January, by virtue of being the first month, feels like it should represent a fresh start. But with the holidays over and winter just now hitting its stride, January can make me feel more frumpy than fresh.
Turning to the heavy foods of winter does not seem to lighten the mood, so this is when I like to bring a little sunshine to the dinner table in the form of broth-based soups. Whether you’re getting over a cold with a steaming bowl of chicken noodle or using chopsticks to fish the dumplings out of a carton of wonton soup, nothing seems to brighten up mealtime more than a spoonful of flavorful, light broth.
Imbuing it with enough flavor to make it the star of the bowl doesn’t just happen by opening up a carton of store-bought broth. It usually takes a few extra steps to make it special. What steps you take depends on what soup you’re making.
If you’re making a pot of culinary penicillin (i.e. chicken soup), you might consider making a “double-strength broth” by starting with chicken broth and simmering skinless chicken thighs, carrots, onions and celery in it until the chicken is fall-off-the-bone tender. Then just strain the stock, remove the chicken from the bone and add it back in with a fresh batch of sliced vegetables and simmer all in the strained stock until the veggies are tender.
Want to add an extra dimension to beef broth? Cut a couple of onions in half, broil them until they are partly charred and simmer them with the broth for 20 minutes.
One of my favorite broth-based soups this time of year is inspired by the famous Thai coconut milk and lemon grass soup Tom Kha Gai. In this version, I simmer coconut milk and chicken broth with fresh ginger and garlic, then I season it with fish sauce, lemon juice and a little brown sugar. Sometimes I’ll float some fresh hot chiles in it to increase the heat factor a bit.
Once the broth has that perfect balance of spicy, sour, salty and sweet, I add whatever vegetables I have on hand to the pot. This week it was baby bok choy, but I’ve used a variety of different vegetables in the past, like sliced carrots, mushrooms or zucchini.
This gets ladled over a bowl of cooked rice noodles and topped with a seared salmon fillet. The result is a lovely, light and nourishing soup that will get anyone’s year off to a good start.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @meredithdeeds.