When I was itty bitty, my Mom's chicken noodle soup began with Soup Starter. I thought it was great, and I didn't pay any attention to the fact that the only fresh, non processed food in that soup was the chicken itself, which had been boiled to death. The vegetables were freeze dried and came mixed with a powdered concoction of flavorings including loads of MSG and salt. I don't mind MSG (see Steingarten's, "Why Doesn't Everyone In China Have a Headache?") but the levels it included, along with the salt, were probably highly unnecessary. Soon my Mom started adding tortellini to that soup, along with the chicken. What else would you expect Italians to do? I also doused the soup with handfuls of Parmigiano Reggiano. I am still a huge fan of tortellini in soup, and adore the minimalist tortellini en brodo.
Now, all grown up, and with some decent culinary training and experience, I make a different soup almost every week. It's no secret that soup's awesomeness has many levels, including but not limited to: being able to cook once and eat for 2 or more days, being inexpensive, takes well to using up fridge scraps, and can even be transformed into another dish entirely - such as leftover potato fennel soup becoming a sauce for clams or mussels. French Onion soup remains my barometer for a restaurant. If it's on the menu, I must order it at least once, and base most of my opinions about the establishment on their preparation and service of that soup. It's easy to make it great, and easy to mess it up or be careless.
Get to the Thai chicken soup already!
O.K., O.K.! Years ago when I visited a friend in the hospital who had just given birth, she was eating chicken noodle soup with coconut milk and other Thai flair. It caught my eye and really stood out to me how many different cultures have their own version of dishes I'm familiar with. Think: meatballs, pastas, cabbage, custards, breads - these are universal items and are borrowed and adapted endlessly throughout history and around the globe. Then last week on Twitter, ChefWifeDotCom mentioned Vegan Thai Coconut Soup and it reminded me of that chicken noodle soup. I did some web research and decided what I wanted mine to be. The timing was perfect as we've been getting blankets of snow nearly every day here in PA. In fact, it's snowing right now. I don't often post actual recipes here, but here's an attempt.
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup Adapted from Tom Kha Gai
*Not at all traditional and with Asian components not particularly Thai!
2 stalks lemongrass
1 knob ginger
1 bunch scallions
48 oz chicken broth, low sodium (veg is fine too)
2 Tbsp tamari
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 can of coconut milk, shaken before opening
1 package of chicken thighs, about 1.25 pounds
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup julienned carrot
1 Tbsp sriracha
6 oz (half a package) of udon noodles
Bruise the lemongrass, chop roughly. Slice the ginger, slice scallions in half - keeping dark green and light green parts separate. In a 5 QT soup pot, heat first 7 ingredients and peel from limes. When simmering, add chicken. Poach until mostly cooked through, 20 minutes. While poaching, cook udon according to package directions, (I broke them up to look like traditional noodles for chicken soup and to accommodate my chopstick-impaired Hubby) drain, rinse, set aside. Remove chicken from broth, strain broth back into soup pot, keeping heat on low. Add carrots to broth. Add sriracha. Shred chicken, add to broth. Simmer 10 minutes to cook carrots, leaving them a smidge crunchy. Serve in deep bowls, adding a generous handful of torn cilantro and chopped scallion to each. Squeeze lime wedges over soup just before eating. Who cares if the wedges are without the peel? Make use of the whole lime!
Use rice noodles or plain pasta
Add curry (red or yellow)
Add sliced chiles
Add packaged dumplings for a larger meal
Add sliced mushrooms
Add toasted unsweetened coconut