Chicken soup with risoni & leeks

A soup to warm the soul on cold days.
Chicken soup in a dark bowl standing on a wooden board, seen from eye level
Chicken soup in a dark bowl standing on a wooden board, seen from eye level

There are few things more comforting than a big bowl of chicken soup when you’re feeling under the weather. Even I, sometimes too rational for my own good, appreciate a good chicken soup on those days.

Traditional Turkish chicken soup

In Turkish culture, the chicken soup is intrinsically engrained into the process of having a cold. The slightest cough, and you can be sure the nearest anne (mother) or teyze (aunt) will show up with a big bowl of warming chicken soup. Not drinking it is neither an option nor a possibility. (Side note: in Turkish language, you drink soup rather than eat it.)

Chicken soup cooking in a big red/orange Le Creuset pot. The mixture is quite green.

The chicken soup made for the purpose depends on the anne or teyze in question, but they’re almost always simple. Chicken, pasta, a little shredded carrot. Stock may be used, but water is also fine (the chicken will anyway turn it into a chicken stock). The pasta is usually broken strands of vermicelli.

The traditional soup is excellent, but I like to add a few more layers of flavour to mine. This particular version is inspired by one from the FT column of Honey & Co, which is more generous with garlic, herbs and spices. It also gives even more prominence to the allium and pasta elements of the soup.

A few tips for making this soup

As a household of two, I’ve used two chicken legs rather than a whole chicken, which is often called for. If you want to use a whole chicken, just double the amounts of everything else and you should be fine (though you’ll probably need a little less than double the stock).

Stock pot with chicken and vegetables in water, seen from above.

To boost the flavour, I like to cook down the “excess” stock to a concentrate, which I then add back in at the end. If your measured stock is less than the stock left in your pot of chicken and stock, feel free to do the same. Of course, you could just boil the stock down until you have the required measured amount, but I find this method more time efficient.

You’ll notice the lemon goes in early in this recipe. While commonly added to adjust acidity at the end, here, slices of lemon are added at the very beginning. This gives a beautiful lemon-y flavour which is different from the fresh juice squeezed in at the end. If that’s not for you, just skip it and adjust with lemon juice at the end.

Chopped carrots, leeks, herbs and garlic on a white plastic chopping board, seen from above
Vegetables chopped and ready for action.

I’ve used orzo pasta here, also known as risoni or – in Turkish – arpa şehriye. This is pasta shaped as grains of rice (or, rather, barley). I like it here, as it gives the perfect texture for a soup like this, but you can use any other pasta or indeed grain that you prefer. Pearl barley or spelt are excellent alternatives, but cooking time needs to be adjusted.

As always when making soup, make sure to salt generously. It usually needs more than you think. If the soup seems to be missing something, salt is usually the culprit. Try adding a little more and taste again.

Chicken soup in a dark bowl standing on a wooden board, seen from eye level

Serving suggestions

I dare say this soup good enough for a Sunday family supper, regardless of any lingering colds.

Me, I usually have it on weeknights when the rain is pelting on the windows and the cat has sought refuge on top of one of the radiators. It’s one of very few soups that I’m happy to eat as a main dish in its own right.

I don’t need anything alongside, but fresh, crusty bread is never wrong.

Chicken soup in a dark bowl standing on a wooden board, seen from eye level

Chicken soup with risoni & leeks

A soup to warm the soul on cold days.
Tried this? Be the first to give a rating
Main Course, Soup
Middle Eastern-inspired, Turkish-inspired
1 hour 30 minutes
4 servings
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  • 3 Tbsp olive oil, I use a mild extra virgin
  • 300 g leeks, thickly sliced
  • flat-leaf parsley leaves not used for the broth, see below, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 carrot, finely diced
  • 1⅖ l broth, follow recipe below
  • the chicken meat from making the broth
  • 125 g orzo pasta, (risoni)
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 5 g dill, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper

Chicken broth

  • 2 chicken legs, about 800-900 g/ 1¾–2 lbs total
  • 1 whole garlic, halved crosswise
  • 2 slices lemon, about ¾ cm (⅓ in) thick
  • 20 g flat-leaf parsley, stems only (save the leaves for the soup)
  • 1 carrot, cut into 3-4 pieces diagonally
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 2 tsp peppercorns
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp salt

How I make it

Chicken broth

  • Add the chicken to a large pot and cover with water (about 2–2½ ltrs/8–10 cups). Bring to a boil and skim off any impurities rising to the surface (a small strainer is excellent for this). Add the remaining broth ingredients. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and leave until the chicken is tender and the broth is flavourful, about an hour.
  • Remove the chicken and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, shred the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside. Discard the skin and bones.
  • Strain the broth and set aside. Discard the vegetables and spices left in the strainer. For a broth free of any impurities, strain it a second time through cheesecloth or a kitchen towel. Measure 1⅖ l / 5 cups broth. If you have more than that, you can cook the extra down until concentrated and add it to the soup for extra flavour.


  • Heat a large pot (I use the same one as for the broth) over medium heat. Sauté leeks, carrots, parsley, garlic and a pinch of salt in olive oil, stirring regularly to avoid burning, until the leeks have softened, but not coloured, 6–8 minutes.
  • Add the measured broth and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then add the risoni and chicken. Bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat. Leave on a low simmer until the pasta is tender, typically 8-12 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave for 10–15 minutes before serving.
  • Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper one final time, then serve with lemon wedges and fresh dill according to preference.

Tips & notes

Make ahead: The stock can be prepared a couple of days in advanced. I recommend assembling the soup and leaving the final cooking until just before serving, however, or the pasta will expand and “eat” a lot of your stock.
Left-overs: Keep them in a sealed container in the fridge and use within a few days. To avoid the pasta expanding too much, separate the stock and other ingredients and store in separate containers, then re-assemble when re-heating.
Did you make this recipe?I’d love it if you’d be kind enough to leave a rating and a short comment.

Hey, there!

I’m Vidar, a Norwegian food writer based in Istanbul since 2015.

Join me in exploring the food and cultures of Turkey and the Middle East.

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Hey, there!

I’m Vidar Bergum, a food writer based in Istanbul since 2015. I’ve published three books on the food and cultures of Turkey and the Middle East in my native Norway.

This website and my newsletter Meze are the homes of my writing and recipes in English.

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