Monday, October 3, 2022

Frugal Dinner - Chicken Barley Soup

In August I posted a frugal Red Lentil Curry recipe for you and promised that I would post more frugal dinner recipes in the future. Well, for dinner tonight we are having Chicken Barley Soup, and I actually remembered to take photos of the process for you so I could post this excellent frugal dinner option. 

Sometimes cheaper dinner recipes are not so healthy, but this one is highly nourishing, flavourful and easy to make. It's also very adaptable to whatever vegetables you have in the house or garden. My whole family loves it. 

It doesn't actually contain any meat, but gets its chicken flavour from homemade chicken stock. You can, of course, add chicken meat if you want to, but that does increase the cost of this dinner, and I find the barley has such a pleasant chew to it that I don't miss the chicken at all. 

Just make sure to get your barley soaking early in the day, to give it time to swell up before you cook the soup.

I've included a cost breakdown at the bottom of this post, so scroll to the end if you're interested to find out exactly how frugal this dinner is.


  • 1/2 cup barley, soaked in three cups of water for several hours
  • 1Tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cups chopped mixed vegetables, eg frozen mixed vegetables, or a mix of carrots, peas, beans, corn, celery, or zucchini (grated)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • A teaspoon of dried herbs of your choice, eg tarragon, oregano, sage, or coriander. (Fresh herbs are also great.)
  • 2 Litres chicken stock (see how I make chicken stock out of scraps here) (I make big pots of chicken stock and freeze it in ice cream containers to use for soup.)


  1. Sauté the diced onion in 1Tbsp cooking oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat until slightly softened. (Alternatively, you can scrape the chicken fat off the homemade chicken stock and use that instead of cooking oil for an even cheaper option.)
  2. Stir through the rest of the vegetables. 
  3.  Sprinkle over the salt, pepper and herbs of your choice. (I used several coriander stalks from my garden, dicing them up finely. I had already pulled the leaves off the coriander stalks for a salad.) 
  4. Cook the vegetables for a few minutes, stirring every now and then until coated in the herbs and slightly softened. 
  5. Pour over the chicken stock.
  6. Rinse the pre-soaked barley in a sieve under cold water and add it to the saucepan. Stir well to prevent the barley from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.
  7. Place the lid on the saucepan and bring the soup to a boil before stirring once more and turning down the heat to low. 
  8. Simmer the soup for at least an hour, or until all the barley has cooked through and softened to a chewable consistency. Stir the soup every 15 minutes or so while it's cooking, and add more chicken stock or water if necessary, as the liquid will reduce while the soup cooks. 
  9. Once the barley is cooked through, check the soup for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed.
  10. Serve with toast strips (toastie soldiers) spread with butter. Optional.
Serves 6 or more, and you're likely to have leftovers.

Cost breakdown
These are based on Countdown prices, as those are the same anywhere in New Zealand. You could definitely get cheaper prices by shopping at PAKnSAVE, a fruit & vegetable store or a vegetable co-op.
  • Rice bran oil: $2.30 for 400ml, so $0.10 for 1Tbsp. (Free if you scrape the fat off the chicken stock.)
  • Onion: $0.75 cents, if buying individually; cheaper if bought in an Odd Bunch bag)
  • Frozen mixed vegetables: $2.80 for a 1KG bag, so around $1.40 for two cups' worth
  • Celery: $4.99 for a whole celery, so roughly $1.50 for three stalks
  • Herbs: $2 for a 10g pack, so roughly $0.20 for 1 teaspoon
  • Salt & pepper: A few cents - so let's round up to $0.10
  • Chicken stock: Free! Make it out of chicken bones and vegetable scraps. (Otherwise $7 for 2 Litres.)
  • Barley: $2.20 for a 500g bag, so less than $0.50 for this soup
TOTAL: $4.55 if you use homemade chicken stock, which is $0.76 a serve (and those would be huge servings). Otherwise $11.55 if you use store-bought chicken stock, which equates to $1.93 a serve.


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