Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Polar Vortex Soup

This Polar Vortex Soup is my response to the infinite stretch of arctic weather we've been having in New York. At first it was kind of fun; an excuse to cozy up with a big glass of wine as the snow fell in the background; an opportunity to spend a guiltless day baking in the kitchen without getting  out of pajamas. But after 3+ weeks of bone-chilling numb, enough is enough. I have a cold, and I am cold. I would like to stop wondering if people can tell that I'm wearing long underwear under my jeans, and if they think I'm a criminal beneath my ominous black neck-warmer.

Last night, when my real-feel Accuweather app told me that while it was really 9 degrees it felt like -1, I stopped at Foragers' Market to pick up dinner. Blowing my nose with my second tissue packet of the day, I asked what kind of soups they had.
"Chicken kale," said the guy behind the counter.
"Chicken or kale?" I asked, mishearing.
"No, just one—chicken kale."
"Whats in it?"
"Chicken and kale."

I got it.  And while I initially thought his curt response was just attitude, he was absolutely right: the soup, aside from some carrots, onions, parsnips, and garlic, was basically just chicken and kale. But it was perfect. Fragrant chicken broth laced with shreds of juicy chicken warmed body heart and soul, while the kale delivered substantive nutrition that made me feel like I was arming my body with the proper vitamins and nutrients it needed to fight my cold. And so was today's recipe, a perfect harmony of chicken noodle soup nostalgia and nutrient-packed winter veggies, born.

This recipe is super malleable; broths, vegetables, proteins, spices, and herbs can all be tweaked or swapped to your liking. I do think though that the key to a real homestyle soup is the chicken; a shredded rotisserie cannot be beat.  I used chicken breast because I had it on hand, but next time will probably go whole-bird.

Fingers crossed, the sub freezing temperatures are supposed to break this weekend. But who knows what next week may bring!

Polar Vortex Soup
Serves 4

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 leek, white parts only (optional)
Root vegetables galore (carrots, parsnips, turnips; the more the merrier! I used 2 carrots and 2 parsnips)
2 cups cubed squash, butternut or acorn
1 big bunch of dark leafy greens, chopped (kale, collared greens, spinach, swiss chard, bok choy)
1/3 cup whole grain such as brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, barley, or pearl couscous
32 oz low-sodium chicken broth
3-4 large pieces of chicken, shredded and off the bone (breasts, thighs, legs, drumsticks, or a combination)
pinch of thyme and nutmeg (optional; oregano and hot red pepper flakes may also be used)
Parsley for garnish (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon, or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
salt & pepper

1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cook for 2 minutes. Add leek, chopped root vegetables, and garlic; cook for 5 more minutes, stir every few minutes. Sprinkle with pinch of thyme and nutmeg, and ample salt and pepper.
2. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Once a boil is reached, add grains. Cook until grains have 10 minutes left until al dente, and then add squash, leafy greens, and chicken. (So rice will cook for about 25 minutes before adding next ingredients, while pasta will just be cooked with rest of ingredients because of shorter cook time.) If not using pre-cooked chicken, cube and let the raw meat cook in the broth (about 5 minutes.)
3. When all ingredients are cooked through, add more salt and pepper; adjust seasonings to taste. Sprinkle pot with parsley and lemon or red wine vinegar, stir.

Serve piping hot—with, in my case, a heaping pile of clean tissues alongside the bowl.

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