The cold is back. As a Facebook friend put it, “The cold called. And I picked up.” Stupid me. Serves me right for picking up unknown numbers! But sad humor aside, we greeted the end of the road trip with runny noses and sore throats. All three of us, though at different times. Yesterday morning while the baby and me were all blocked up, I warned the chirpy husband, you are going to get it too you know. Sure enough, he came back last night with red eyes and the sniffles. So it had to be the day for chicken soup. In the morning itself, right after his breakfast the baby started demanding “shoup”. So I took out my recipe file and started wondering what chicken soup to make. Rushina had been recently raving about using Kaffir lime leaves to make fish so I had been thinking of those fragrant, life-giving leaves for a while now. Then I found Madhu Menon’s recipe for Tom Yum Gai which I had written down a couple of years ago and decided to make it again. The first time I made it the whole experience is a little hazy.
That was the time I used to periodically make my own chicken broth. I would buy a small chicken, put it in the biggest pot I owned, cover it with water, add the flavor elements and simmer it for hours, skimming the top periodically until the meat just slipped off the bone. Then I would strain the broths into quart containers and place it in the fridge, remove the fat that settled on the top and store the broth in the freezer for soup days. I mean Ina Garten and Tyler Florence made it look so easy and what else did I have to do? The meat I would save for a chicken salad or chicken hash. I once even tried using the chicken fat to make American-style gravy and a pasta sauce, but the chicken flavor in the fat was so strong, we didn’t like it.
One fine January day I found Menon’s recipe and was impressed with its simplicity that I promptly ordered the Thai ingredients off the Internet. But by the time the stuff arrived a few days later and I was ready to make the soup, first trimester blues had set in and I could not stand the smell, heck even the thought of the smell, of cooking chicken. I could eat it if I didn’t have to smell it while it cooked, but if I smelled chicken cooking the rest of my day was shot. Still I had beautiful chicken stock in my freezer, chicken meat and fresh lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and thai basil in my fridge whose smell made me sick, but the thought of using these ingredients made me heady. So I braved through a couple of hours and made the soup. But let’s just say I wasn’t able to enjoy the whole experience much, neither the cooking nor the eating/drinking of the soup.
Yesterday seemed the perfect occasion to revisit this comfort soup. So off I headed to Godrej Nature’s Basket having confirmed with Rushina that I would indeed find Kaffir lime leaves there. But what a disappointment it was then that I was told that they didn’t have the fresh ones on that day. They had dried ones, but they didn’t even look like they could stand up to the fresh flavor. So I bought a chicken and came home with the idea of making my quick chicken soup which I had “created” a few weeks ago to battle the last cold epidemic in the Ganguly household.
For the quick soup I put the whole chicken pieces in the pressure cooker, filled it with water, threw in 5-6 garlic cloves, a square inch of smashed ginger, fat chunks of one onion, a few sprigs of coriander, a sprig of curry leaves, one crushed star anise, 1 bay leaf and some whole cloves and peppercorns. I was looking to make a sore-throat friendly broth. I held off on the salt and put the cooker on the stove. One pressure and I turned the stove down to sim and let it cook for 15 minutes. The meat was falling off the bone and the broth smelled off star anise, ginger, coriander and curry leaves. Such a beautiful aroma. I love the smell of coriander when it is cooked a little. It smells of childhood and good times. I mean what does Ina know? She constantly complains that she hates coriander because it tastes like nothing to her. Really? Has she ever had a hot bowl of thin masoor ki dal with fresh coriander floating on top? I didn’t think so.
Next I strained the broth, saved some for later and put the remaining in a pan on the stove with small pieces of carrots and potatoes, covered it and let them cook. In the meanwhile I took off the meat and when the vegetables were done I threw some chicken in, checked the seasoning, added some freshly ground peppercorns and let the soup simmer for a couple of minutes. Off the heat I added some cream to thicken it. But it tastes just as good with milk and a little cornflour slurry to thicken it. Voila! Chicken soup was enjoyed by everybody, especially baby whose dinner was soup and roti. I am looking forward to leftovers this evening and already hoping that the lime leaves will be back soon so I can use the remaining broth to make the Tom Yum soon!
Yesterday happened to be an old friend’s birthday, a junior from college. Her husband tweeted a birthday wish to her right at midnight, that every line of poetry he has ever written has been dedicated to her. And then posted pictures from their 13-years together. Some people might think of it as a grand romantic gesture, but I think I know what it is – an admission of the truth when one suddenly realizes it even though you always “knew” it. It got me thinking about the little things in life and how important they are; how we always take them for granted and often never do enough to protect them. Like water and air and parents and family. And a husband’s love and affections. All my food experiments have always been nurtured, indulged and encouraged by a sporting husband, who has gladly eaten a lot of crap, waiting for that stroke of creative genius from me. So let me admit today that all my attempts in the kitchen have always been to give the foodie in him happiness. Thank you hubby -even though I know you hate being called that!