One day at the gym last year, I forgot my headphones and got stuck on the elliptical machine with nothing but the YMCA’s slim collection of discarded magazines to entertain me. I had two hundred parenting magazines and a Martha Stewart Living to choose from. So.
First, Martha taught me about tomato gardening. It’s not a particular interest of mine — I’m a terrible gardener and I don’t love tomatoes — but for the next week, I knew a whole lot more about tomatoes than I usually do. (I kept most of it to myself. I hate to come off as a tomato snob.) Shortly thereafter, I forgot it. All of it.
Then I read an appallingly pretentious article about this appallingly pretentious person who likes to invite her pretentious friends over for appalling wine-tasting “parties” where they play little wine-tasting party games (e.g. covering the bottles in a paper bag and guessing which wine is inside just by the taste!) for a big, pretentious laugh. It was apparent that the author had never heard of fun before. Also, I must have a pretty lowbrow definition of entertainment.
The third thing I read in Living was a recipe for some very, very complicated soup. It involved day-ahead preparation, making your own stock, and all sorts of crazy things that only Martha Stewart or some destitute-but-haughty pioneer family would do, if they had had access to soba noodles and kombu.
But it sounded tasty.
So I followed the recipe, adjusting here and there to accommodate, you know, reality. I made it again later, and switched the napa cabbage out for Swiss rainbow chard, because chard is in season and is crazy nutritious. I made some other adjustments, too, to make it quicker and less fussy—because at one point, the original recipe had me counting mushrooms as I served the soup. I felt like Martha had gently brainwashed me.
And the soup? Good, quite. Different for me (I don’t know Thai so I don’t cook it) but good. Here’s the original recipe, and below, the same recipe with the small adjustments I mentioned. It still teeters on the edge of too time-intensive for me, but it’s definitely doable, and since I can make enough for leftovers during the week, I get to see a return on that initial time investment. What do I do with all those extra weekday minutes? Drink wine out of paper bags, of course! For fancy!
That is not true.
- 4 chicken legs or 2 breasts
- 2 sheets kombu, trimmed into 1-inch squares
- 1 small package fresh shiitake mushrooms
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 scallions, stems trimmed, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 piece (3 inches) ginger, grated
- 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
- 1 medium carrot, julienned… or a handful of baby carrots
- 4–5 units (…?) of Swiss chard
- 8 ounces soba
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 12 large shell-on shrimp (optional)
- 1 package (14 ounces) firm tofu, drained, patted dry, and cut into 1-inch cubes (optional)
- Chile sauce for serving
- Buy all the ingredients. Might have to go to Whole Foods for that, might not.
- Start with the chicken. Place chicken in pot with onions, ginger, jalapeno and garlic, fill up with water enough to cover the chicken, and bring to a boil.
- Prepare the chard by trimming the leaves off the stems, setting aside the leaves, and chopping the stems into 3/4″ pieces. Toss the stem bits into the pot.
- Add any additional (optional) seasoning to the pot, then keep at a light boil until the chicken appears to be cooked through.
- Add kombu, shiitakes, onion, scallions, and carrot to the pot. If necessary, add enough water to cover. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, for 1 hour.
- If you like clear soup, strain broth into a second pot. Reserve mushrooms, chicken, chard stems, and any other solid pieces you like the look of; discard the rest.
- Slice the mushrooms. Pull the chicken from the chicken bones and shred it. Return the meat to the pot and discard the bones.
- Cook soba according to package directions and toss it in a large bowl with oil or a ladleful of broth to keep it from sticking.
- Add soy sauce and sake to broth, and return to a boil. Tear up the chard leaves into reasonable (about 1–2″) pieces and toss them into the pot to wilt.
- Add shrimp and/or tofu (if using), and boil until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Catch and peel shrimp, leaving tails intact.
- Serve with individual ramekins of chili sauce so that everyone can add as much heat to their bowl as they like.