Coconut Curry Chicken Soup
I woke up Sunday morning and decided I just wasn’t feeling the day’s planned dinner menu. Tomorrow is Fat Tuesday, and the idea was to kick off the Mardi Gras season with a big batch of gumbo (and post about it today).
Two things put the kibosh on that plan: I was out of filé powder, with no nearby source for it (and gumbo really needs that little hit of sassafras to be New Awlins authentic). So, that was a bummer (#firstworldproblems).
And, the kiboshier thing of the two: a big heavy stew just didn’t sound good. The sun was shining, my daffodils have now joined my crocus in poking their greenery out of the soil. My garden seed orders are either in hand or in transit.
So even though it was only February 19th, I realized I had already started mentally transitioning out of winter food. What I was really craving was a big pot of chicken soup. Something curried and brothy and packed with vegetables.
So, I hit the grocery store and lingered longer than usual in the produce section. When I spied the baby bok choy, my heart did a little skippy-leap. Baby bok choy is a winter-spring vegetable, and for whatever reason, holding it in my hand felt like we were turning the corner to Spring.
What I didn’t buy on that trip were carrots, leeks, onions and shallots. The carrots and leeks I pulled fresh out of the ground — our very mild winter here in the Ohio Valley has meant a mere handful of days of hard ground freeze. Leeks and carrots will survive that readily (carrots, above, top to bottom: Yellow, Sweet Treat, Purple Dragon). The onion (which I didn’t end up using in this recipe) and shallots (second picture from the top) were from last summer’s crop.
As I gear up to begin seeding for this year’s garden, I’m reminded of the simple — but incredible — power of the home garden, and that for a 3 or 4 month stretch in summer-fall, I buy very little at the grocery store, my food coming from my own little rectangle on this planet, or, for what I can’t/don’t grow, from the local farmers’ markets.
If you’re still looking for something Mardi Gras-ish, check out last year’s Jambalaya recipe, plus a side story of why you’ll never find a King Cake recipe on this site.
Coconut Curry Chicken Soup
The preparation here takes an almost stir-fry approach in cooking both the chicken and the vegetables. I almost always prefer chicken browned against a hot surface than boiled in stock — the extra steps add, at most, 15 minutes, but are worth it IMO. I also borrowed an Indian cooking technique in making a paste of the aromatics and spices before adding the stock — deepens the flavor, I think.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings
3 tablespoons coconut, sunflower, or other high-heat oil, divided usage
3/4 pound chicken thighs, cut into thin, short strips
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 leek, sliced into thin rounds, then lightly chopped
4 small carrots, sliced thinly on the diagonal
1 baby bok choy head, root end trimmed, sliced thin (including leaves — give them a little extra chop or two)
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, sliced (about 8 caps)
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tablespoon ginger
1 tablespoon lemongrass, minced very finely (or lemongrass paste)
1-3 tablespoons red curry paste (use three for a hot curry punch)
2 teaspoons mild, sweet curry powder
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 cups chicken stock or broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 15-ounce can coconut milk
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (from one small lime)
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 ounces rice noodles (rice sticks) or Chinese noodles
2 tablespoons fresh basil, sliced chiffonade, plus additional for garnish
1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 5 qt. Dutch oven or stock pot over medium until shimmering. Season the chicken pieces with curry powder, salt and pepper. Add to the pot and cook all the way through, about 8 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
2. Add another tablespoon oil, turn heat to medium-high and add the leeks, carrots, bok choy, bell peppers and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring constantly – like a stir-fry – for 5 minutes, until vegetables are soft but still vibrant. Use a small splash of chicken stock to deglaze the pan, if necessary. Push the veggies off to one side of the pan.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the empty side of the pan and heat briefly. Add the shallots, ginger and lemongrass, stirring well, while keeping the ingredients together in a small mound. Mix in the red curry paste, curry powder, and brown sugar, heating briefly (30 seconds). Slowly add about a 1/4 cup of chicken stock and stir to create a loose paste. Add the remaining stock and thoroughly mix all of the contents of the pot together.
4. Let the soup come to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Return the chicken and its juices to the soup. Let cook for 5 minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
5. Stir the coconut milk and basil into the soup and reduce heat further to low and allow to rest.
6. In a separate pot, prepare the rice noodles or Chinese noodles according to package directions. Drain, and stir into soup. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with basil.