It’s been really cold here. We have seen the minuses (Fahrenheit, that is!). Oh, I know, there are areas of the country where winter is routinely at -20 F… but not here in the Northern Piedmont… and without snow cover at that! I don’t dare checking my poor greens in the gardens, huddled under layers of agricultural fabrics and straw…
And an easy one too please. Using staples. And one that’s fast. And tasty! And not boring.
OK! Here is a recipe that fits all the requirements. And if you protest that ginger, fish sauce and chilies are not part of your pantry, you protest too much. They should. Ginger keeps for weeks when stored at room temperature; do not put this tropical root in the fridge: it will get chilly, sulk and start growing mold. Alternatively, if you insist on chilling ginger, then go ahead, and chill it all the way: peel, chop and process the roots in your food processor (or grate) until you have a rough puree, and then freeze it in small quantities (that’s what ice-cube trays are for!); when you need some, just take a cube out. If you really left ginger out so long that it sprouts new shoots, eat them, they are a delicacy. As far as fish sauce, it will often save the day, transforming a boring dish: a tablespoon or two will bring that elusive definition-escaping yet recognizable taste present in so many of the South-East Asia cuisines. Finally, fresh chilies can be frozen or turned very easily into fiery sauces ready to enliven a soup and warm you up from the inside on a frigid day. Got it? There, three more things for your pantry. And do yourself a favor: buy the fish sauce by the quart. It’ll cost just as much as those fancy little bottles in gourmet markets and it’ll keep forever.
The rest of the ingredients are quite plebeians, wouldn’t you say? Rice, chicken, carrots, celery… So here is one of the numerous versions of my Vietnamese-Inspired Rice & Chicken Soup. We made a version at the Simply Soups! cookery workshop this past week-end, and this is yet another. As with many soup recipes, exact ingredients and quantities vary based on what is actually in the pantry, the garden and your mood.
Makes about 2 to 2 ½ quarts/ 8 to 10 cups/ 4 generous main dish servings
Note: This is a very fast recipe if you already have cooked rice on hand**. However, this soup should be made at the last minute, since the rice will continue to swell and absorb broth for as long as it sits. For the same reason, left overs (while edible) are not recommended.
Ingredients:– 2 shallots, finely minced (or ½ medium red onion) – 1 Tablespoon fish sauce – 2 small breasts of chicken * – ½ teaspoon (freshly ground) pepper – 1 cup (+/-) cooked long-grain rice ** – 8 cups good-quality chicken broth, preferably home-made – 4 Tablespoons coarsely chopped dry-roasted (unsalted) peanuts – 3 large garlic cloves, degermed – 1 knob of ginger, peeled – 2 Tablespoons oil – 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced – 2 carrots, quartered lengthwise – 1 handful of parsley leaves (cilantro would be better, but I don’t always have that growing in the garden…) – 1 or 2 hot chilies (serrano or cayenne), finely minced (or a teaspoon or two of Vietnamese-style chunky hot sauce) – Vietnamese dipping sauce
* budget saving tip: Buy a whole chicken and cut it up. Remove breasts for this dish (use only one if large). The rest (legs, thighs and wings) can be grilled or baked or used up in another recipe. The carcass, the wing tips, the heart, gizzard, and the neck can be used to make stock.
- Cut the chicken in thin small bite-size slivers.
- Mince shallots. Combine in a small bowl, with fish sauce & the chicken; dust with pepper. Refrigerate if you are doing this in advance
- Heat up the broth and rice. **
- Mash (or blend) the garlic with the ginger to form a paste.
- Slightly toast the peanut in a dry skillet or in the oven. Set aside.
- Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet or wok and add oil. Add the celery and sauté for 2 or 3 minutes. Add chicken & marinade and continue to sauté on high heat, stirring until chicken is cooked through about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic/ginger paste and stir-fry quickly until fragrant about 20 seconds. Add the content of the skillet to the pot of broth. Deglaze the pan with water and add to the soup, making sure to scrape the skillet well. Repeat if necessary so as to get as much of the flavors left from sautéing the chicken & vegetables as possible. Add the parsley leaves.
- Ladle into bowls, add a few peanuts to each bowl and 1 Tablespoon of dipping sauce.
- Serve with additional peanuts, chilies & the Vietnamese dipping sauce on the side, so each person can flavor their bowl as desired.
** Note: if you do not have cooked rice, cook ½ cup rice in the broth: bring to boil, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until rice is tender.
½ cup, 4 servings
Ingredients:– 1 clove garlic, degermed – 1 tablespoon sugar – 3 Tablespoons fish sauce – 3 Tablespoons water – 2 to 3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice – 1 cayenne pepper, seeded if desired and minced (or 1 Teaspoon Vietnamese style hot sauce)
Instructions: In a bowl or mortar, mash the garlic and sugar to form a paste. (Alternatively, mince the garlic as finely as possible, and add to a small bowl, add the sugar and try to mash with the back of a spoon). Add all other ingredients and stir until the sugar dissolves
Note for the locavore log: chicken, carrots, parsley, chilies, chicken broth all immediate local; peanuts were regionally local.