Tuesday, May 22, 2012


If you’re one of those poor afflicted people who think cilantro tastes like soap (I’m so glad I didn’t inherit that gene from my dad), I’m telling you right now that you can go ahead and skip this recipe. This version of the traditional Peruvian chicken soup has a pungent puree of cilantro, Serrano pepper, and garlic stirred right into the broth, lending it a bright green color and wonderfully fresh flavor, especially when finished with plenty of lime juice. It’s basically cilantro soup, and I love it.

I only made a few changes to the original recipe from A Cozy Kitchen. I don’t really like rice, so I swapped in quinoa instead, figuring it has a similar cooking time, and hey, it’s Peruvian too. I like the subtle texture quinoa adds to soups, and this one was no exception. I also pulled the chicken off the bone before serving, because it seemed incredibly awkward to have to deal with a whole piece of chicken while I was trying to slurp down my soup. Next time I might just skip using bone-in pieces entirely; it does certainly maximize the chicken taste, but it also adds a lot of grease—my finished soup was a bit oilier than I like, although granted, I didn’t help things by using entirely dark meat—and I didn’t enjoy the splattery step of browning the chicken in hot oil. My homemade chicken stock is already really flavorful (and no matter how much I try to skim it after it’s cooled, it still probably has more fat than the storebought stuff), and when I’ve used whole pieces of chicken to make it (rather than just a leftover carcass), I pull the meat off the bones afterwards and stash it in my freezer, so I could easily dump that reserved shredded chicken into the soup instead of dealing with whole pieces (another option would be to use meat from a roasted or rotisserie chicken). I think that would simplify the process and keep the fat in check without sacrificing much depth of flavor.

Regardless of how you make it, this soup would be a great way to brighten up the cold winter months (especially when you’re sick—it has the same comforting, restorative quality that homemade chicken noodle soup does, but with a welcome extra zestiness), but with its cilantro, corn, and lime, it also bridges the gap from spring to summer admirably.

¾ cup cilantro leaves, plus extra for garnish
1 Serrano pepper, halved and de-seeded
4 garlic cloves, divided
4¼ cups chicken broth, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 1½ pounds skin-on, bone-in chicken (I used drumsticks)
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ cup quinoa or white rice
1 ear of corn
Salt to taste
1 large lime

1. Add cilantro leaves, serrano pepper, 2 garlic cloves (peeled but whole), and ¼ cup chicken broth to a blender (or an immersion blender cup). Blend until mixture is thoroughly combined. Set aside.

2. In a large, heavy pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, carefully add chicken, skin side down. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until skin is crisp and slightly browned. Flip over and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and set aside.

3. To the pot with the chicken drippings, add onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add bell peppers and cumin and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes. Mince the other two garlic cloves, place them atop the mixture in the pot, and cook until fragrant.

4. Add the quinoa/rice and the cilantro mixture to the pot and stir, being sure to completely coat the quinoa/rice. Gently add the chicken back to the pot and cover with the remaining 4 cups of chicken broth. (The broth should just cover the chicken; if it doesn’t, add a little more broth, or a bit of water). Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until quinoa/rice is fully cooked.

5. If desired, remove the chicken from the soup, tear the meat from the bones, shred the meat, and return it to the soup, discarding the bones and skin. (I find it much easier to eat this way.)

6. Cut kernels from corn cob and mix them into the soup a few minutes before you take it off the stove. When you’re ready to serve, add salt to taste. (This will depend on how salty your chicken broth was; mine was homemade and salt-free, so I started with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.)

7. Squeeze the lime into the soup and garnish with cilantro to taste.

Serves: 4–5
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Good.

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