Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Chicken Soup for the Foodie Soul

                 I had a friend who’d had some surgery, and I wanted to take something to cheer her up. “Chicken Soup,” I thought, but this isn’t the kind of friend you’d send a plain chicken-noodle or chicken-rice soup. She is far too much of a foodie for that.
                I’d seen a few recipes for a Thai chicken soup and thought that would be right up her alley. Most call for lemongrass stalks and ginger root and coconut milk.  That sounded pretty good to me, so I took a few different recipes and put them together to my liking.
                I bet you don’t keep a spare lemongrass stalk or two in your fridge, and probably not always a knob of fresh ginger. I know I don’t, but I’ve found a great substitute for both. In the produce section of most markets are tubes of various seasoning pastes.
                The lemongrass has the advantage of being very finely textured. The fresh stalks are very fibrous and tough. If you use real lemongrass, either you must mince the usable part to almost a paste, or leave it in larger chunks and fish out later.
                Fresh ginger isn’t so hard to use, but I always buy a chunk and wind up with a dry shriveled end piece or two that I find later when I give my produce drawer a good cleaning.  I always keep both kinds of paste in my fridge. Of course, if you prefer, in this recipe you can substitute the same amount of very finely minced of either or both.
                The amount of chicken required here is about what you’ll get off one of the rotisserie chickens available almost anywhere you’d buy groceries.  Of course, you could roast your own chicken. I like including the dark meat of a whole chicken, but if you prefer all white meat you can roast or poach 1 ½ to 2 pounds of boneless chicken breast and shred that.
                I made enough to take to my friend and to keep some for ourselves.  For my friend I sent cilantro along with the sliced green onion for garnish. My husband isn’t fond of cilantro, so I used mint for our share. I’d be hard-pressed to say which version I preferred, so you may use either. 
                To accompany this soup, you might buy pre-shredded cole slaw mix, add some fine strips of red bell pepper, green onions, cilantro or mint. Dressed with a splash of bottled Asian sesame-ginger dressing and you have a meal fit for any foodie friends, sick or not.
 Alyce’s Thai Chicken Soup   
 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
8 plump cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 8-oz. container white button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp. each lemongrass paste and ginger paste
2 tbsp. Thai sweet chili sauce (or more to taste)
4 cups chicken stock
1 can (14-16 oz.) coconut milk
4 to 5 cups shredded cooked chicken
Finely grated zest and juice of one lime
1 cup green onion, mostly the green part, sliced, for garnish
1 cup cilantro or mint leaves, chopped, for garnish
1 lime, cut into 8 wedges, for garnish
                Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.  Add the bell pepper, onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables start to soften. Add the mushrooms, stir well to cover with the oil. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes. Add the sweet chili sauce, stock and coconut milk.  Bring to a low boil, reduce heat to low and simmer about 10 minutes. Add chicken and lime juice and zest and simmer another five minutes.
             Ladle into flat soup plates and sprinkle with green onion and herb of choice. Put a lime slice on the side to be squeezed over the top at the table. Serves six to eight.
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