Recipe: Rainbow soup

So proud of my mise en place. (I had some time on my hands while the chicken was poaching.)
So proud of my mise en place. (I had some time on my hands while the chicken was poaching.)

This is my answer to cold winter nights, long days at the lab, and craving something spicy, wholesome, and satisfying. I did a big grocery stock-up on Saturday, which involved me finally caving in and spending some money on cooking items I’ve wanted for a long time, like tamari and a big bottle of Sriracha. I also picked up some bean threads (very thin noodles made from mung bean starch) at the Asian grocery store. Asian chicken noodle soup seemed like a logical step.

Getting nicely aromatic with some green onions, mustard, and ginger.
Getting nicely aromatic with some green onions, mustard, and ginger.

Remembering that the chicken chunks in my last brothy chicken soup were a bit tougher than I would have liked, I decided to ask the Internet how to best incorporate chicken breast into soup. The problem is that chicken breast is a very low-fat cut of meat, and is therefore less juicy than, say, the thighs. Anyway, I found a how-to article on Livestrong that recommended poaching the breasts in stock, then removing them and chopping up the meat while the rest of the soup cooked. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Livestrong–while they have a lot of useful information about the nutritional content of foods, they put a bit more emphasis on weight loss than I would really like to see on a regular basis–but this method worked pretty well, and was marginally less fiddly than searing the breasts first.

Monsters lurking in a vat of toxic ooze, or chicken breasts poaching in homemade stock?
Monsters lurking in a vat of toxic ooze, or chicken breasts poaching in homemade stock?
The chicken comes out and the vegetables go in! (Sorry, it wasn't monsters.)
The chicken comes out and the vegetables go in! (Sorry, it wasn’t monsters.)

To be honest, I think the bean threads are good but not great. Nutritionally, they’re really not great…basically just starch. Making this again, I’d either leave them out entirely (and swap in a package of bean sprouts instead) for a lighter soup, or substitute some healthier soba noodles. Still, this is a tasty lunch or dinner for winter, or any season!

Steamy!
Steamy!
Mushroom added and cooking away.
Mushroom added and cooking away.

One last note: I decided to get an on-sale red cabbage and slice it very thinly as a crunchy garnish to contrast the texture of the vegetables and noodles. It also just so happened to mean this soup had some red (bell pepper, chiles, sriracha), orange (carrots), yellow (ginger), green (spinach, peppers, and chiles), blue/violet (cabbage), white (mushrooms, cabbage insides), and black (well, dark brown mushroom gills). With apologies to Sir Isaac Newton, I don’t think indigo is a really fundamental color, so this soup has basically every color of the rainbow! Hence the name (it’s also catchier than “gingery chicken bean thread soup”).

This might be the prettiest food photo I've taken in Cambridge (I don't think it quite beats a waffle with Greek yogurt, maple syrup, and fresh cherries in the Utah August sunlight.) This picture inspired the name (it's catchier than "gingery bean thread soup").
This might be the prettiest food photo I’ve taken in Cambridge (I don’t think it quite beats a waffle with Greek yogurt, maple syrup, and fresh cherries in the Utah August sunlight.)

Rainbow Soup
(aka Asian chicken noodle soup, aka gingery chicken bean thread soup)

Adapted from: Livestrong.

Yield: 8-12 servings

5-6 c chicken or vegetable stock* (I used homemade)
6 Tbsp grated fresh ginger, divided
4-6 Tbsp tamari, divided
1 Tbsp lemon juice or rice vinegar (optional)
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 Tbsp oil (sesame would be good; I used olive)
1 bunch (~5-6) green onions, sliced into thin rounds
1 Tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 large carrots, julienned
2 bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 jalapenos or other chiles, sliced into thin rounds (optional)
1-2 handfuls frozen spinach**
400 g/14 oz mushrooms, coarsely chopped
~ 150 g bean threads or other thin Asian noodles***
Dash of cumin (optional)
Additional ground ginger to taste
Pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: thinly sliced cabbage, Sriracha sauce, soy sauce, black bean sauce, fresh cilantro

Add stock, 2 Tbsp ginger, 2 Tbsp tamari, lemon juice, and chicken breasts to a large pot over medium-high heat, ensuring that chicken breasts are fully covered by liquid. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer gently for 20 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. Test for doneness by making a cut in the thickest part of the breasts. If the juices run clear, the breast is ready. When chicken is done, remove to a bowl or cutting board.

While chicken is poaching, add oil, chopped green onions, mustard, and remaining ginger to a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Saute until sizzling and aromatic (about 5 minutes), then add carrots. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, then add bell peppers and cook another 5-10 minutes (basically, until the chicken is ready to come out of the pot).

After removing chicken from pot, add sauteed vegetables, sliced chiles, and frozen spinach to the pot (you may want to increase the heat to medium) and bring to a simmer. Once spinach has thawed and incorporated into the soup, add chopped mushrooms. Meanwhile, chop/shred the cooked chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces.

About 10 minutes before ready to serve, add the chicken back in and continue simmering. Taste the broth and add any additional spices (I added a bit of cumin for earthiness, a dash more soy sauce, and about a tablespoon of ground ginger, but tastes may vary). Add the bean threads**** or other thin noodles and simmer, stirring to break up the noodles, until they are tender. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with as many garnishes as desired.

Serving suggestion: Sriracha is a must-add garnish in my book. Beyond that, this pairs well with green or ginger tea, and is excellent as a meal on its own. It’s light enough that you could confidently pair it with a rich dessert. 🙂

Notes:

*If using storebought stock, you may want to use half  or 3/4 the amount of stock and dilute it with warm water, just so the vegetable and ginger flavors aren’t overwhelmed. You may also need to reduce the amount of soy sauce or increase the amount of lemon juice.

** 4-5 cups of coarsely chopped fresh baby spinach, Chinese mustard greens, kale, or other robust green would be excellent as well. If using fresh greens, add 1-2 minutes before serving.

***I think soba noodles would be an excellent, heartier-but-healthier substitute, but I couldn’t find any 100% buckwheat soba. Rice vermicelli is very similar in texture to bean threads and would work well. If you’re looking for a more filling, noodle-y option, udon is probably your best bet.

****If you’re planning to freeze part or all of this soup, don’t add the noodles at this point. Freeze it after adding the chicken and spices, and add the noodles when you reheat it. (This also goes for fresh greens.)

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