Guys, I’m sick. I caught a beast of a cold earlier this week and I am one grumpy Sara. I’m achy, I’ve been sneezing, and if I’d known this was coming, I’d have purchased stock in tissues. I’ve been spending a lot of time in bed, but I’m awake now and before I head back to the warmth of my blankets, I wanted to share this recipe with you. This soup won’t cure your cold, but it’ll sure make you feel better.
If you’re anything like me, you tend to overindulge during the holiday season – we’re not even to New Year’s, yet – and then regret it later. I know that after rich, decadent meals and equally sinful desserts, all I want is a Big Salad, à la Elaine Benes. My body craves vegetables, leafy greens, and no meat whatsoever. Let me introduce to you the Green Soup.
Last weekend it was really rainy and overcast here in Omaha. Yes, it’s June, but because of the weather, I was craving chicken noodle soup. I didn’t want to do the expected noodle soup; I wanted to do something spicy, tangy, something that took me to another place when I ate it.
To the internet I went!
On one of my favorite websites, Food Republic, I found just what I was looking for: something called Chicken Laksa. One look at the ingredient list told me it was just what I wanted. And I only had to buy a few items!
I cook with a lot of different spices, so I was glad to see that I had pretty much every spice on the list: coriander seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, cloves, and turmeric. These spices featured a lot in Thai and Indian recipes (which I love) so I always have them on hand.
I absolutely love going to the Asian market here in town. Shopping there transports me to another place. I can spend at least an hour in there, just walking around, discovering ingredients I’ve never seen before. I fully suggest you do the same. Find your nearest ethnic market, walk in, and immerse yourself in the food of that culture. You might be surprised what goes home with you in your shopping bag.
This soup is really easy to put together. After you grind your spices, chop your shallots and garlic, smash your lemongrass, and cut up your chicken thighs, it pretty much all goes into one pot and boom! you’re done.
I suggest giving this one a try. If, for any reason, you don’t have a spice or coffee grinder, you can use pre-ground spices from the market. Also, if you can’t find shrimp paste (I absolutely had to go to the Asian market for it) I’m sure you could substitute fish sauce.
However, I know that I really loved the boost of flavor the shrimp paste gave. It doesn’t smell good, but boy, it was a lovely addition to the soup. If you do substitute, just be sure to taste, as both are salty and exact substitutions might be off.
Chicken Laksa (Southeast Asian Chicken Noodle Soup)
Adapted from Food Republic
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you really like it spicy)
2 lemongrass stalks
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cubed
1 teaspoon shrimp paste
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 can (13.5 oz) unsweetened coconut milk
1 quart reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cinnamon stick
8 ounces mung bean sprouts, rinsed
8 ounces wide rice noodles
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn
Sambal Oelek chili paste (can find at Asian market)
In a spice or coffee grinder, place first seven ingredients and grind to medium-fine powder. Set aside. Peel off outer layers of lemongrass stalks and give them a good whack on your counter. Or, if you’re feeling inclined, smash the core with a heavy skillet. Basically, you’re crushing them in order for them to give off their lovely lemony flavor (you’ll take them out of the soup at the end).
Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add the cubed chicken, shrimp paste, shallots, and spice mixture. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes.
Add coconut milk, broth, sugar, and salt. Add cinnamon stick and lemongrass stalks. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for at least 20 minutes.
In a separate pot, bring 3-4 quarts of water to a boil. Toss in bean sprouts and blanche them until softened, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer sprouts to a bowl. Add noodles to same pot and cook until firm, but pliable, about 4-5 minutes; drain.
Divide sprouts and noodles among bowls. Remove lemongrass and cinnamon stick from soup pot. Ladle soup into bowls and top with cilantro. Squeeze fresh lime juice over soup and add as much Sambal Oelek as your tongue can handle.
If you’re going to store this for leftovers, be sure to keep components separate. When reheating, pour soup into saucepan and heat on stove over medium. There’s no need to reheat the noodles; the soup will take care of that.
The weather here in Omaha is on the fence. It doesn’t know what it wants. Sunny? Overcast? Chilly? Rainy? Make up your mind already and move on! Yes, it is Spring, but my brain wants nonstop sunny weather. Anyway, I woke up the other morning unsure of what to make for that night’s dinner. I knew I had some things going on during the day, so standing over the stove for hours wasn’t an option. I wanted something fresh, something Spring-like, something easy.
After my day’s activities, I stopped at the market. Wandering around the produce section, I spotted some bright orange carrots. They were exactly what the overcast day called for. I thought, “Well, I could roast these and maybe have pork chops or something on the side.” But I wanted to do something more with them. Carrots are an under-utilized vegetable, if you ask me. They have a natural sweetness that comes out during the roasting process, but I didn’t want to stop there.
Soup. I came up with soup. Sounds boring, right? Or weird, maybe? Well, you’d be wrong on both accounts. This soup was easily one of the tastiest vegetable-centered dishes to come out of my kitchen. I could hardly believe it! Not that it was without faults, but those aside, it was hearty, spicy, a little sweet, and totally satisfying.
This recipe was also just enough for Scott and I to have dinner and then leftovers the following day for lunch. It reheated on the stove quite nicely and paired well with a sliced baguette and salted butter.
Roasted Carrot Soup
**You’ll need an immersion blender or regular blender for this soup.
1 1/2 – 2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped into rounds or half-moons
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
cracked black pepper
1 leek, white and light green parts only, sliced lengthwise and then into half-moons
3 large shallots, chopped
3 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ginger paste
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake (adjust if you like it a little spicier)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 quart chicken stock (use vegetable stock if you want to go vegetarian)
Heat oven to 400ºF. Place carrots in a medium bowl and drizzle evenly with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Toss with your hands so the carrots are evenly coated and turn out onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside.
When carrots are done, heat remaining 1 tablespoon in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add shallots and leek to pan, sprinkle with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and sauté until tender, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often. Be mindful not to burn the shallots and leeks, adjust heat if necessary.
Add minced garlic and ginger paste, stir well. Sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in crushed red pepper flake, ground cumin, and ground coriander and stir until fragrant. Add sherry vinegar and honey, stir into mixture. Add roasted carrots and chicken stock.
Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow it to simmer for at least 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to purée. Garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. A dollop of crème fraîche or some chopped fresh cilantro would be lovely, as well.
I’m a fan of soup. A big fan. Anything that requires slow simmering and very little attention on my part is a good thing. And when I think of Thanksgiving, I always think of butternut squash, so naturally, I thought I would throw together a butternut squash soup for our first course. Then I asked myself, “What could possibly make a luscious soup such as this even better?” My answer? Bacon and lobster, of course!
Although they are a pain to peel, the flavor of a butternut squash is well worth the effort. I chopped it up along with an onion and garlic and tossed them all together with olive oil and the rendered fat from the bacon. To that, I added minced sage, thyme, and a few whole bay leaves. After a sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper, I roasted them in a 450º oven for just under an hour, stirring them halfway through to ensure even roasting.
Despite the state of our house (we’re still living out of the basement due to floor refinishing) I was still thrilled to be cooking for our Thanksgiving. The roasted veggies smelled amazing and in the meantime, I prepped the lobster tails. It was quite simple, really. I just snipped up the sides of the lobster tail and snipped up the belly side of the shell, removing it and exposing the flesh. A little salt, pepper, and olive oil and voilà!
I wrapped the lobster tails in foil packets and after the butternut squash mixture was sufficiently roasted, I removed it, and into the oven they went! Before I knew it, the soup had been puréed, the lobster was done, and it was only 1:00pm!
The finished product with lobster pieces. Delicious!
As if one dessert wasn’t enough, I went ahead and put together a quick apple tart. I’ve made them before, but usually labored over the pastry…not this time! No way! Into the freezer I went and Eureka! I had a package of puff pastry! This apple tart is the simplest way to serve a fruit dessert and if you have the right ingredients: apples, puff pastry, butter, and sugar, you should be in business!
I tossed my peeled and cored apples with a few tablespoons of sugar and a few tablespoons of brandy, but the alcohol isn’t necessary. We all know I like hooch with my food, and I feel that brandy adds a nice element to an apple dessert. I then layered the apples on the puff pastry, sprinkled it with more sugar, and dotted the apples with cubed butter. After about an hour in the oven, it was golden brown and gorgeous!
All in all, I think this non-traditional Thanksgiving went off without a hitch. Pat prepared a standing rib roast with roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, and fingerling potatoes. And Holly prepared a lovely scalloped celery root dish with bacon. It was a nice change to spend the holiday with close friends and I hope we can all do it again soon.