Not Your Bubbie’s Chicken Soup

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. In case you missed it, I announced plans earlier in the week to start a food truck here in Seattle. Getting ready to go big has made life busier than usual, especially between travelling to the East Coast for a wedding and kickball season starting.

Also, it’s June in Seattle now so you know what that means–cold, rainy days with sweaters and mugs of tea.

I’m being 100% serious right now. I am wearing a sweater and thick socks as I write this. If it wasn’t that it’s still light at 9:30 it would be just like…fall. Us locals sometimes refer to June as “Juneuary” and for good reason. Tonight’s game is going to be very muddy.

I’ve been meaning to share this soup for a while. I figure that now is as good a time as ever, since I made it again very recently for a friend who’s been going through a hard time with her health and has had to cut out gluten very suddenly. She declared the soup to be very good, and I promised her the recipe. In fact, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they didn’t like this soup.

Take your time with the stock and you won’t have to do anything else to make the soup good. The stock is a treasure box of spices, but nothing that is too spicy unless you want to make it so. I really do suggest using a roasted chicken to make the stock, for a deeper, meatier flavor. When I made the soup for the photos you see here, I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand–just one I had cut most of the meat off of to grill–and the soup was not nearly as good. Don’t skimp on the spices either–nobody likes a thin watery broth when they could be eating soup robust enough to knock you back in your seat. Taste as you go, and if it isn’t spicy enough add another pepper, and more cumin to balance if necessary.

Use the sweetest carrots you can find, but don’t use fresh tomatoes unless it’s actually tomato season. You’re not going to add many so you want them to actually taste like tomatoes. I keep a stash in my freezer that I pull out for occasions like this, but I know that’s not something everybody has. Canned ones are fine, just look for cans that say BPA free, because the acid in the tomatoes really will leach the chemical into your food.

Mexican Inspired Chicken and Rice Soup
Serves 6–Gluten Free

For the stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass, either leftover or roasted just for this
2 large carrots
1/2 yellow onion, peel and all
2-3 medium stalks celery
1/2 tsp whole coriander
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-3 dried habanero chilies, or more if you use a milder variety

For the soup

3 cups brown or white basmati rice, cooked
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped canned or frozen tomatoes (from 1 can is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, from about 1 lb fresh squash
salt to taste

Whether you are using a chicken you roast just for this soup or are using a chicken that was leftover from another dinner, you will want to remove all the meat from the bones and boil the entire carcass. I usually also boil any leftover skin and drippings from the roasting pan. Shred the meat into small bites and set aside.

Chop the onion, celery and carrot into large, rough pieces. Along with the chicken, put them in a large stock pot and add the spices. You don’t need to tie them into cheesecloth because you will have to strain the whole thing anyway. Cover with enough water to submerge entire chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn it down and let simmer for 2-3 hours, the longer the better.

While the stock simmers, prepare the other ingredients. If you don’t have leftover rice, cook it now and set aside until the broth is ready. For extra oomph, cook it in stock too if you have some already sitting around. For my soup, I used tomatoes and zucchini frozen last summer, which helps the process of removing as much water as possible. I don’t expect you to have stuff just hanging out though, so you can use the following: Drain the canned tomatoes thoroughly–if it’s short of the cup and a half, that’s totally Ok, or you can add another can. Up to you. For the zucchini, shred it on the largest holes of a box grater and add about 1 tsp of salt. Toss to coat and leave in a colander to drain the liquid off as the salt releases it from the zucchini. Occasionally, stop by to press on the solids–this will help release as much water as possible. If you don’t end up with exactly 1 1/2 cups, that’s OK. Better to have less water than more bulk.

Once you are satisfied that the stock has cooked for long enough, drain out all the solids and discard. Put the stock back in the pot and add in the carrots, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer until the carrots are just tender, then add the rice and chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally and tasting as you go. When the rice has expanded and absorbed all the liquid it can absorb and everything is starting to really meld together, it’s done.

Garnish with sour cream (we use Tofutti brand which is certified kosher-parve), limes wedges, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, hot sauce, and anything else you might eat in a taco or burrito.

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The Hunger

During Passover it was hard to find a good snack. Normally if I’m looking for a good satisfying mid-day snack I will eat a handful of tortilla or pita chips dipped in hummus, a bowl of fresh popped corn with garlic salt, or a rice cake with peanut butter. But all of those things–corn, peanuts, garbanzo beans, rice, and leavened wheat–are forbidden by Ashkenazic tradition during Passover.

We ate a lot of eggs and fruit and cheese, which is OK for a little while but can get old pretty fast when you can’t mix it up a bit. And there’s always matzah roca, which is a good sweet bite when you need to satisfy that sort of craving–but you can’t eat too much of that without feeling some good old fashioned Jewish guilt.

So what’s a girl in training to do?

Eat nuts.

Handfuls of them raw in yogurt, almond butter spread over matzah with a drizzle of honey, or nuts like these:

Words like salty and sweet don’t really do these mixed nuts justice, because even though they are those things, that’s not enough. There are more layers of flavor to them than there are layers of matzah in matzah lasagna.

With an immediate crunch and a lingering heat, these are pretty much the perfect snack. The orange zest adds a brightness that isn’t easily brought by other ingredients, and the cardamom adds a floral zing. The chipotle knocks on the door and says “HI!” at just the moment, when you’re thinking you might need a way to get off the phone with the sweetness. And of course, salt. All good toasted nuts have salt.

Even though we ate a big bag of them during Passover, I couldn’t resist making a fresh batch to go with us on the train to Vancouver, where we are right now. It’s supposed to be pretty rainy here this week, and even chillier than the city we left behind, so a good homemade snack was essential to keep up our spirits on this Not-So-Tropical vacation. Along with the bottle of wine no self-respecting international train traveller leaves behind, they make the perfect travelling snack. They’ll cure pretty much any hunger pangs, and be easy to carry around to boot.

Stovetop Toasted Orange Spice Nuts
makes 12 1/4 cup servings

1 cup each raw Cashews, Almonds, and Walnuts, or any nut you like.
1/2 tsp Ground Cardamom
Zest and juice from one orange
1/2 tsp Ground Chipotle pepper
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or foil.

In a good, heavy bottomed skillet (cast iron is the best) melt the butter. Add the nuts and sugar, stirring to coat, then add the other ingredients. Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts have turned a rich golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated from the caramel. You want it to be thick but still a little bit sticky–it should take about 15-20 minutes. Turn the nuts out on the sheet pan and allow to cool, stirring every few minutes, all the way through. Once the caramel is no longer sticky or flexible at all, they’re cool enough to store in an airtight container for several days.

Ten Easy Steps to Get to Mexico

I was getting ready to tell you more about how spring is right around the corner, but then it started snowing again. I don’t know why it was doing that, because then it was sunny again like 20 minutes later.

Sometimes the weather in Seattle is just plain dumb.

Because of this we will eat tacos for dinner many times between now and forever. Here’s how we do it at Casa Goldberg.

Step 1). Boil up some black beans.  A lot of black beans.

Step 2.) Get out some sweet potatoes and cut them into bite sized chunks.

Step 3). Remark on how much you love sweet potatoes because they are so freaking delicious and go with almost every food in existence.

Step 4). Step outside into the muck and pick the remainder of the winter chard/kale/whatever from the garden. Failing that, open up the crisper and pull out any leafy green things that need to be used up. Rinse it all up and give it a good hacking with a big knife.

Step 5). Add a lot of garlic to a pan.

Step 6). Cook everything together.

Step 7). Heat up some sort of taco delivery device. Tortillas and crispy taco shells are the go-to in our house.

Step 8). Add a gazillion delicious toppings. Sour cream, avocados, cilantro, thinly shredded cabbage, any salsas you have hanging out in the fridge, cheese in varying degrees of saltiness. And hot sauce.

Step 9). Squeeze some lime over the whole thing.

Step 10). Devour.

See how easy that was? Now you can pretend you are in Mexico and it’s not 40ºF outside.

These tacos are so simple you can practically make them in your sleep. Some days in the middle of winter, that is how I feel, and yet they still manage to be 100% delicious every time. They are endlessly variable, as long as you know what you like. Eat them in warm flour tortillas as a burrito, in little corn tortillas or crispy corn shells for a true taco, or just heap it all on a plate and call it a salad. The toppings are endless. A rainbow of salsas, crunchy pickles carrots, salty cotija cheese and spicy peppers are all probably more traditional that what we usually eat, but this is NW style Mexican at it’s best.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos
feeds one hungry family of 5, plus leftovers

3 cups cooked (or canned) black beans
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2″-3/4″ cubes
3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
4-5 heaping cups chopped leafy greens, like chard
3/4 tsp chipotle powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
salt to taste
juice of about 1/3 lime
olive or vegetable oil

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the sweet potato cubes and the garlic and add a big pinch of salt. Stir it all around to coat it in the oil. Let it sit for a minute until it starts to brown, and then stir. Repeat this step until most of the pieces have at least a couple of brown sides, then add a splash of water to the pan and cover. Let steam for 5 minutes or so, checking to make sure the water doesn’t completely evaporate or you will burn the heck out of your potatoes.

Once the potatoes have started to soften, add the black beans and the spices. Add another splash of water, give it a good stir and then let steam for a few more minutes. Again, repeat this step until the beans and potatoes start to meld together and the potatoes have softened to the point that they are edible. Taste for seasoning. Now add in the greens. Add one more splash of water and cover, letting it steam just until the greens have started to soften and cook down, and most of the water has evaporated

If you want it a bit more saucy, add more water, a tiny bit at a time, until it’s a consistency you like. Check again for seasoning, then add the lime juice.

Serve it up nice and hot with plenty of toppings and an ice cold beer. A little mariachi music might help set the mood, if you are that type of person.