January 11, 2011

Blog Goals and Thai Chicken & Rice Soup

It appears that in the rush of the holidays--and the chill of winter--I have left the blog a bit unattended.  I've thought about it quite a bit, and in the spirit of New Years Resolutions, I have two goals for the blog:

1.  My main goal for Upstate California Kitchen Adventures is to highlight seasonal, locally-available produce.  In doing this I suppose I should talk more often and more specifically about what is available at farmers markets right NOW.  Up until now I've been updating my What's in Season page monthly, but it doesn't get much traffic, so I will try to incorporate What's in Season into each post more effectively.

2.  Also I've decided that I want to make the blog a little more personal, so I'll start referring to my children by their names and such.  There's some weird, often-undefined fear about sharing personal information online.  While some of the fear is grounded in reality, such as when someone posts on Facebook that they are going to be on vacation in Hawaii for a week, and, whoops, their unattended home is broken into; I don't see a great threat in referring to my children by their names.  Besides, since this blog doesn't rely on lots of  photography, unless you are a personal friend you would not be able to identify them anyway.


I think I've mentioned before that I am one of those people who love cilantro.  When it is available in the farmers market (in fall and spring) I buy a large bunch each week.  Last week (January 1st) it was no where to be found at the Chico market, so it's understandable that when I found some at the farmers market in Sacramento this Sunday, I got two bunches.

Another find this weekend were little red hot peppers.  I know: it's January and pepper plants die in freezing weather so it's been over a month since peppers were widely available in our area, but these little guys,  "bird chiles" I think is what they would be called (about a 1/4 inch wide and one to two inches long; the kind you see in Sizzling Beef at a Chinese Restaurant), were left on the dry branches and were being sold for a $1/bunch.  Last week, by the way, I did see that Vogel's Darn Good Produce was selling a variety of home-dried chiles.  May I recommend that you get a bag if they are still available next week?


I've been fighting congestion for a couple days now, so when I picked up those spicy little peppers and that cilantro, the first thing that came to mind was a restorative Chicken Soup.  I planned it during the drive back from Sacramento:  I would make a chicken stock using organic chicken, garlic, ginger, cilantro, chile and fish sauce.  Then I would shred the chicken meat while the vegetables cooked in the stock.  For the vegetables I would use some chard (which is widely available in farmers markets in the winter) and some bean sprouts and green onions which I would have to purchase.

Green onions are sometimes available at farmers markets in winter, but they are suddenly abundant in early spring when for a few weeks young onions, peas, and strawberries seem to constitute 90% of the market's plant-based offerings.  It surprises me that green onions are not more widely available in winter, because  onions are usually planted in late fall (October and November), so that the onions planted in my garden are just now maturing into nicely sized green onions.  I prefer to leave mine in the ground and let them mature into bulbs though.  This weekend I did see one booth at the Sacramento market selling green onions, but I neglected to purchase them.   If it hadn't been so cold I would have circled back to get some, but by the time we made our first loop through the market our hands were full and we were anxious to get back to warmth of the car.

Sprouts are an interesting thing.  Really they are the quintessential local food: they can be grown on a paper towel in your kitchen, but 'sprouting' is no longer the hot trend it was in the 80s.  There is, though, a booth at the Chico farmers market that sells a wide variety of sprouts in warmer months.  The last time I looked through their selection, however, I did not find any of the familiar mung bean sprouts that one finds in Chinese and other Oriental-style dishes, so I purchased a bag from the Natural Foods store.

The Natural Foods store did not have fish sauce, which is more authentic to Thai food than soy sauce is, so I used kosher salt and soy sauce, which was probably more pleasing to the children's American palates. 

Thai Chicken and Rice Soup
This is really my own creation.  Maybe I shouldn't call it "Thai," but because I associate cilantro, hot chiles, ginger and coconut with Thai food, that's what I'm calling it.  As with most soup recipes, don't waste your time measuring ingredients.  If you want a stronger flavored stock add more garlic and ginger.  Be careful with the chiles.  One chile in the stock plus one in the soup yields a mild flavor.  Using more yields a spicier soup, which might work wonders for congestion, but might not be very kid-friendly.  Makes approximately 6 servings.

For the Stock:
1 tablespoon cooking oil -coconut oil adds a nice flavor here
1 organic chicken- remove the leg quarters and reserve for another use.  Use breasts, back and wings for stock-making.
6 cups water
kosher salt, about a tablespoon
6-10 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 2 inch length of ginger, peeled and minced
1-3 bird chiles or other hot peppers, depending on how spicy you want your finally product.
one small bunch cilantro, washed.  -Keep cilantro in a bunch, but tear off a large handful of leaves to reserve for garnish.

For the Soup:
3/4 cup white rice, such as jasmine or basmati
1-4 bird chiles
one bunch chard, approximately 6 ounces -remove stems if using rainbow chard
6 green onions, root removed, sliced into 1" pieces
1 tablespoon sugar
2 carrots -wash and peel, then use a vegetable peeler to shave carrots into curls.
4-6 ounces mung bean sprouts
1 14 oz can coconut milk

For Finishing
Reserved cilantro, roughly chopped
Green onions, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lime
Soy sauce or fish sauce
Sesame seeds

In large soup pot over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Saute chicken.  Let brown on one side, about 4-5 minutes, then flip and let brown on the other side, 3-5 minutes. Add water and the rest of the stock ingredients.  Bring to a simmer and let cook, covered, until chicken is just cooked through, about 20-25 minutes.

Remove chicken to a plate and let cool.  Strain stock through a strainer or sieve, then heat to a boil.  Add rice, bring to a simmer and cook about 5 minutes.  Increase heat.  Add chiles, chard, green onions, and sugar.  Bring to a simmer.  Let cook a few minutes.  Meanwhile, separate chicken meat from the skin and bones and shred the meat.

Add carrots to soup pot and let cook a few minutes.  Taste to be sure rice has cooked through.  Adjust seasoning if necessary with kosher salt, fish sauce or soy sauce, more chiles or a bit more sugar.  Add shredded chicken, mung bean sprouts and coconut milk.  Allow soup to come to a simmer once more.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish as desired.

Storage note:  As with any soup containing noodles, rice or other starchy foods, the starchy food will absorb the broth if left overnight.  If you want to be a food snob about it, strain out the broth and store it separately.

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