Many thanks to all who sent well-wishes (and condolences) during my little ordeal last week. I am happy to say that after a few days of feeling like I’d been leveled by a bulldozer, I’m on the mend. It’s going a bit slower than I’d anticipated…gosh, do you think that could be age talking?
One thing that surprised me about this surgery was my lack of appetite when I came home from the hospital. After several days of fasting and dreaming about food, once I got home, I couldn’t muster much enthusiasm for eating. I figured I’d hit the house and immediately pillage the pantry, desperate to get something in my hollow belly, but the first couple of days home, I wanted little more than toast with jam and crackers. Weird.
Not to worry, though. After a few days of that nonsense, I was ready for something more substantial. A girl cannot live on toast and jam alone. Especially a girl who doesn’t even like jam.
I’d seen this recipe in a recent issue of Bon Appetit and thought it sounded like the perfect thing to soothe a cold or the winter blahs. I hadn’t anticipated making it after a surgical procedure, but life throws you curveballs, doesn’t it?
The recipe calls for dried kombu, which is not normally something I have in the house. As luck would have it, I’d ordered the dried kombu online several weeks ago, so I didn’t have to seek it out at Whole Foods. Me for the win! However, if you cannot find kombu (or just can’t be bothered), still make this recipe–the kombu adds just the barest touch of vegetal flavor. Your soup will be plenty delicious without it.
This soup is deceptively simple. It doesn’t really sound like much on paper, but there’s something about the broth that I found incredibly nourishing and soothing. I’m not overstating when I say that a bowl of this broth could cure just about any trouble in the world. It’s magic.
The one fussy bit of advice I have: it’s important to use sticky rice or sushi rice in this dish–the starch that kind of rice releases gives the broth a sweetness and body that other rice can’t accomplish.
Speaking of rice–there’s a lot of it in this soup. This isn’t some flimsy bowl of soup–it’s thick and hearty, a lot like Chinese congee. It’s almost porridge-like and really sticks to your ribs. It’s chicken soup that eats like a meal.
It was the perfect thing to fill my stomach after several days of light eating. I ate the whole batch over two days, all by myself, and I felt so much better for it. The first bowl or two, I took it easy on the sliced jalapenos and the chile oil, but as time went on (and I started to feel better), I ramped up the condiments. Do whatever you deem best.
This soup is meant to be eaten the first day you make it–it doesn’t keep well. The rice gets overly soft and loses its texture as it sits in the refrigerator. It wasn’t bad on the second day, but don’t stretch it beyond that. I think that first bowl was by far the best, but maybe that was the prolonged hunger talking.
If you want to make yourself (or someone else) feel loved and taken care of, get out your soup pot and make this recipe. You’ll be back on your feet in no time.
Vietnamese Chicken Soup with Rice
adapted from the Elizabeth Street Cafe
3 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 4×4-inch piece dried kombu (I got mine online)
1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and crushed
3 star anise pods
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup glutinous (sticky) rice or sushi rice, rinsed
1 tablespoon fish sauce (I used 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon palm or brown sugar
1/2 cup finely diced carrot
1/2 cup finely diced celery
For garnish (as desired):
sliced jalapeno and/or fresno pepper
chopped cilantro or basil
Bring chicken, kombu, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, stock and 2 cups water to a simmer in a large pot over medium heat. Reduce heat to maintain a low simmer and cook until chicken is tender. Transfer chicken to a plate.
Strain broth through a fine-mesh sieve and discard solids. Return broth to pot and add rice, fish sauce and palm/brown sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until the rice is very tender, 18-20 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time for the rice, add the celery and carrot to the pot. Once rice and vegetables are tender, shred chicken and add to pot. Add more fish sauce if desired.
Divide soup among bowls and top with garnishes of choice.