Montana Chicken Soup

by Nov 29, 2022

This soup has been on repeat in our house ever since I tried Joshua McFadden’s recipe, “Quinoa and Chicken Soup with Lentils and Lots of Herbs” from his book, Grains for Every Season. I usually get the soup making urge on the weekend and I usually don’t want to go to the store, so I’m frequently making tweaks to accommodate what I have on hand—in this case, spelt berries or farro instead of quinoa, no-name dried chiles instead of the de árbols, and different forms of chicken—whole bird, thighs, leg quarters, they all work great. Joshua’s recipe is unique and wonderful for its depth of flavor from making a stock integral to the soup, the chile heat, and the freshness from the herbs and greens; they all work together to bring a basic—chicken soup—into a whole new zone.

I call this Montana Chicken Soup because I was able to use many Montana ingredients to make it: lentils from Timeless Food, spelt berries from Conservation Grains, chicken from Living River Farms, and fresh vegetables from local farms and Root Cellar Foods. This past weekend I made a version using our Thanksgiving turkey, from Sage Creek Hutterite Colony. To adjust the recipe for cooked turkey, I made a broth with the carcass and a couple carrots and leeks that didn’t make it into Thanksgiving prep, then added shredded turkey meat at the end with the kale. It didn’t have as complex a flavor as cooking the meat from raw, but it was tasty and it felt good to do something else with the big bird.

Montana Chicken Soup

adapted from Joshua McFadden, "Quinoa and Chicken Soup..." from Grains for Every Season

makes 6 hearty servings


  • olive oil
  • 2–3 pounds bone-in chicken pieces or a whole chicken
  • 4 celery stalks, peeled and diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 leeks or small yellow onions, diced
  • 4–6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 2 tbsp each chopped rosemary, chopped thyme leaves
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 chile de árbol or other dried red chile
  • 12 cups water
  • ¾ cup spelt berries, toasted in a skillet until fragrant
  • ¾ cup French green lentils, rinsed
  • 6–8 leaves kale, stems torn out and leaves sliced or torn
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Heat a glug of olive oil in a large dutch oven or soup pot. Season chicken with kosher salt, add to the pot, and brown on all sides. Remove the chicken and set aside.

  2. While the chicken is cooking, clean the leeks. Remove the root end and the darkest of green leaves. Slice each in half lengthwise, and cut crosswise at ½ -inch intervals into half moons. Fill a bowl with water, add the leek slices, and jiggle them around with your fingers so that any dirt falls to the bottom. Lift out the leek slices and dry on a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.

  3. Add the celery, carrots, leeks/onion, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, thyme, coriander, bay leaves, and chiles. Reduce heat and cook, stirring now and then, until vegetables are tender and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

  4. Return chicken and any juices to the pot, add the water, increase the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so the liquid "simmers merrily but is not at a rolling boil (which would emulsify the fat from the chicken)." Simmer until the chicken cooked, about 35–45 minutes; remove and transfer to a plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from bones and skin, and set aside.

  5. Meanwhile, add the spelt berries to the soup, bring to boil, then lower heat to simmer 10 minutes. Add the lentils and simmer 15–20 more minutes. Taste the broth and add salt and pepper to your taste. Add the kale and reserved chicken during the last 10 minutes of cooking. Discard the bay leaves and serve.

Recipe Notes / Tips

  • Variation: Use chicken broth and a rotisserie chicken to shave time off this recipe. Add broth in place of water and simmer just for the time it takes the spelt and lentils to cook, about 30 minutes. Shred the rotisserie chicken and add with the kale. 
  • For an all lentil soup, omit the spelt and decrease water by 2 cups. If desired, add 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon curry powder of choice in place of the coriander. This idea adapted from Kathryne Taylor of blog Cookie + Kate.


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