Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

Remember the barley from yesterweek? (Which I have to say, the response to that recipe positively cracked me up – 51% of you wanted to vomit at the sight and the other 49% made it and loved it.*) Well, the almighty barley has risen to the occasion again and managed to make this chicken chili an absolute knockout.

If you haven’t given barley a go yet, this recipe should go on your to-make list. I happen to love the hearty texture the barley adds to this chili, not to mention the fiber and protein boost it gives. Because most of the ingredients simmer together in 40-minute bliss, the flavors meld together deliciously. I ate this for about four days in a row without tiring of the tasty treat it provided when I reheated it for lunch or dinner (thanks to my husband for being out of town and allowing me the guiltless repetition!). My kids gobbled this up using baked tortilla scoops as the medium for transferring the chili from the bowl to the mouth.

All in all, this has landed a place in my very top favorite chili recipes…and it earns super major awesome points for being simple and relatively quick to prepare.

*Not a scientifically pure poll, but you catch my exaggerated drift, eh?

What To ServeA really, great dinner roll (for homemade, I’d suggest French Bread Rolls or Buttery Cornmeal Crescents)
Fresh fruit or a light fruit salad like this Honey Lime Fruit Salad
Sliced cheddar cheese

One Year Ago: BBQ Chicken Braid
Two Years Ago: Asian Lettuce Wraps
Three Years Ago: My Favorite Cheesecake

Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

Yield: Serves 6-8

Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

Note: in anticipation of the questions, yes, I think this would freeze very well, even though it might be ultra-thick when reheated (simply add some chicken broth or water to thin). Also, I think it would fare quite well in the slow cooker, adding the first set of ingredients (perhaps all??) to the slow cooker and cooking on low for about 7 hours and then adding in the corn and beans (if you didn’t throw them in first) for the last hour.


  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup medium barley (not quick cooking)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • dash cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • Garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced green onions, tortilla chips


  1. In a large pot (about 6-quarts), combine the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, barley, water, chili powder, cumin, dried oregano and cayenne (if using). Stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and add the chicken. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer the chili for 40 minutes, until the barley is tender and chewy and the chicken is no longer pink. Stir occasionally, while it simmers to prevent sticking and to make sure it stays at a steady simmer. After 40 minutes, add the beans and corn. Stir to combine and simmer for five more minutes. Serve the chili with optional garnishes, if desired.
  2. The chili will thicken considerably upon cooling. Add chicken broth or water as needed to achieve a desirable consistency (especially if reheating the leftovers).

Recipe Source: adapted from the back of the Quaker Medium Barley box

53 Responses to Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

  1. Nancy says:

    I will be trying this for sure – always looking for ways to eat more whole grains.

  2. ashley says:

    yum! I make this all the time, it’s so healthy and easy, my family loves it.

  3. Kim says:

    More Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Brittany C. says:

    I for one am a big barley fan, have been since the 1st grade when it was my job to bring the barley to put in the Stone Soup we were making at school. It’s so yummy! and Both of your barley soups have looked awesome. I’m hoping it cools off again here so I can make them.
    On another note, I made your crispy chicken wraps for dinner the other night, man those are yummy! We all, picky 2 yr old included, gobbled them down.

  5. Monica says:

    I’ve never done a southwestern recipe; I’m not a fan of spicy foods. But love barley and I may have to give this recipe a try!

  6. StephenC says:

    As it happens I bought barley on a whim yesterday. I have loved it for years. Now that I’m moved to DC I need to find a Mexican market and stock up on some dried chiles. Yum.

  7. Kim in MD says:

    I love barley in soup, but never thought to use it in chili! Great idea! It looks incredible, Mel! 🙂

  8. ashley says:

    oh yeah, and i meant to tell you, your coconut curry soup is amazing! my husband and i may even have fought over the leftovers…

  9. Tasha says:

    This is definitely going on the menu for next week! Always looking for a way to get more whole grains in there. The split pea soup is on the menu for tomorrow night! Thanks for sharing.

  10. calamityjane says:

    just wanted to say how much i love your blog and food pictures. i made your brown butter brownies a couple weeks ago, and WOW. amazing!!

  11. Kari says:

    Looks so yummy, going to get barley to make it tomorrow. Love the new look of your blog!

  12. Angela says:

    Mel’s. It’s what’s for dinner. (ps — no joke — we’re going to give this a whirl for dinner tonight. And good timing, because I was out of ideas!)

  13. britt-marie says:

    Yum, that does sound good, thanks. I want to figure out how to make this in the crockpot.

  14. sara says:

    This looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it. My experience with barley in the crock pot (just FYI) is that it absorbs A LOT of liquid and gets HUGE! So I would wait to add it til at least half way through…

  15. Linda says:

    I made this tonight and it was yum! I was surprised to see that there wasn’t any onions or garlic. I did need to add about a tsp. of salt. Loved the Barley in it. Thanks Mel!

  16. Cecilia says:

    Another great way to use barley! Thanks for the recipe!

  17. grace says:

    i don’t mind the barley–i like the little chew it provides. a fine addition to your chili, mel!

  18. Alison says:

    I bought all the ingredients yesterday to make this tonight. The one problem is my store only sold quick barley. Any ideas on how to make it work for this recipe?

    • Mel says:

      Alison – to be honest, I’ve never used quick cooking barley. My guess is you would need to reduce the liquid in this recipe by half and then add the quick cooking barley at the end of the simmering (based on the instructions on the box). Good luck!

  19. Amy says:

    I love barley! I will be adding this and the “other one” to my list of things to try. This recipe is one that we love.

  20. Kate says:

    I made this tonight. I had all of the ingredients on hand (barley from the pea soup) which was nice. It was very easy and good. My husband, 4-year-old & I all liked it. It was best when eaten with tortilla chips & of course cheese and sour cream. I liked that the barley added chunkiness and heartiness and stretched the chicken. I only used two chicken breasts because I am trying to make our meat go farther around here. We all only needed one bowl because it was so hearty. 3 hours later I am still very full. Thanks for the recipe.

  21. Allyson says:

    Made this tonight and it was SO tasty and healthy!! Thanks so much for posting it!

  22. Angela says:

    Made it with some leftover beef (diced up some pot roast) and it worked just fine. Added the juice from a lime wedge to my bowl and it really brightened the flavors. Very tasty! Thanks for the twist on chili.

  23. Erin says:

    Mel, this was great! (not that I’ve ever made anything from your site that wasn’t…). I usually use the “flatlander chili” from allrecipes with a few modifications, but this one will definitely be in the rotation.

  24. Emily Deibel says:

    Thank you for the two barley recipes. They came right after I bought my first bag of pearled barley and stood there wondering what to do with it. Three of my four kids ate this chili, which is the best I can do at dinner around here. Unless dinner is pizza. Or macaroni and cheese. As a closet weight watcher, I also appreciated this low point dinner–a definite repeat for a Saturday night when I want to pig out on dessert instead!

  25. Dana says:

    Lovely soup–family loved it and the barley was delicious! Not scary at all. Thanks!! 🙂

  26. Jaimee says:

    I made this last night, it was so good! So nice to have some recipes with barley…I love it! Thank you!!

  27. Stacie Aho says:

    I made this today and it was so delicious! I’ve never cooked with barley before, but I was pleasantly surprised! It was like giant brown rice kernels. So yummy. So easy but wonderful flavor.

    I also made your Tuscan Garlic Chicken last night along with the Heath Bar cookies, but of which encouraged a nice run today, and they were fabulous! Thanks for some yummy recipes. (I added some fresh basil to the chicken sauce too, I love fresh basil).

  28. Darci says:

    This was very easy to make and it was VERY good.

  29. Dana says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has posted this already, but if you are following the new Points Plus Plan (gotta love the alliteration), this soup is 5 points for 1 cup. I just made a huge pot and I’m going to portion it out for some yummy lunches for the week. I also add chopped mushrooms for some added veg.

    Mel, I would follow you.

  30. Camille says:

    Thank you for a wonderful recipe! Our oven is unavailable while we are doing kitchen flooring, so I was looking for a crockpot recipe for tonight and this was perfect. I put everything in together in my slow cooker and cooked on high for 4 hours – turned out great! The addition of cheese and tortilla chips was fabulous, and next time I think I’ll add some green onions. My husband said that I could make this every week – now that’s a keeper of a recipe! Thanks, Mel!

  31. Melissa says:

    We had this for dinner tonight. It was very good! I did need to add some salt and pepper though.

  32. Brett A says:

    This is another excellent Mel meal. I know I’m a little late to the party with this review, but I just made this tonight, followed the directions precisely, and it turned out outstanding. So easy, and a one pot meal is always a bonus. This will go in my list of great chilis to make for football season! Thanks Mel!

  33. Southwestern Chicken & Barley Chili « Mimi's Fit Foods says:

    […] Southwestern Chicken & Barley Chili Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Café […]

  34. Alycia says:

    Just threw it in the crockpot (minus the beans and corn)!! Can’t wait for dinner!

  35. Deb says:

    I love how healthy this is and so full of flavor. I served with all the garnishes you listed plus some lime wedges and I think that little sour kick was a great addition. Also, I used leftover Thanksgiving turkey I had in the freezer…it was great 🙂

  36. Natalie says:

    I tried this tonight and it was super easy and yummy. I tried some with sour cream but then also tried topping with a little half and half and it was amazing. I think I might also add green chiles to kick it up a knotch. I’ve won the ward chili cook-off the last two years and I think I might do something like this for this year! Thanks for getting me started. I love all your recipes!!!

  37. Zoe says:

    Mmmmmm! This is one of my favorite recipes from your site–second to the best chocolate chip cookies 🙂 I’ve tried this with the addition of two sweet potatoes, and it was still awesome. Thanks for sharing so many great recipes!

  38. […] It: Southwestern Chicken Chili Posted on April 11, 2011 by Amy My sister recommended Mel’s Kitchen’s Southwest Chicken Barley Chili recipe to me a couple weeks ago.  It’s now one of our family favorite recipes – you […]

  39. Katie says:

    Looks yummy and I have barley left over from your delicious pea soup. Do you think if I add preccoked and shredded chicken near the end it would take away from the flavor of cooking the chicken in it? Would I still need to simmer 40 minutes to enhance the flavor? Can’t wait to try it…sure it’s a winner like everything else we’ve tried!

  40. teresa says:

    just sent this into the pinter-sphere 🙂 i have everything i need to make it! i appreciate you helping me not have to make another trip to the store yet, and it looks delish!

  41. Helen says:

    Put everything in the crockpot…. 6 hours later … Delicious!!!! So easy!!!

  42. Tiffany says:

    I love this soup!! We make soup weekly and it is a keeper. It also freezes great so I always make extra for those hectic days!

  43. […] Southwestern Chicken & Barley […]

  44. Noturavggurl says:

    Yummy! I used quinoa instead of barley…still good, glad I took a chance!

  45. Jamie says:

    Hey Mel! Im making this right now… And I had to buy the Quaker Quick cooking Barley as well. I was just looking at the back of the box and what do you know… A recipe for “Chicken Barley Chili” and it’s the exact same recipe as yours! It does list slightly less cumin and water but everything else is exactly what yours is. Let me know if you’d like me to email you this one so you can tell people how to do it with Quick Barley (since this is written for the quick kind). 🙂

  46. Mel says:

    Jamie – thank you! I adapted the recipe from the Quaker Medium Barley box so that’s great they have a quick barley version. Would you mind leaving the adaptations for quick barley in the comments in case someone else is using quick barley? Thank you!

  47. Jeanne says:

    Yum! Made this tonight! I could barely get through one small bowl-full because I got full soooo fast! Delicious. And all 3 of my kids devoured it. Even the one that cried the whole time it was cooking in the pot, saying she hated chili and tomatoes! We of course added the appropriate dairy toppings that made it even better! I’d curious to know the calories of this. Pretty darn healthy stuff! :0) Thanks Mel!

  48. Katie says:

    I love this stuff. I make a full batch, even though there are only two of us. I hoard all the leftovers and don’t share any with my husband. My favorite way to eat it is with a handful of tortilla chips crushed into the bottom of the bowl. mmm. I have also made it very successfully with ground beef instead of chicken. I just brown it separately and stir it in with the beans and corn. I think this might be my favorite meal ever. No joke.

  49. Kristen says:

    I followed the recipe exactly, but it turned out quite bland. Nice and easy to make, but desperately in need of flavor.

  50. Carrie says:

    We enjoyed this for dinner last night–perfect for a cold, snowy evening! My only recommendation would be waiting to add the chicken until about 20 minutes into the cooking time, or simply add cooked chicken at the end. Or cut your chicken into larger-than-bite-size pieces… they simply cooked too quickly! Otherwise, great recipe and I look forward to eating it for lunch today!

  51. Kellie says:

    How would I adapt this to the instant pot?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *