Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soup as Salve for Post-Thanksgiving Blues

Chicken, Kale, Brown Rice Soup

Thanksgiving plus my birthday plus impending holiday celebrations equals an almost involuntary response: the desire to eat healthy this week.  I’ve had some wonderful meals out to celebrate my big day- tagliatelle with frutti di mare at Bianca, duck confit at AOC- and have been showered with gifts from delicious chocolate cake at Bee Desserts to fresh eggs from my friend Vicki’s farm.  I have cooked too- roast chicken and pecan-chocolate pie for Thanksgiving, those farm fresh eggs with butter and gruyere for a birthday morning scramble. 

Which leads me to today, where the aftermath of gluttony has joined forces with the fear of more holiday season indulgence to come.  This state of guilt and pre-guilt usually leads me to one eating solution: soup.  I want to feel soothed, fill up my belly with lighter fare, and pack in a huge dose of flavor in the process.  This soup however, though healthy, should not taste like any dieter’s soup.

I had chicken bones leftover from Thanksgiving, but not quite enough to make a full pot of stock, so I set out to enrich store bought stock instead. Browning the bones in a little oil then add them to a pot of premade chicken broth (this works for any poultry bones) is a great way to add flavor to generic chicken stock without adding much fat.

Next I went to the depths of the vegetable bin, hoping to use up odds and ends leftover from recent, more elaborate cooking.  This was the time to put that stray carrot to work or the half and onion sitting in a plastic bag.  Kale is one of my favorite soup greens, the hardy leaves stand up well to a long simmer and come packed full of vitamins and fiber- roughage whose taste is far from rough.  Cubed sweet potato, diced red pepper, sliced mushrooms, just about anything goes. 

With a richly flavorful stock and a heap of veg, all that was left was some protein and carbs to make my soup feel like a complete meal.  A little decadent meat can go a long way.  Think two sweet fennel sausages in a pot of soup that feeds 4-6 people.  But of course, leftover shredded turkey, or chicken in my case, also does the trick.  If there is not already tons of potato in the soup (I had one unused sweet potato in mine), I’ll add a small scoop of brown rice or even some leftover bread cubes to help thicken up the pot.

Rich broth plus plenty of vegetables plus a little protein plus some starch equals a guilt-free and filling post Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas meal.  A week of healthy soup and I’ll be back in form for round two of holiday eating indulgence. 

Chicken, Brown Rice, and Kale Soup
Time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 T. vegetable oil
Chicken bones
8 c. store bought chicken broth
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs

1 half medium onion
1 clove garlic
3 cups thinly sliced kale
1 ½ c. diced sweet potato
3 T. olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
1/3 cup long grain brown rice
salt and pepper

Heat vegetable oil in a large soup pot over a medium high heat.  Add chicken bones and brown on all sides.  Add chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme sprigs to the chicken bones.  Bring pot to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 20 minutes then strain off broth.  Discard bones and herbs.  Return strained reinforced chicken stock to the stove to keep warm for the soup.

While stock is simmering, prep vegetables.  Cut onion into a small dice.  Mince garlic.  Remove woody ribs from kale then shred the leaves.  Peel and dice sweet potato.  Heat olive oil over a medium flame in a large soup pot.  Add onion and cook till softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes.  Stir in kale with a bit of salt and pepper.  Keep stirring till slightly wilted, about 3 minutes.  Add sweet potato, oregano, shredded chicken, rice, and reinforced chicken stock.  Bring soup to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid and let simmer for about 30 minutes, until rice is tender.  Adjust seasoning if necessary with additional salt and pepper. 

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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