain gluten, so those with celiac or a sensitivity should avoid it (you can easily replace it with brown rice in this recipe).
Tips for Storing & Reheating Cajun Chicken Barley Soup
- Cool completely before storing.
- Keep in the refrigerator for up to five days (it really gets better as the flavors develop!).
- You can also divide the leftovers into small containers to freeze.
- Thaw and reheat on the stove or in a microwave.
- 6-quart stock pot (or larger)
- Sharp chef's knife (the less expensive brand I use all the time)
- Wooden cutting board for veggies; dishwasher-safe cutting board for chicken
- White ceramic soup bowls
- 'Souper Cubes' for freezing individual portions
Don’t forget to check out all of my favorite kitchen essentials.
More Delicious Soup Recipes You'll Love
- Quick & Easy Chicken Noodle Soup Recipe
- Mexican Chicken Corn Soup - 30 Minute Recipe
- Slow Cooker Italian Vegetable Beef Soup Recipe (+ Instant Pot Option)
- Harvest Vegetable Ham Bone Soup Recipe (Crockpot, Instant Pot, or Stovetop)
See MORE amazing soup recipes here!
I hope you love this delicious Cajun Chicken Barley Soup! If you make it, please leave a comment and a rating letting me know, I'd be so thankful!
Cajun Chicken Barley Vegetable Soup
- 6-qt. soup pot
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1/4 cup mild hot peppers, frozen, diced, optional
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 pound chicken thighs or breasts, cubed*
- 1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning store bought or homemade**
- 1 14-ounce canned diced tomatoes
- 1 cup corn kernels, frozen or fresh
- 2 medium carrots, grated
- 6 cups chicken broth
- 3/4 cup barley, pearled or hulled***
- 1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
- 6 cups spinach, chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Heat oil in a large, 6-quart stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, celery and garlic - cook for 2 to 3 minutes until softened.
- Add the cubed chicken and Cajun seasoning. Toss with the vegetables, stirring occasionally until chicken is cooked through, 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in tomatoes, corn, carrot, chicken broth, barley and sliced sausage. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to low and cook, covered, 25 to 30 minutes for pearled barley (35-45 minutes for hulled) or until the barley is tender.
- Add spinach and cook another 3-5 minutes, uncovered, until the spinach is wilted.
- Season to taste with salt and serve.
- 2 tablespoon paprika
- 2 tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon onion powder
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
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