Soups Soothe the Soul

With the change in weather in New England (mainly, it getting colder and colder), it usually comes with a rash of people getting sick around you.  The go-to fix for cold weather and illness (maybe after layering up, wrapping yourself in a blanket cocoon, taking medicine…) is typically a bowl of hot & steamy soup to: a) help soothe the cold weather blues, or b) to comfort the sick body.

Last month, I was sick for a while with a cough and dry throat that lingered.  Needless to say, hot soup was on my mind.  I knew of some soup recipes I’ve been meaning to try and this was just the time for something comforting.  Though cooking wasn’t on the top of my list of “things I would like to do while sick”, I still did enjoy some of the cooking routine and excitement of experimenting with new recipes.  Mainly, the soup recipe craving was for an apple fennel soup (from Food52, a curated food website I have been enjoying for recipe inspiration) & nostalgia for “mom’s homemade cooking”–a pickled lime chicken soup.

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Apple Fennel Soup
apple fennel soup 2

So, as you can see from a couple of my previous posts, apple has been a popular feature.  It is fall in New England, after all.  Why not use what is in season and in surplus around me (it is a food philosophy I like to support)?  For those of you who do enjoy apples, this is a good recipe to try and I highly recommend it!  For those who don’t or are allergic, my apologies… perhaps you can try a substitute fruit like pear (not really sure about that suggestion, but why not try)?

This was a fairly simple recipe and not very time consuming, in terms of cooking and prep time.  The items that need to be chopped, minced, or diced don’t need to be uniform or perfect looking since the end product will be puréed.  Though, I do have to admit I didn’t follow the recipe fully because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand, and didn’t want to go to the market for them either.  So I made some subtractions and edits (partially dictated by what I had from my CSA share)…

Subtractions:
– shallot
– celery
– watercress
– fresh mint
– fresh thyme

Edits:
– leek
– kohlrabi
– arugula
– dried mint
– dried thyme

I love the flavor of leeks so I thought, ‘What would be so terrible by adding it to the soup?’  It was a larger quantity than the shallot, but I didn’t mind :).  Also, I didn’t have celery on hand, and wasn’t interested in a leftover bunch in the fridge so I threw in a small amount of kohlrabi, which I did have.  I didn’t have watercress but did have a salad mix, so I picked out some of the arugula and a couple leaves of other dark greens.  And without the full flavor the fresh mint and fresh thyme may have added, I simmered the dried versions in the soup mixture for a while.  Then it was ready to be puréed with the arugula (I attempted this first with a hand blender, but my model wasn’t sufficient for this job, so I turned to the trusty blender).

My final product (see above picture) certainly does look a lot greener in color than the one in the recipe, but still tasty!!  (Perhaps it could be from a longer simmer time, not straining it in a sieve as the recipe author preferred, or from not fully incorporating the cream into the soup with some additional drizzle.)  Regardless, the flavor of this soup was certainly a winner.   I enjoyed the savory flavor of the chicken broth contrasting with the sweetness of the apple, and this was all combined in the form of a hot bowl of soup!!

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Mom’s Homemade Cooking:
Cambodian Pickled Lime and Chicken Soup
ngham ngao soup

This is a soup my mom would make that is very homey and comforting.  A hot bowl of this soup seemed so simple, but so tasty and satisfying.  Maybe it was more so due to having been made with the care of a parent, but I really enjoyed soups like this even when I wasn’t sick or looking for something to warm me up from the cold weather.

The main feature in this Cambodian soup is the pickled lime.  My mom is very ‘old-school’ in her ways of cooking.  She preferred making much of her food in the traditional and, usually, labor intensive way.  So in order to make this stockpile of pickled lime to keep handy for any future use, you start with fresh lime.  Though, I wonder if letting a bunch of limes slowly wither on your counter (maybe a little unsafe food condition?) or drying them in an oven might amount to the same end goal…?  I’m sure my mom would have something to say about that. Eeek.

My mom would dehydrate the limes (really ‘old-school’) by drying it in the sun, which may take a day or two or more, depending on how strong the sunlight was.  Typically, my mom would do this sun drying in the height of summer, using direct sunlight.  (Wow, childhood memories are stirring up of being told to move those limes around the yard so it would constantly be bathed in direct sunlight, lest a little shade get in the way… And, mind you, when I was younger we lived in an apartment building, so that was a communal yard in which the limes were sunbathing… oh, I wonder if the neighbors knew those were even limes–but that memory rant is not for this blog post).  After she found it satisfyingly dehydrated, she would prepare a light brine and submerge the limes in a jar with that briny concoction.  It would sit for a while until the brining liquid changed to a dark amber/ molasses color (I suppose the color was from the dehydrated lime skins).  Then the stockpile of pickled limes was ready for use!

 So this is a vague recipe based on my own memories of my mom creating this dish, and some taste testing along the way.

Recipe (in-exact):
– use your preferred cut of chicken (I used 4-6 chicken drums) and brown meat in a large pot
– then pour 3 – 4 quarts of cold water into the pot
– let simmer until bubbling
– add 2 pickled limes, cut in half, and a tablespoon of the brining liquid to flavor broth
– add about 1/4 cup of sugar (soup should be sour and tangy, but with a sweet aftertaste),
more or less to your taste
– simmer for about 15-20 more minutes
– optional: pull out meat to tear apart into bite-sized pieces and add back to soup

This was my first time recreating this soup, and the flavor profile was largely based on my memory of what it should taste like.  I went back and forth a few times, either, slowly adding sugar or a little water until I thought it tasted just right.  But in the end, I was very proud of my version of the soup!

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