Creamy Chicken and Barley Casserole

This is a great recipe not only because it is delicious and creamy, but because it is loaded with healthy nutrients like fiber and protein as well as lots of veggies.  It also contains what I call a "Rebel" ingredient, barley.  Rebel ingredients, (as I have coined the term) are ingredients that I add or change in traditional recipes to make the recipe unique.  In this case, I am using barley instead of the traditional potato.

This is also a ONE POT meal, I love those, simple to make, quick to clean. (although you need an extra pan or two to pre-cook the barley and chicken, the entire meal is in one dish.)  Another great thing about casseroles is that you can prepare them ahead of time (up to 24 hours in the fridge) and put them in the oven right before needing them.  A great time saver!

The guts
3/4 pound of boneless, chicken breast, boiled
2 cups quick-cooking barley*, cooked
4 slices bacon, cooked**

The creamy stuff
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided
1 can (10.75 oz) ORGANIC cream of chicken** condensed soup
3/4 cup Soy milk, plain
1/2 cup sour cream

The veggies

3 stalks celery, chopped coarsely
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup peas
1/2 red onion, chopped

The spices (all dried)

1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp rosemary
dash thyme
Kosher salt, about 2 tsp, (to taste, really)
fresh ground pepper, (to taste)

The extras
Panko Bread Crumbs***
1 Tbsp Maple Syrup, the real stuff

1.  Preheat oven to 350.  Using your fingers, spread about 1/2 tbsp of butter in a casserole pan, covering the bottom and sides.  Boil two cups of salted water in medium saucepan and add 1 cup of barley.  Stir, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. In a separate medium saucepan, boil salted water and add chicken breasts.  Boil until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Melt remaining butter in the microwave, about 30 seconds.

2.  In a large bowl, (while barley and chicken are cooking), stir together all remaining ingredients (veggies, condensed soup, soy milk, sour cream, cooked bacon, butter, spices, maple syrup, salt and pepper) EXCEPT bread crumbs.  When barley is ready, add to the mixture (you will have leftover barley).  When chicken is cooked, shred it using a bread knife (basically you cut it thin and because it is boiled, it will shred easily).  Add chicken to bowl and fold into mixture. 

3.  Pour mixture into casserole pan and sprinkle bread crumbs on top.  Cook in oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

NOTES:
*  You can buy pure barley from a natural food store, however, I prefer quick-cooking barley made by Mother’s.  It is easy to cook and all-natural.  It is also sold in grocery stores.

** Condensed soups have been a staple in many American kitchens for over 60 years.  Grandma still makes casseroles with them all the time, right?  However, the "regular" brands (I won’t mention any names here, but you know the kind) are loaded with MSG and other preservatives that aren’t very good for you.  However, the saving grace is the invention of organic condensed soups.  I like them, not because they are organic, but because "organic" on a label means that there is no MSG, no added chemicals and nothing unnatural.  I use Health Valley brand. 

***Panko bread crumbs are also called Japanese bread crumbs and are often used in seafood dishes (like shrimp).  The are "fluffier" than the regular kind of bread crumbs.  My reason for preferring them is that they are all natural, at least the brand I use Ian’s.  "Regular" store-bought bread crumbs are loaded with hydrogenated oils (those nasty trans-fats) and I try to never cook with them.  You can, of course, make your own bread crumbs at home in about 10 seconds.  Take bread and throw in a food processor.

SEPT. 18, 2007
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About Kimberly Dawson, M.S.

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