creamy barley with tomatoes, chicken, and spinach

last week was great. the temperature was finally warm enough for enough days in a row to melt the snow. all of it. birds started chirping. ponds filled up with canadian geese, returning for the warm weather. and bulbs just started to peek out of the ground. it was so nice, i debated boxing up my sweaters for the season and unboxing my short sleeve shirts.

and then, just when i thought it was all over, this happened. six inches. of snow. really?! and days of below freezing weather to ensure it stayed. couple the weather with my love of all things risotto, and this creamy barley is the perfect warm-me-up.

one of my favorite ways to enjoy leftover risotto is to make cakes out of it. it's quick, simple, and changes the texture just enough to taste like something different besides "leftover risotto." and since this barley had the same oh-so-creamy texture as risotto, i thought it would make perfect cakes.

i was wrong. i attempted them and they fell completely and totally apart. in the pan i'm not sure what the culprit was - too much liquid or not enough melty cheese/starch holding it all together. regardless, leftovers heated up well in the microwave or on the stovetop.

creamy barley with tomatoes and spinach
adapted from real simple, february 2010
30 minutes, serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups quick cooking barley
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
2 1/2 cups water
1 large or 2 medium chicken breasts, raw or cooked, diced
8 cups baby spinach
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  1. coat the bottom of large saucepan or dutchoven with olive oil and place it over medium heat. add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and saute until the onion softens, about 7 minutes.
  2. add the barley, tomatoes, wine or vermouth, and water and bring to a boil. if using raw chicken, add it now. reduce heat to low and simmer until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. check the package directions of your particular barley for suggested simmering time. if using cooked chicken, add it now.
  3. add the spinach and parmesan cheese. cook until the spinach wilts and the cheese is melted. serve with more parmesan sprinkled on top.


  1. This looks wonderful! Too bad about the cakes but I will happily eat it in creamy form all winter AND all summer.

  2. Does anyone know if you could potentially make this dish with risotto as opposed to barley?

  3. this dish could easily be made as a risotto with arborio rice instead of barley, similar to this one http://kitchentrialanderror.blogspot.com/2010/03/risotto-with-bacon-peas-and-leeks-and.html. add the diced tomatoes to the stock/water and mix in the spinach and cheese when it's done.

  4. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog! I made this tonight and my husband and I thought it was great and VERY inexpensive (which is a plus on a grad student budget). Thanks for the great recipe!

  5. thanks for the recipe! I made this tonight and was pleasantly surprised at how much it made. My grocery store didn't have quick cooking barley so I cooked the regular barley for 30 min before I started everything else, then transferred it to the saucepan to cook the rest of the way. worked like a charm! ditto the inexpensive comment too :)

  6. Absolutely delicious! I added fresh basil, lemon and garlic. This is the second thing I've made (and loved) off your blog...thank you thank you!

  7. What if all I have is regular barley?

  8. For any vegans or vegetarians out there...I Made this without oil, chicken or cheese. I used onion, garlic, italian seasonings, crushed red pepper and veggie broth instead of water. Same premiss though. it was so good. If you eat cheese add it! I used nutritional yeast as cheese. Even though you have meat in this I was able to go off the recipe. I loved it! Thank you

  9. Just made this for dinner. Great texture but is it so BLAND! I added garlic and a lot more grated parmesan, too. Very lacking in spice. I used 2 chicken breasts and could have added one more. I think its a great start to a dish but needs to be jazzed up. It does make a HUGE pot though.

  10. Wow that tastes great! I have done some changes - added more salt/pepper and garlic :) It was quite spicy but tasty!

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  12. Thanks for sharing such beautiful information with us. I hope you will share some more information about careamy barley with tomato. Please keep sharing.
    Health Is A Life


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