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: 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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