When I join my wife for lunch by the university we sometimes go to Café Pomegranate. While this is primarily a Persian restaurant, sometimes they go a bit wild with their soup of the day. Last week it was lemon grass soup. It was so good that I decided that I would have to deconstruct it.
My first attempt was a good soup, but it did not come close to their light and lemony broth. I tried again last night, with a severe restriction, Eilene’s friend who does not like onions was over. Also, I did not know if I was cooking for 4, 5 or 6 dinners. I had to scale up the recipe for an unknown number of people.
One problem I had with my first attempt was that I had used very fine rice noodles. The noodles disappeared into the broth and it was not very filling. I used more substantial noodles this time, in fact, I over-did the noodles a bit in this soup. I am changing the recipe from what I actually made to correct this mistake.
Note: This error did not produce a bad meal, but it was more of a stew, rather than a soup.
While my first attempt was tasty and satisfying, it was not nearly lemony enough. I realized that, being Persian, the chef must have added lemon juice to his soup. For this attempt, I added the juice of one whole lemon, about two and a half tablespoons.
After Dinner Note: Again, while a good meal, I am still falling short of the perfection that is Café Pomegranate’s lemon grass chicken soup. It still is not “lemony” enough.
Karl’s Lemon Grass Chicken Soup II
Note: I have written this up to correct an obvious flaw of too many noodles, I actually used 2½ cups.
5 stalks lemon grass
64 oz. chicken stock
1 cup carrot, grated
1 can baby corn, cut into half inch pieces
¾ cup leek, white pasts only, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup rice noodles (dry), broken into half inch pieces
8 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, cut into 1 inch matchsticks
½ tsp. white pepper
1 lemon, juiced
2 Tbs. cilantro (flower stalk leaves if available)
1. Remove the outer leaf of the lemon grass stalks and cut off the discolored end by about half an inch.
Tip: The outer leaf is frequently dried out and moldy.
2. Cut about an inch off of both ends of the stalk.
3. Lay the stalks on a cutting board and starting at the base, slice the stalk into fine rings.
Tip: There are two ways to release the flavor of lemon grass. You can crush the stalks and make only a few cuts or you can take the time slicing them into small rings. Lar time I used the crushing method and very little of the lemon grass flavor infused into the broth. Slicing definitely give you a better infusion of flavor.
4. Put the lemon grass into a large soup pot and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes to half an hour.
5. Strain out the lemon grass and return the broth to the pot.
Tip: Unless you grind the lemon grass to a fine powder, the stalks are too fibrous to chew. When I make Papa’s Fine Soup I use powdered lemon grass.
6. Add the carrot, corn, leek, garlic and ginger to the pot and simmer for ten minutes.
7. Put the dry noodles into a bowl and add 3 cups of warm water.
Tip: Rice noodles do not require a lot of cooking, but they need to be rehydrated.
Note: In my last soup I used noodles that were thin enough that they could cook right in the soup. Today, I am using thick noodles that need to be rehydrated before adding them to the pot.
8. When the noodles are al dente, drain them. Cover them with cool water and drain them again.
9. Cut the chicken into small bite sized pieces and put them in a bowl.
10. Pour four cups of very hot water over the chicken. Stir to expose all sides of the chicken to the hot water.
11. After two minutes strain away and discard the liquid. Rinse any remaining scum off the chicken.
Tip: When you put raw chicken into a pot of hot soup the proteins in the juices on the outside of the chicken pieces clump together to make an unattractive scum on the surface of your soup.
Note: This pre-treatment of the chicken does more than just get rid of the scum. It causes the surface of the chicken to tighten, keeping more of the chicken juices inside of the meat while it is cooking.
12. Add the chicken, and ginger to the pot and simmer, covered, for another ten minutes.
13. Add the rice noodles, lemon juice, and pepper to taste.
14. Garnish with the cilantro and serve.