Monday, March 5, 2012

Country Captain Soup

The authors of Cooks Illustrated's book The Best Recipe:  Soups and Stews are crazy obsessed with perfection.  Pages of text describe the process by which the neurotic dedicated team achieves soup or stew perfection.

They take ingredients out.  They add ingredients.  They fuss with the order in which ingredients are added.  They wonder if a blender produces a different texture of puree than a food processor (yes).  They taste and test and and experiment and document, and only rest when every team member is satisfied that The Best Recipe is the one they have just produced.

And I totally admire them for it.  Who doesn't want to sit down to a steaming bowl of soup or stew, admire its beauty and fragrance, take a sip, and gaze upward toward the firmament, uttering those blissful words, "This is the best soup I've ever tasted."  These things don't happen by chance, people!  Soup is an art, and if you've ever had a bleah soup, or even a bad soup, you know just what I mean.

All that said, I had on hand some local chicken, homemade broth, and a mango. "Country Captain!" said I, then proceeded to wrench Cooks Illustrated's perfect recipe almost beyond recognition.  Why?  I didn't have some of the ingredients they listed.  I don't particularly like green peppers.  I was in the mood for a soup, not a stew.  As I went along, it seemed right and good to add spinach, carrots, more spices.

And it was perfectly delicious.  Our lesson today:  Perfection is not the exclusive property of Cooks Illustrated.

Typically a stew, this history-rich dish is also delicious as a soup.  Adding coconut cream or coconut butter to the soup instead of flour makes it richly nourishing and deeply satisfying.

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 large onion, cut in 1-inch chunks
1 tablespoon chopped garlic

4 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (less if you don't like heat)
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon dried thyme
4 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups sliced carrots

2 cooked* chicken breasts, cut into chunks or diced (about 2 cups)
1 can (or 1-1/2 cups fresh) diced tomatoes, undrained
3 big handfuls (about 6 cups loose) fresh spinach
1 mango, diced
1/2 cup coconut cream or coconut butter (coconut milk would probably do)

Garnishes:  Toasted coconut flakes, toasted and chopped almonds or macadamias, diced apple, sliced banana, raisins, green onion ... you get the idea.

*If using raw chicken, add it with the broth and carrots.


In soup pot, melt coconut oil over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic, sauteeing until onion begins to soften.

Sprinkle spices over onion/garlic mixture, and fry for a few minutes, until spices begin to release a delightful, pungent fragrance. 

Add bay leaf, thyme, chicken broth and carrots to pot, stir, and cover.  Cook at a hearty simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, then add chicken, tomatoes, spinach and mango, and continue to cook 10 to 15 minutes more. 

Stir in coconut cream or coconut butter. Serve topped with garnishes of choice.  I used toasted coconut flakes and chopped roasted, salted macadamias.

Makes 4 generous servings.

1 comment:

  1. love your soup twist on country captain! i made sam sifton's nytimes CC recipe a couple of times and adored it - but never thought to add mango into the mix. yum! :)