October 21, 2019 – October 27, 2019
Monday: Cast-Iron Burgers / Salad
Tuesday: Spaghetti with Mushroom Carbonara
Wednesday: Grilled Lamb Chops with Balsamic Reduction
Thursday: Feel Better Chicken and Rice Soup
Friday: Seared Salmon and Royal Rice
Saturday: Leftover soup and rice
Sunday: Roast Chicken with Chestnuts and Cabbage w/ Basil Mashed
I am fascinated, and sometimes mildly repelled by the fantastic names of Chinese food – Virgin Chicken (how would they know?), Flower Mushroom Frog, Caterpillar Fungus Duck (not seen on menus in any English speaking countries, I would guess). However, we rarely cook Chinese food beyond stir-fry and fried-rice dishes for the simple reason that the preparations often require more steps and moving parts than does sending a shuttle to the space station.
I suppose this is because the Chinese have had a highly sophisticated society for a couple of thousand years longer than we have. During all those head-start years even the simple brewing and serving of tea began to take on the dimensions of high mass. (Yes, I know that the Japanese tea ceremony is more famous – but they got it from China.) It does seem that, in spite of all those thousands of years, they skipped that part of social evolution that allows for free speech or freedom of religion. (Come to think of it, the most sophisticated parts of our own society, Universities, seem to have a hard time with that, as well.)
Be that as it may, we find ourselves increasingly drawn to the subtlety of Asian flavors and food preparations and, just last week* we stumbled on a great new chicken soup and a great revelation about sweet potatoes.
*Look, it was actually the week before last. I used publish a new post on the Thursday after the previous week’s cooking. But now I usually get the post out on Sunday or even the Monday of the week after the week after, if you’re following me. If not, relax. The dates on each post can orient you to our timeline, if that matters. But, really, it’s all about friends, family and food, and we intend to keep cultivating all three each week of the year.
First, about those sweet potatoes. I know, intellectually, that sweet potatoes can be as divisive as Donald Trump’s tweets – some people just can’t stand them. But I don’t really understand this, since I have always liked sweet potatoes (not the president’s tweets) in all their forms, from candied to simply baked with a pat of butter. However, I did not know that sweet potatoes (get the little ones – maybe 2 or 2 ½” in diameter), sliced into ½’ disks, no need to peel, and cooked in a soup or stew could add so much flavor, interest and richness.
Now this chicken soup we cooked – “Feel-Better Chicken and Rice Soup” – was not as actuarially encouraging as “Longevity Noodles,” but was more in our wheelhouse. It is not, strictly speaking, a Chinese dish. Have you ever seen sweet potatoes on a Chinese menu? Furthermore, we found this in the pages of the bon appétit for November, 2019. The recipe was by Andy Baraghani who does not sound Chinese at all. Still, the name of the dish, the extravagant use of ginger, and the rice gave the recipe a Sino-tilt to our way of thinking. So, why not pretend that it is Chinese. You won’t have to pretend that it is good. It is – have this soup on a chilly November evening and you will definitely feel better.
FEEL-BETTER CHICKEN AND RICE SOUP
(adapted from bon appétit, November, 2019, p. 16)
Timing: 40-50 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 4
12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken thighs (You will not find a 12 oz. package in your market – we used a package with eight thighs which was maybe 26 oz. and reserved three of the thighs for chicken salad. This meant adding a little more liquid, but worked out just fine.)
2” piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced (we used 2)
1/3 cup of jasmine rice (we’ll probably use ½ cup next time)
5 cups of water (or more – enough to cover the chicken)
2 tablespoons, plus, of lemon juice
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
3 small sweet potatoes (the recipe called for just 2 – but you will find yourselves fighting over who gets how many sweet potatoes in their bowl – so go a bit overboard.)
Cilantro – tender stems with leaves attached (in this cooked soup, even those averse to the taste of cilantro, will like it – but if you’re chicken, use parsley)
We always remove as much fat and sinew from the chicken as possible, before using it in soup. You’ll have to do a little skimming, regardless, but you don’t want too much fat in this soup.
Peel and slice the ginger and garlic cloves
Slice the sweet potatoes
Measure out the rice and the water
Put the chicken, the garlic, ginger and rice in a large pot, add 5 cups of water (or more, to cover the chicken). Bring this to a boil, add a large pinch of salt and then reduce the heat medium-low and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the chicken is firm (about 10 minutes.)
Now add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring from time to time until the potatoes are tender, the rice cooked and the chicken cooked through (20 minutes).
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and shred with forks, then return to the pot.
Stir in the lemon juice and soy sauce, season with salt, if needed.
To serve: ladle into warm bowls and top with cilantro and pepper.