THE thing about having dengue is that your body takes a long time to recover. It’s been five days since the doctor cleared me of dengue, and I still tire easily. Cooking — something I enjoy — is no longer a walk in the park, and my maximum cooking capacity is at two simple dishes or one, very elaborate, dish before I sink senseless and exhausted on to the couch.
One of the most comforting meals to have after being sick is a hearty, nutritious soup, and one of my most favourite soups in the world is chicken soup, Mum’s style. I grew up eating a simple version of it which we called ABC soup. What it is, is wedged carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and onions with chicken pieces on the bone. It was easy — chop everything up roughly, brown the chicken, then bring plain water to a boil with onions and browned chicken in it, and then chuck in the rest of the ingredients till it’s cooked and add seasoning. But a year ago, Mum decided to improvise on what now takes twice the effort and time, but which is slowly becoming a staple one-pot meal in my home.
In my last blog, I mentioned that dengue had given me a real sense of paranoia. Last night was one of my worst: I slept just before midnight and woke up at 2.50am, worrying about mosquitoes. By 4am, I still had not fallen back asleep, and my constant tossing, turning, scratching and sighing woke The Boy as well. Thankfully, he never gives me grief for waking him up every single paranoia-laced night. We ended up watching an episode of Homeland (Claire Danes’ character wins hands down as the most annoying ever in the history of serials) which irritated me immensely before I finally fell knocked out close to 7am.
So, today, I decided that I could use a comforting meal and what better than Mum’s One Dish Wonder. What I failed to remember was how time-consuming and tedious the dish was to make!
According to Mum’s improvised recipe, I had to peel and dice 3 carrots, 3 onions, 1 potato and 2 tomatoes. I did all this, during the hour it took me to boil a chicken carcass for some good old homemade stock, cutting my finger in the process. Once that was done, it was time to cool the carcass in a separate bowl so that I could peel the flesh off for the soup.
Why dice everything? Because the flavours really come out during the cooking.
As soon as the carcass had cooled, I proceeded to peel the remaining flesh off (why waste, no?) while putting the diced onions to boil in the home made chicken stock for about 45 minutes. The aroma of onions boiling merrily away very, very worth it. And while all that was going on, I put two fresh pieces of chicken on the rib to boil in a separate pot for half an hour. You want to save that stock once the chicken is cooked; it will come in handy when your onion-chicken stock soup subsequently reduces over time.
Then, it was time to add the diced carrots and potatoes to the onion-flavoured soup on the boil and start peeling the cooled chicken flesh. By this time, I was insanely beat, and had graduated to the couch in front of the TV.
After about 15 – 20 minutes, it was time to season the soup (I prefer ready-made chicken stock instead of salt) and leave it on the boil for few more minutes before dumping in the painstakingly peeled chicken flesh and additional home made chicken stock. The final step: add the diced tomatoes and boil for another 10 minutes or so. And the soup is finally done!
Dish out and garnish with freshly-crackled black pepper and chopped fresh cilantro. Ah, this will make a fine dinner tonight. Was it worth the effort? Absolutely. But maybe I will only cook it again once I regain a little more of my strength.
Can’t wait to dig in later!