Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup

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Leave it to Indiana to not be able to make up its mind if we're in spring or winter. My sinuses are furious at the indecision and I'm pretty much popping at least one dose of ibuprofen every day for sinus headaches.

Oddly enough, though, it's somewhat comforting to find a food that matches our wacky weather.

Chicken noodle soup is one of those comfort foods so universally enjoyed that no matter where you are almost, it's considered part of the prescription for getting through a variety of cold-symptom-inducing illnesses. The steam helps with congestion, the broth warms you and the softness of the vegetables, noodles and chicken means you get some actual nutrition in you without it feeling like you're swallowing shards of glass when your throat is on fire. Unless you have strep. Then plain vanilla ice cream feels like swallowing broken glass. Also, it's more or less drinkable, so you can, if you want, just pour it into a mug and snuggle all but your head and one hand under a blanket while you lay on the couch spending all your effort on finding a head position that will let you breath through at least one nostril.

At the same time, the lemon in this Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup, from Damn Delicious (it's the name of the blog, Mom; I can't just change the name of someone else's website!), brightens it up and makes it almost spring-like. It's perfect for those warmish, sunny days that lead into chillier evenings in early spring. Also, it's pretty much one-pot cooking, so there's less dishes to do and that's good news no matter what kind of shape your health is in.

Start with browning off some salted and peppered cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs in a Dutch oven or stockpot with a splash of olive oil. When they're golden brown, which shouldn't take more than a few minutes, pop them out (use a paper plate or thickly layered paper towels for true one-pot cooking). Don't worry about the chicken being completely cooked through as we'll be adding them back in for a while to cook with the rest of the soup. That said, if they're cut to the right size, the browning should have them cooked just barely through and still very tender. There are few things that turn me off of a soup or much of any meal, really, more than dried out meat. How do you dry meat that's cooked in liquid? That takes more effort than paying attention to what you're doing well enough to rescue it before it turns to the consistency of a shoe insole. #JusticeForChicken!

Ahem.

Then throw in minced garlic, a chopped onion, carrots and celery and cook until they're tender. Then add some thyme and wait for that rich scent to fill your kitchen (seriously, my apartment smelled great after this).

Gently stir in chicken stock, bay leaves and about a cup of water and bring that to a boil before adding your orzo, which is a pasta that, at first glance, looks like rice, especially before it's cooked. This is where the recipe differs from most chicken soup and if you don't let the orzo cook too long (like I did — oops!) it works great. If you're looking for a whole grain alternative to pasta or the grocery store isn't carrying orzo, brown rice could probably work just fine. Just take into account the amount of liquid the rice will absorb and add stock or water accordingly. Give the mixture a stir and add in your cooked chicken and rosemary. Turn the oven down to a simmer and cook until the orzo is tender, which takes about 10 minutes or so.

Add in that bright lemon juice and parsley and serve immediately.

The leftovers, should you have any, will probably look and feel different than the finished product. The orzo will continue to absorb the liquid until it's saturated, even stored in the refrigerator, so if you like your soup less brothy, feel free to let the orzo cook longer in the pot or make it the day before you want to eat it. The flavor is just as delicious the next day, so it's really the consistency that changes.

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