Sierra came down with a rather wicked cold last week: fever, cough, sniffles, all of it. There’s not much sadder than a sick
baby toddler? 16-month-old – you can cuddle her, wipe her nose, give her all the water she cares to drink, and tell her she’ll feel better soon but does she truly understand? This week she finally seems on the mend but we’ve been laying low and eating lots of soup (and cake for the grown-ups because why not?).
I made one of my classic many-vegetabled soups (garlic, onion, carrots, sweet potato, potato, parsnip, turnip) and pureed the pot into velvety smoothness on Saturday afternoon while she had a long nap. The sun streamed in as I enjoyed my solitary lunch and hit the clementines (or tangelos?) placed just so on the counter. There was a blessed respite from the ongoing construction project next door and I took a moment to be thankful for the quiet. The little things, yes? Two months in with no end in reasonable sight I’ve started appreciating Sundays ever more, as it’s the one day a week they don’t work. Morocco, you never fail to challenge.
Anyway S loved the soup too and I’ve been feeding it to her almost every day for lunch or dinner. When I’m not giving her a bowl of that I’ve been giving her a bowl of chicken-rice soup which she seems to enjoy equally well (side note: she’s not a vegetarian but she does get a lot of vegetables; it can’t be helped!). Inspired by my friend Lupe and our chilly trip to Sacramento earlier this month it’s slipped into my soup rotation seamlessly. Chock full of silky basmati brown rice, shredded bits of roast chicken, and chopped spinach, it’s the perfect mid-winter meal for when you want something comforting, lasting, and dare I even say ‘healthy’ … for both little and big appetites.
My cooking has never been especially ambitious; I had a brief fling with seemingly constant dinner parties and four-coursers and perusing cookbooks by the hour back in my ‘carefree’ DC days, and I am so glad I had that time. I loved it and indulged myself and then my work schedule changed and I gravitated back to the simple and satisfying. This way of cooking has served me particularly well now that I don’t have the time I once did. Similar to when I worked full time I now make a lot of nourishing soups, whole grain pasta dishes, quinoa with roasted vegetables and simple dressings, the occasional salad. For me as the main cook of the household this is the only way to go. We can debate about whether or not cooking should be ‘fun’ or always turns into ‘a chore’ but the truth is we all need to eat and keeping it fairly easy and using mostly healthy ingredients (and, if I can add, a lot of vegetables) helps get it done.
Thus far Sierra is a pretty good eater (and I’ve just jinxed it). She will most always try things but of course doesn’t always like them, and while some nights she can eat two scrambled eggs, some cubes of roasted sweet potato, pear sauce, and sauteed spinach on others she has just a few bites of soup and refuses to eat any more. This is OK. I figure it all balances out calorie-wise by the end of the week. It still gives me a bit of a thrill to see her really enjoying her spaghetti with garlicky tomato sauce or oatmeal or yogurt-with-granola or banana muffin. She was slow to come to solid food and as any first timer I fretted a little wondering if she’d ever like ‘real’ food. Early days yet of course but I am crossing fingers it sticks.
Chicken-rice soup is a classic example of something lovely out of the simplest ingredients. Onion and garlic are sauteed in olive oil, then chopped carrots and celery are tossed in, then broth and chicken and rice and spinach if you’re so inclined and there’s a lot of lunches set for days ahead. I add some dried herbs but you don’t have to; the straightforward, homey flavors of rice, vegetables, and chicken are all you really need. I’ve been keeping a pot stashed in the fridge (plus quinoa and vegetable soup for me) and we’ve made not a few meals out of soup and biscuits and then go to bed early. Did I mention the simple things? We’re all about those around here.
You could use short grain brown rice or white rice here if that’s all you have, though I’m partial to slipping in whole grains whenever possible (Lupe uses quick-cooking long grain brown rice and that would be my inclination too if I could get some). I cook the rice separately but some recipes have you cook the rice in the broth and that sounds like it’d work nicely. You can also omit the spinach if it’s not to your taste or experiment with a little chopped fresh parsley in addition to/instead of.
Makes a large pot, enough for at least 6 adult-sized servings.
1 cup brown basmati rice (make according to package directions)
2 chicken breasts, roasted until well done and chopped/shredded once cooled (I do mine rubbed in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and dried basil on 375 F for 30-40 minutes depending on thickness)
For the soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 gloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
4-5 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
3 cups baby spinach (or spinach), coarsely chopped
(optional) 1 teaspoon dried herbs: basil, oregano, herbs du Provence
salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sautee about 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and sautee a few minutes more. Sprinkle with a little salt and add the carrots and celery; cook for about a minute.
Add the vegetable or chicken broth and raise the heat. Add the chopped spinach and cook until wilted. Lower heat and add the cooked brown rice and the shredded chicken. Add dried herbs if using and salt and pepper to taste. I like to let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes to let the flavors blend though at this point everything is cooked and you can dig in whenever you like.