Recipe: Sour and Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup

The Hairy Bikers made this soup as part of their ‘Best of British’ series some years ago, and I’ve been making it religiously ever since then. The original recipe is a bit labour-intensive, so I’ve adjusted it through the years to suit my palate and patience levels. It’s now lazy-person compatible, which suits me perfectly.

It involves building up a fragrant stock and then adding chicken meatballs, drawing inspiration from Matzo balls – so it’s a bit of a fusion-y soup, which I’ve turned Thai along the way. Ah well. The stock is sour and spicy, with a second huge spicy hit coming from the chicken balls.

I hate being ill. I know right, shocker. I turn into a complete drama queen, convinced I’m going to die and that all hope is lost. This soup, I have discovered, can just about help me keep my head on my shoulders and get some perspective. Besides which, focussing for hours on perfecting the flavours gives me something else to think about than my inevitable mortality and the fragility of my body.

I told you I get dramatic.

Just in time for Christmas, I’ve been struck down with a stupid cold, so I distracted myself with some nice music and spending an afternoon making this. I’ve been promising the recipe to friends for years, so finally here it is!

For the chicken meatballs

500g chicken breast

5″ piece of ginger, skin on if it’s fresh enough

5-6 cloves garlic

3 spicy chillies (I use bird’s eye)

Large handful of coriander (you could also use 2 tsp of Indian coriander chutney if you have it!)

2tbsp lemon juice

1 large onion

For the fragrant stock

3L chicken stock

3 lemongrass leaves, slightly bruised and sliced

4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced

1/3 cup fish sauce

1 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup soy sauce

4-5 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped

3″ square ginger

Large handful coriander, chopped

Small handful Thai basil, chopped

Small handful mint, chopped

Vegetables to go in the stock

This is up to you – whatever you have to hand can work really well. Carrots, mushrooms, peppers, bean sprouts, beans, anything. Add them once the stock is finished, to cook before adding the chicken, and to your taste.

Mix all the ingredients for the stock (except the fresh herbs) in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and then a rolling simmer.

While the stock is simmering and the flavours are intensifying, make the chicken balls.

In a chopper, mix all the ingredients except the chicken until you get a fine paste. Remove and add to a mixing bowl, and season to taste. Then add the chicken to the chopper and mince it finely. This will also ensure that you get all the goodness out of the chopper, since the chicken gets into all the nooks and crannies as it’s mincing – easier to wash up!

Add the chicken to the bowl, and thoroughly mix it all together so you have a large blob of delicious-smelling chicken. You may need to add more lemon juice to get the consistency you want. Leave the chicken to marinate as you check on the stock.

(You could always form the chicken into balls and freeze them for the next time you’re about to die of a cold. Jus’ sayin’.)

Add ingredients and seasonings to the stock as you desire, to make sure the flavours are well balanced. If you’re making this when you’re at death’s door, as I am now, don’t hold back on the ginger, garlic or chilli! All of these act as anti-oxidants and help expel the germs. Plus they taste divine.

This is the most hassle-laden stage of cooking, and the one I pay most attention to since a perfect broth is a Godsend when you’re ill.

The ingredients and quantities above are rough guidelines that I use as a base, but some days I’ll add more chillies, other days I’ll throw in some sugar – feel free to experiment. Some Shaoxing rice vinegar or mirin gives it an interesting depth, as does green tea.

When you’re happy with how the stock tastes, strain out the aromatics and add your vegetables to cook. The chicken should take about 5-7 minutes to cook, so depending on the vegetables you use, and how crunchy you want them, you can add the chicken at the same time.

Divide the chicken mixture evenly – I tend to get around 30 balls – and roll them between your palms. You may need to wet your hands to make them easier to handle and shape. As they’re ready, just drop them into the soup. When they’ve all been added, add the chopped herbs and prepare your final garnishes. Sometimes I like to garnish with julienned ginger and even more chilli!

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I like to bulk this out by adding egg noodles at this stage, but you could of course keep tis as just a simple soup. If you’re adding noodles, cook them towards the end, and in the same pot

Test if the chicken is cooked all the way though, and when it’s ready, ladle the whole thing out into your favourite bowl and enjoy!

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Recipe: Chicken Stock

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I always used to find making your own stock a huge hassle, and it still takes me a while to get psyched enough to spend hours tasting and adding ingredients. But when you’ve got bones from a leftover meal hanging around, it just seems wasteful to throw them away. Then I discovered the joys of a Dutch oven. Hallelujah! So here’s my recipe for a basic, European-style chicken stock.

Ingredients – makes 2L stock

Bones from one whole chicken, or any amount of bones you have to hand. I normally use about 750kg of bones and leftovers for this. You could even use leftover chicken meat for this, though I’d say that’s better kept for an amazing cold sandwich!

Leftover chicken skin, or wings/neck clipped by your butcher. Mine trims it down for me, so I keep these bits and any extra skin he trims off.

Vegetable peels (save these up over a week or two, mostly from onions, garlic, carrots and other soup-y vegetables)

2 large onions, sliced

1/2 head garlic, roughly chopped

6 sticks celery, roughly chopped

3 large carrots, roughly chopped

Fresh herbs of your choice – I normally use bay, thyme, oregano and a little parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

 

In a large saucepan (or Dutch oven), start by caramelising the chicken skin over a low heat. Extract all the fat, and this lends a wonderful flavour to the entire stock. Throw in all the scraps of skin and once they’re crisped, you can either leave it in or snack on them!

Add the chicken bones to the fat, to caramelise them as well. You could alternatively roast the bones in your oven with the vegetables, but this way you keep all the flavour in one pan. The bones should sizzle nicely, and when you smell the flavour getting deeper, add the vegetable peels and the vegetables as well, and sauté for a minute or so.

Add enough cold water to completely cover your bones and vegetables – in my pan, it’s about 3L. Add an extra litre of water than the amount of stock you want at the end, so there’s enough room for it to cook down and absorb all the flavours. The important part is to keep your bones completely submerged, so adjust amounts accordingly.

Bring to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. At this point, you’ll start seeing some scum appearing at the top – just use a slatted spoon to get rid of it. This should ensure that your stock is clear and free of impurities, since the congealed proteins rise to the top along with unnecessary fat.

Keep it at a simmer, and keep pouring the scum out. Add the herbs once you’ve got rid of most of the scum, and keep the stock at a simmer.

Check it regularly for seasoning – about every 15 minutes, but add the salt only when it’s about 90% done. For some reason, adding salt too early can make stock too bitter, so I’ve found this is the best way for me to do it. Add herbs, vegetables and other seasonings as you’d like at this point.

Tip: I flavour stocks for different cuisines at this point, adding soy sauce and Shaoxing rice vinegar for a Chinese stock; lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and palm sugar for a Thai stock; chillies, oregano and pepper for a Mexican broth, etc. Experiment with your favourite cuisines and flavours to customise your own stock!

Once it’s almost ready, add the salt and taste it one final time. When you’re happy with it, pass it through a fine sieve and then leave it to cool completely. It should be clear and shiny, and taste like a dream. You can either use it immediately, or freeze it for later (be sure to label it with the date and the type of stock). Enjoy!

 

 

 

Recipe – Tortilla Española

I had my family over for brunch this weekend, for my dad’s birthday (I’m more than a little obsessed with brunch) and I put out a Spanish-themed spread. The key feature was a Spanish tortilla. We had a rather disappointing one about a month ago, without any potatoes so it was basically an omelette with nice things in it. Nothing wrong with that, but it made me really crave the Real Deal.

One of my favourite parts about brunch, besides having people over obviously, is preparing and planning the menu for it. I did as much preparation the night before so I could just roll out of bed, tidy the flat and get the last bits together. I learned this recipe from the head chef of the hotel we stayed in during a staff retreat to Spain a few years ago. We all took a sangria-fuelled tapas cooking class, which was as amazing as it sounds.

The key, I discovered, was in the onions – cooked extremely slowly, in minimal oil or butter, and for a long time, so they release their own juices and become an incredibly soft, sweet, caramel brown. And, as the chef taught us, ‘no fear’ when it comes to the flipping. Let it be known that I cannot even flip a crepe to save my life, so this was going to be a challenge.

The potatoes should be slightly cooked, just enough that when they’re assembled in the tortilla and cook further, the end result is layers of thinly-sliced, cooked potatoes which still hold their shape.

And to prevent the tortilla from getting too heavy, move the egg mixture around a little before it sets, allowing more air into it. We were also taught that there’s no sense in keeping it neat and clean – no need to layer the potatoes and onions either. Mix it all up, cook it in a pan, abandon fear and keep flipping it. Easy. Ahem.

Recipe!

4 white onions, halved and thinly sliced

2 medium potatoes, sliced about 0.5 cm thick

5 eggs

200ml milk or cream

salt and pepper to taste

Slowly cook the onions for as long as you can, in a frying pan or the oven, in just about enough oil to prevent them sticking, and with the tiniest pinch of salt to encourage the juices to come out and cook the onions. When they’re a beautiful caramel and almost jam-like, remove and allow to cool. You could do this the night before, as I did.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, and heat a frying pan with a little olive oil and butter. When it’s medium-hot, add the mixture and shake the pan to make sure the potatoes are flat.

Here’s another ‘secret trick’: use a spatula to move the mixture around a little, creating swirls and whirls at the bottom of the pan. This gets air into the tortilla and helps keep it nice and light.

When the bottom is cooked and the top starts to cook, it’s time to flip. No fear. No fear.

No fear.

No. Fear.

Stop hyperventilating, you’re going to be fine.

Invert a plate over the pan, and quickly and with a fluid and confident flick – DO NOT CLOSE YOUR EYES – flip the tortilla over. It may be messy, but just roll with it. Apparently it’s all part of the fun, and you can reshape the thing anyway. Don’t wince. It’s going to be OK.

Use your spatula to make sure all the tortilla is actually in the pan, and round out the edges for the trademark tortilla look. When both sides are a beautiful golden brown, it’s ready to eat.

One of the great things about a good tortilla is that it’s great hot or cold. I served it with a green salad and tangy citrus vinaigrette, which cut through the creamy richness of the tortilla.

Enjoy!

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Recipe: Dukka-Marinated Chicken in Laffa, with Baba Ghanoush and Hummus

One of the great things about the weekend is taking the time out to do the lazy, relaxed activities you normally only treat yourself too. Like a morning spent strolling around the farmers market and enjoying a boozy brunch with a friend. Part of my swag from the market was an armful of beautiful fresh mint and parsley, and since I’ve been planning this meal for a few days, I thought I’d try it out this weekend.

I love fusion cuisine – no, really. I love the idea of finding a common ingredient, method or dish found across cultures, and combining that. I love the philosophy behind that, of breaking down the barriers between our cultures. Food can help you see how much we share, rather than what separates us.

Two of my favourite cuisines are Middle Eastern and Mediterranean, and I realise we’re talking about two continents now rather than countries but just go with it. I wanted to create something creamy, fresh and tasty, with layers of flavour.

I enjoy making my own spice mixes, since I find the remade ones contain far too much salt, or the balance isn’t to my taste. Dukka is an Egyptian spice mix, using roasted spices, nuts and herbs ground together. Everyone has their own recipe, but I really enjoy adding extra nuts to mine. I love the crunchiness you can get out of it.

Baba ghanoush is another classic but often ruined, I find, by too much tahini, and nowhere near enough smokiness. I took Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe (because he’s basically a genius) and adjusted it to my kitchen, patience and the availability of certain ingredients. I made the most of having a gas stove to do this, but you should use the grill setting on your oven if you don’t have one, rather than roasting the aubergines. It makes a huuuuuuge difference.

I then marinated some chicken breasts in a spiced yoghurt for around 24 hours. The longer you leave it of course, the juicier they’re going to get. I picked up some thick and fluffy laffa breads from the hummus place around the corner and made the two dips.

I also really love making a meal with lots of elements that can be combined in different ways. Open a packet of chips and those dips are suddenly a fantastic post-work snack. That chicken could easily be served cool with mayo in a sandwich. I did this. The cold chicken is also awesome in a cold salad, with an extra tablespoon (OK, a few tablespoons) of the baba ghanoush and as much rocket as you can stuff into your lunchbox. Yuuuuum

So anyway, here’s the recipe!

For the dukka chicken:

3 tbsp dukka spice mix*

2 medium sized chicken breasts (around 300g)

1 cup yoghurt

2 tsp sumac

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp oregano

2 tsp tahini*

Mix all the marinade ingredients together and season to taste. Add or adjust these ingredients as you like, then add the chicken. I sliced them into long thin strips, so they would be easy to assemble in a wrap, and also quick to cook. Leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, and ideally overnight.

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Tahini:

Dry-roast a cup of sesame seeds in a frying pan, keeping them moving regularly to avoid them burning. When they’re a lovely golden brown, remove and add to your chopper or food processor. Pulse until the oil is released and the mixture comes together well, then slowly add good quality extra virgin olive oil in small portions until you get the consistency you like. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature. The toasting of the sesame seeds and the amount of oil are completely subjective. I like to take the seeds almost to the edge and keep the olive oil minimal, so I get a really well-rounded, bitter sesame flavour.

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Dukka: 

Dry-roast 1/2 cup nuts of your choice (I used a mixture of hazelnuts and pistachios), 1/2 cup coriander seeds, 1 tsp fennel seeds and 3 tbsp cumin seeds until fragrant. Remove and allow to cool slightly before pulsing with 1 tsp black peppercorns, 1 tsp dried mint leaves and 1/2 tsp salt. Then add the sesame seeds and store in an airtight container once cool.

Baba Ghanoush

Over a gas flame, grill two large aubergines, regularly turning them with tongs, or using the stalk as a handle. The best advice I was given about this step – “you’ll think the aubergines are done, because they’re soft and toasty. They’re not, keep going.” The only thing to be aware of is the open flame, and to not let one side overcook. I spent about 15 minutes grilling each aubergine.

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You could then wrap them – carefully, they’ll be burning hot and very soft! – in foil and bake them in a pre-heated oven (200C) for about 25 minutes, just to make sure they’re fantastically soft.

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Remove them from the wrappers, chop the flesh and allow the bitter juices to drain out, using a colander. Depending on how smoky you like the baba ghanoush, you could leave some of the charred skin on. I did! While the aubergine is draining, mix a handful of flatleaf parsley, 2 tbsp tahini, 3 cloves of garlic, a large handful of spearmint and 2 tsp salt in a food processor. Add the aubergines, and lemon juice to taste to balance out the flavours. Scoop into a bowl and add a small handful of mint leaves, thinly sliced.

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To make the sandwiches

The next day, toast laffa or a thick flatbread of your choice in a pan, and grill the chicken. The pan should be hot, and the chicken should sizzle as soon as it hits the pan. When you get beautiful dark brown char marks on your chicken, cook the other side.

Spread the laffa on your plate, and smooth a tablespoon of hummus and a tablespoon of baba ghanoush on your wrap. Using these as the base, layer the chicken on top in one layer, then add crumbled feta on top and any fresh herbs or salad leaves of your choosing. You could also add some more dukka mix or some nuts to give it a great textural contrast. Roll it up and enjoy!

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Recipe: Anna’s Moelleux au Chocolat

Earlier this week, a new colleague joined our team from Brussels, so I thought it only fitting that her welcome cake be French (as is she), made with Belgian dark chocolate. Enter moelleux au chocolat, the greatest chocolate cake in existence.

I didn’t time myself, but from start to finish it lasts roughly one ‘Gilmore Girls’ episode – so roughly 40 minutes. I also have a tendency to keep rewinding funny scenes, so make it a clean hour to account for Lorelai Gilmore’s fantastic wit and timing…

Anyway. The cake.

I bought some beautiful dark chocolate – 80% – from Leonidas in Brussels, using beans grown organically in Ivory Coast. I accidentally kept munching on chocolate as I cooked. Part of the chef’s perks, I guess.

I’ve seen many recipes where it’s made in a sort of soufflé tin, and that’s lovely too since you get an extra gooey centre. But I much prefer moelleux au chocolat baked in a cake tin, so it’s almost brownie-like in consistency, and this way is a lot more communal. Plus, I don’t have that many soufflé tins.

The batter was enough for one and a half tins, so I had a smaller portion alllllllll to myself. This is best served warm, straight out of the oven or reheated just before heating.

200g dark chocolate – at least 70%

200g butter – cold, cubed. I used lightly salted French butter, so if you use unsalted be sure to add half a teaspoon of salt

225g sugar (if you have measuring cups like I do, it’s a lot easier since you need a cup of each!)

5 medium eggs, at room temperature

1 tbsp cornflour or plain flour

Optional: 1 tsp ground coffee, or 1 espresso

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a bain marie. You could do this in a microwave of course, but I find this is a much better way to control the temperature, and a much better way to temper the chocolate. Add the coffee, if you’re using it, at this point.

When both have melted, and while it’s still warm, beat the sugar into the chocolate and butter. Leave for about five minutes – this isn’t intentional. I got completely distracted and had to control my hysterics because Rory Gilmore was losing her shit at her therapist. I cannot get enough of the way she says ‘coffee cart’!

When the mixture has cooled a little, beat the eggs into the mixture one at a time.

Carefully fold in the flour, and then tip into cake or pie tins.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 20 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Try and resist cutting into it right away, but definitely enjoy as soon as possible!

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Recipe: Swiss Chard Rolls with Satay Dipping Sauce 

I made these last night for dinner and despite my skepticism that they’d be filling, they were just perfect!

I saw a few recipes for similar rolls on Pinterest, but none that I really loved, so I thought I’d just add my favourite fillings.

It’s incredibly fresh-tasting, light and healthy, but also felt like I was eating proper food! The dipping sauce helped a lot with that. I wanted to create a fusion of the fresh Mediterranean flavours I love and the complex layers of Indonesia, and this matched so well! The tartness boldness of the dip was a perfect contrast to the clean, fresh rolls.

This is technically raw food, which is much better for health, especially for a dinner, but it tastes a lot more substantial than some of the other raw food you normally see.

It’s a bit fiddly to fill the rolls properly and roll them up well, and I discovered that my filling may have been a bit too liquidy, so next time I’ll add more couscous or vegetables.

Here’s what you need to make about ten rolls (enough for dinner and a snack the next day):

10 Swiss chard leaves, stems still intact

1 cup cooked couscous

3 small radishes, julienned

1 medium carrot, julienned

1/2 cup hummus

2 tomatoes, with the seeds removed (keep these for a sauce or soup), finely diced

1 small red pepper, finely diced

50g soft goats cheese (I used some from a ring of goats cheese coated in pepper)

2 purple spring onions, finely sliced (greens included)

1 tsp salt

1 fresh chilli, finely diced

For the dip: 

2 tbsp peanut butter. This is roughly what I had left in my jar, so I just mixed everything in there and there was loads of dip leftover!

1 tbsp kecap manis (or soy sauce)

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

2 tsp sambal oelek

1 tsp sugar (ideally unrefined cane sugar)

Mix all the ingredients together, and adjust to taste. It should have quite a bold, tangy flavour. You may need to add a little hot water to the dip to loosen it up a bit, depending on its consistency.

 

Start by separating the leaves from the main stem of your Swiss chard. You’ll still need the stalk though, so keep that intact. Ideally, all the leaves would be quite large and free of holes, but I got these at the farmers market so no such luck. At least the bugs that chomped on these have good taste.

Bring a saucepan full of water to the boil, and reduce to a simmer. Blanch the leaves for about two minutes each, with the stems outside the water so you can use them as a handle. Gently remove them once the leaves are soft and pliable but still a beautiful dark green, then gently place on a plate, smooth side down, spreading out the leaves fully.

As you can see, I had a bit of a leaf lottery, but I practiced on the intact leaves and then moved to the Holy (get it…) ones.

While you’re doing this, mix all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl. You can leave it in the fridge for a while if you’d like, in case the couscous is still warm. It should all be cold when you fill the leaves.

The filling should hold together, but almost have the consistency of mashed potatoes, to make sure the rolls hold their shape. Add more dry ingredients to get the right balance.

When you have it ready, place about a tablespoon and a half of your filling at the base of a leaf, and slightly trim the stalk. Bring the sides of the leaf in, then the stalk, and gently roll towards the tip of the leaf.

To keep the roll intact, I kept the rolls tip-side down as I made the batch, then turned them over for presentation’s sake when I was ready to eat.

Once it’s all ready, you may want to return it to the fridge to allow it to set a little bit more, but they’re basically good to go.

Enjoy!

Recipe: Cinnamon Chicken Soup with a Poached Egg

One of my favourite kinds of meals is one that comes together quickly, without much hassle, and that can be prepared while I’m also doing other things – which is great at the end of a long day when you want to eat but you also want to shower and relax.

I’d gone grocery shopping after drinks with a friend, so I put this dinner together while I was putting away the groceries too, which worked out really well. The weather in Budapest has been quite temperamental, so I’m alternating between soups and salads these days. This was the perfect solution to a rainy and cold day. The recipe is for two portions, so I plan on having it again for dinner tonight!

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Ingredients

1.5 litres of water

2 chicken stock cubes

200g chicken breast

1 large pak choy

2 eggs

3 large sticks of cinnamon

2 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns

 

Bring a pan of cold water to the boil and add the peppercorns and cinnamon sticks. When it reaches boiling point, reduce it to a simmer so the flavours infuse.

In the meantime, slice the chicken into thin strips.

Cut the bottom inch off the pak choy, separate the leaves and wash thoroughly to remove any dirt. Chop into pieces.

By the way, don’t throw out the bottom of your pak choy! If you place the stem in a shallow bowl with water, you can propagate your pak choy very simply. Just keep it in direct sunlight, change the water daily – you can use it to water your plants, minimising waste – and in three days, you’ll see growth like this! When roots start showing, pay close attention, and also be sure to remove any outer leaves that start to fall apart in the water. When the roots are about 2 inches long, you can plant it in soil and grow it in a pot as normal!

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Back to the soup!

Taste the broth after it’s been simmering for about 15 minutes, and adjust to taste. It should be fragrant and sweet. When you’re happy with the taste, use a slotted spoon to remove the whole spices and strain the broth so it’s clear.

Add the chicken and stir it around a little.

When the chicken’s been cooking for about eight minutes, add the pak choy until it wilts but there’s still a little crunch – around two minutes. I like it a little soft but still crunchy, but obviously cook it to your taste.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and the pak choy and add them to your serving bowl. You may want to keep this bowl covered with a plate to make sure it stays hot.

Crack an egg into a small cup or bowl, and using the back of your slotted spoon, create a whirlpool in the simmering stock.

Gently pour the egg into the middle, and stir a little to encourage the whites to form a nice ball around the yolk.

Poach the egg for around two minutes, then add the stock to the serving bowl, and gently place the egg on top.

You could of course poach the egg in the soup with the chicken and pak choy, but doing it this way ensures your egg doesn’t accidentally get scrambled in with anything else as it cooks.

You could also add noodles to the broth, but I preferred it with just an egg. Much lighter, and the flavour of the broth came out beautifully.

Garnish with fresh coriander or mint and enjoy!

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