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story.lead_photo.caption Restorative Chicken and Rice Soup. (Photo by Scott Suchman for the Washington Post.)

 

Though the start of 2021 certainly looks and feels different from Januarys past, certain aspects of the new year remain the same. For many, that is taking the time to reset mentally, emotionally and physically.

While we aren't quite experts in the first two areas, we can certainly help with the last in terms of what we put into our bodies and how that might make us feel. So to start the year, we've developed three nourishing soup recipes for anyone who is in need of such dishes.

For Olga Massov, that looks like a fragrant, restorative chicken-and-rice soup; G. Daniela Galarza shared a version of Italian wedding soup; and I developed a recipe for an easy farro-and-kale soup with peanut butter and a hint of spice.

Each brings all of the warmth, comfort and flavor you might desire this time of year without leaving you feeling weighed down and ready for a nap immediately after eating. So if you are looking for a recipe or three to help kick things off on the right foot, soup's on.

Restorative Chicken and Rice Soup

Active time: 1 hour Total time: 3 to 4 hours

6 to 8 servings

As a Russian immigrant, I grew up with a familiar collection of Eastern European and Ashkenazi Jewish recipes: latkes, sharlotka, borscht. But it's the chicken soup, a.k.a. Jewish penicillin, that I remember most vividly from my sick days as a child (and I got sick a lot). Eating the soup made me feel like I was slowly being brought back to life.

A few years ago, I was working as an editor at Phaidon, and my boss asked me to edit a manuscript from Elizabeth Street Cafe, the popular Vietnamese-inspired restaurant in Austin, Texas. One of the recipes was a comforting, congee-like chicken-and-rice breakfast soup. Eating it made me feel nourished and restored. I made it over and over, tweaking here and there, and finally creating my own version, an amalgamation of the Eastern European and Asian traditions: looser, brothier, but still every bit as aromatic as the original.

Visually, the soup is a feast for the eyes: bright green leaves of aromatic Thai basil and cilantro, as well as thin rings of chile, crunchy mung bean sprouts, bright white slivers of onion and deep red dots of sambal oelek. Fish sauce and brown sugar form a strong umami backbone, making you crave another spoonful even before you've swallowed your first. At home, we jokingly call this soup "the corpse reviver," and for good reason. Whatever ails you, a bowl of this elixir — heady broth, aromatic with ginger, star anise, clove and cinnamon, thickened with glutinous rice, and fortified with pieces of chicken — instantly makes you feel revived and nourished.

Make Ahead: The stock and chicken breasts may be cooked up to 4 days in advance. Refrigerate, separately and tightly covered.

Storage Notes: The soup can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. If you use glutinous rice, the soup may thicken slightly during storage; you can loosen it up by adding additional broth or water. The stock may be frozen for up to 3 months.

Where to Buy: Fish sauce, kombu, Thai basil, glutinous rice, yellow rock sugar or palm sugar, sambal oelek can be purchased at Asian grocery stores or online.

—Olga Massov

INGREDIENTS

One (4-pound) whole chicken

1 large yellow onion (11 to 14 ounces), unpeeled and halved

One (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, halved lengthwise and smashed

6 whole cloves

4 whole star anise

One (4-inch) cinnamon stick

One (8-by-4-inch) piece kombu

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, tied with butcher's twine, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

2 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon yellow rock sugar, palm sugar or brown sugar, plus more to taste

1 cup (6 1/2 ounces) glutinous white rice, or your favorite rice (see NOTES)

Mung bean sprouts, for serving (optional)

Fresh Thai basil leaves, for serving (may substitute regular basil leaves, optional)

White onion slivers, for serving (optional)

Chile-garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek, for serving (optional)

Sriracha, for serving (optional)

Jalapeo or serrano chile pepper thinly sliced, for serving (optional)

Lime wedges, for serving (optional)

Cut the chicken into 8 pieces: 2 breasts, 2 wings, 2 thighs and 2 legs; reserve the backbone for another use such as making stock (see NOTES).

Heat a large, heavy skillet such as a cast-iron pan over high heat until smoky. Add the onion and ginger, cut/exposed side down, and dry-roast until both are blackened on one side, about 7 minutes. A nice char on the vegetables will get deeper flavor in your stock. Transfer the charred vegetables to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the cloves, star anise and cinnamon. Toast, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes.

Transfer the charred vegetables and toasted aromatics to an 8-quart stockpot. Add the chicken pieces, kombu, cilantro, salt and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, skimming off and discarding any foam that rises to the top, until the chicken breasts are firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the chicken breasts to a medium bowl and cover with a plate or a piece of foil to prevent the meat from drying out. (If using all dark or all white meat, remove about a third to a half of the chicken.) Set aside until cool enough to handle, then discard the skin and any remaining bones, and shred the meat. Transfer the meat to a lidded container and set aside or refrigerate until needed (bring to room temperature before serving).

While the chicken is cooling, partially cover the pot and continue to gently simmer the stock. Stir occasionally, skimming any foam that rises to the top, until the vegetables look nearly falling apart, 2 to 3 hours. Add more water, as needed, to ensure the chicken and onions remain submerged. Remove from the heat and let cool until warm. The stock will be fragrant and a deep, dark golden color.

Ladle the stock through a large cheesecloth-lined fine-mesh sieve set over a clean pot or large bowl. Rinse out your stockpot and return the stock to it. Discard the aromatics and vegetables; separate the chicken thigh and drumstick meat from the bones and shred (discard the skin).

Bring the stock back to a lively simmer, taste, and season with 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Stir, wait a few minutes and taste again, adding more fish sauce and sugar, if needed. Add the rice and cook until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Add the shredded chicken — light and dark meat — to the soup and let it warm through, about 2 minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls, and, if using, garnish with cilantro, sprouts, basil, onion, sambal oelek, sriracha, jalapeo or serrano chile, and a squeeze of lime. Serve with lime wedges on the side, if desired.

NOTES: If you don't want to cut up the chicken yourself, you can buy a precut chicken at your favorite supermarket or ask your butcher to do it.

Glutinous (sticky) rice continues to thicken if it sits in liquid for an extended period of time. It turns brothy soups into thicker, congee-like ones, which makes them even more soothing and comforting. If you prefer the soup brothy, you can loosen it up with a little more water or broth when reheating; use a different rice, which will also soften but not nearly as much; or cook the rice separately and add to individual servings of soup.

Nutrition (based on 8 servings) Calories: 169; Total Fat: 3 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 99 mg; Sodium: 437 mg; Carbohydrates: 6 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 29 g.

Recipe inspired by "Elizabeth Street Cafe" by Tom Moorman and Larry McGuire with Julia Turshen (Phaidon, 2017).

Italian Wedding Soup. (Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.)

Italian Wedding Soup

Active time: 30 minutes Total time: 45 minutes

4 to 6 servings

The story behind the recipe we call Italian wedding soup is as hearty and layered as the dish itself.

Something was lost in translation when Italian immigrants brought their recipes for "minestra maritata" to the young United States. Literally "wedded soup," it has nothing to do with weddings: Its name refers to the delicate marriage of disparate ingredients in each bowl.

But those ingredients vary by region, town and family. Because of mass-market versions such as those made by Rao's, Olive Garden and Progresso, when many Americans hear "Italian wedding soup," they think of a bowl of broth with meatballs, greens and pasta. But that's only one version.

I combed through hundreds of recipes, from Apicius's "De re Coquinaria" and Pellegrino Artusi's "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well" to more modern books such as Joyce Goldstein's and "La Cucina Napoletana" by Jeanne Carla Francesconi, and found that the dish can include: fava beans, a prosciutto bone, sausage, broccoli rabe, a whole chicken, wild fennel, escarole, rice, spinach, eggs, bread, milk, cheese, pasta and/or beef. It can take days or an hour to prepare. It may be based on a fatty broth or clear stock. It can start with making meatballs or by blanching greens, by roasting a whole pig or simmering sausages or boiling a chicken until the meat falls off the bone. If there was one true minestra maritata, I thought, certainly the Italian Academy of Cuisine would know.

In 1953, a group of Italians founded the Accademia Italiana della Cucina, dedicated to the preservation of regional Italian cuisine. After decades of research, they published a book of more than 2,000 recipes; "La Cucina del Bel Paese" was translated into English in 2009. It contains no fewer than five recipes for minestra maritata, each from a different region in Italy, from Piedmont to Puglia. In a fascinating twist, the only commonality four of the five share is that they marry a meaty broth with hearty greens, either chicory or endive or fennel or spinach. (The recipe from Veneto doesn't contain any greens but thickens an enriched chicken stock with rice and tagliolini.)

According to the late historian and journalist Vittorio Gleijeses's 1977 book, "A Napoli Si Mangia Cos," minestra maritata can be traced to Naples, and he supposed, originally came from the Spanish olla podrida, a long-simmered stew of vegetables, meat and beans. Italians made it their own, marrying local ingredients to great effect.

By the time it made its way to the United States, its popularity began to wane in Italy. Italian immigrants added meatballs, ranging in size from marbles to baseballs, and whatever greens they could grow or find at the markets in their new cities. (Escarole was a popular option; many, like my Italian American babysitter, also called it "scarole soup.") The story of Italian wedding soup, then, is a lot like the story of a long, good marriage: It's gone through a lot but it's stuck together, because when something works, it just works.

For this recipe, based on a memory of the one my babysitter used to make me when I was a kid, I've taken some liberties, using store-bought stock (use homemade if you have it!) and precooked chicken sausages (they add an easy hit of flavor). Then, quickly mixed and shaped meatballs, pork or turkey, are roasted before they're added to the fortified broth along with lots of chopped kale, escarole, spinach or chard. Lemon juice and zest offset the rich, meaty flavors and perk up the bitter greens. It comes together in under an hour, but makes an especially filling and flavorful meal. Serve the soup with grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano, fresh herbs and crusty bread to soak up the lightly spicy broth.

— G. Daniela Galarza

INGREDIENTS

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 (12-ounce) package fully cooked Italian-style chicken sausage, preferably spicy, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds

2 large (about 3 ounces) carrots, scrubbed and chopped

2 stalks (about 3 ounces) celery, halved lengthwise and sliced (save a few leaves for garnish, if desired)

10 cups (2 1/2 quarts) low-sodium chicken stock

1/4 cup (2 ounces) milk or water

1 large egg

1 slice white bread, hard crusts removed

1 pound ground pork or turkey

1/2 cup (about 1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese or pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving

1/4 (2 ounces) yellow onion, grated

1/4 cup (about 1/2 ounce) chopped Italian parsley, plus more for serving

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste

3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) tiny pasta, such as orzo, stelline pasta, ditalini or acini di pepe

4 to 6 ounces (4 to 6) shredded or chopped escarole, kale (thick ribs removed), chard (ribs removed) or spinach, or a combination

Pinch red pepper flakes, optional

1 large lemon, zested and juiced

Sprigs of dill, for garnish (optional)

In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high, add the olive oil and sausage and saute, stirring every so often, until browned on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the carrots, celery and stock. Cover, bring to a boil and cook until the carrots and celery are tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs: Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, add the milk and egg and whisk lightly. Add the slice of bread and soak for 5 minutes. Add the ground pork or turkey, cheese, onion, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper to the soaked bread and mix with your hands until combined. Rinse and moisten your hands with cool water and then shape the mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs; you will have 30 to 35 meatballs. Place them, spaced evenly, on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes; meatballs will finish cooking in the soup.

Return the heat to high under the soup. As soon as the broth comes to a boil, stir in the pasta and simmer until al dente, 4 to 6 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, and stir in the chopped greens, red pepper flakes, if using, and half of the lemon zest; reserve the remaining zest for garnish.

Using a spatula, scrape the meatballs and any fat and crispy bits stuck to the pan into the soup. Increase the heat to high and cook until the greens soften and the meatballs are cooked through — cut into one to be sure it's no longer pink in the center — about 3 minutes.

Add half of the lemon juice; taste the broth, and season with additional salt and pepper, if desired.

Serve the soup hot, garnished with celery leaves, Parmesan, parsley, dill, the remaining lemon zest and juice, if desired.

Nutrition (based on 6 servings) Calories: 491; Total Fat: 23g; Saturated Fat: 8g; Cholesterol: 111mg; Sodium: 1134mg; Carbohydrates: 37g; Dietary Fiber: 3g; Sugar: 4g; Protein: 35g.

Recipe from G. Daniela Galarza.

Farro, Kale and Peanut Butter Soup. (Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.)

Farro, Kale and Peanut Butter Soup

Active time: 25 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

4 servings

My idea for this farro, kale and peanut butter soup started with Lukas Volger's peanut butter and greens sandwich from his latest cookbook, "Start Simple." The sandwich consists of marinated greens, peanut butter and a drizzle of sriracha layered between two slices of bread that get toasted, a la grilled cheese. Though I was quite skeptical at first, I was hooked after my first bite, and have now borrowed that flavor profile for this soup — nutty, a little bitter and with a hint of spice.

While of course the peanut butter lends a great deal of nuttiness to the finished product, the farro adds to this dimension as well (and brings a delightful chew). Toasting the farro before it's simmered in liquid brings out even more flavor to contribute to the soup. Should you not be able to find farro, barley would make a good substitute, or perhaps even brown or wild rice.

Speaking of ingredients, I tested this recipe using creamy peanut butter, but I imagine any style of nut butter should do. Similarly, curly kale — or whatever dark, leafy green you fancy, such as collard greens or Swiss chard — is bound to be a suitable replacement for lacinato/Tuscan kale.

Lastly, when it comes to heat, including the whole jalapeo will lead to a prominent, but manageable, level of spice. Should you prefer a more subtle singe, you can remove the ribs and seeds when dicing the pepper.

Though this particular iteration of peanut soup was novel to me, groundnut or peanut soups and stews have existed in Africa for generations. Peanuts were brought to North American shores alongside enslaved African people, who carried their recipes for dishes incorporating the ingredient with them. As a result, peanut soup became part of Virginia's culinary heritage, with that region's version being directly derived from maafe, a peanut soup eaten by the Wolof people of Senegal and Gambia, according to culinary historian Michael Twitty.

Although I'd never heard of the Virginia iteration until researching this recipe, African peanut soups have been part of the broader American culinary canon for decades thanks to the "Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant" cookbook, which published a West African-inspired groundnut stew in 1990.

So did I just dream this farro, kale and peanut butter concoction up by turning a sandwich into a soup, or was I subconsciously thinking of groundnut stew all along? It's hard to say. Regardless of the inspiration, I'm thankful for it and happy to share this recipe for a comforting, nourishing and one-pot vegan soup.

Make Ahead: To shorten the cooking time, soak the farro in water overnight. If you do, you can skip the initial 20-minute simmer and add the kale when you add the broth.

Storage Notes: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

— Aaron Hutcherson

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium (7 ounces) yellow onion, diced

1 jalapeo pepper, diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced or grated

1 cup farro, rinsed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

6 cups unsalted or low-sodium vegetable stock, plus more as desired

1 bunch (12 ounces) lacinato/Tuscan kale, stemmed and thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

In a large pot over medium heat, add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion, jalapeo, salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the farro and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring regularly, for 1 minute.

Add the vegetable stock, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and cook, with the lid slightly ajar, for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Add the kale and continue simmering, stirring once or twice, until the flavors come together and the farro and kale are tender but still retain some bite, about 20 minutes more.

Stir in the peanut butter until fully combined. If you prefer a thinner soup, add 1/2 to 1 cup more stock to reach desired consistency. Taste and add more salt and pepper, as desired. Let cool slightly before serving.

Nutrition Calories: 429; Total Fat: 17 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 757 mg; Carbohydrates: 60 g; Dietary Fiber: 9 g; Sugar: 11 g; Protein: 16 g.

Recipe from Aaron Hutcherson.

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