I am a firm believer in the power of soup. No, not for healing from the common cold. Nor for “healing” of my soul…no, I just believe that soup is wonderful, delicious stuff, and if it cures my body and my soul while I’m eating it, so much the better.
My mother is a soup magician. When I was growing up, she could take turkey bones, leftover green beans, a little lemon juice, onion and celery and rice, and make a pot of deliciousness which would bring us all running when “soup’s on” echoed down the glass-walled hallway. When I was home over Christmas, she made soup too – though with quinoa noodles, a noticeable change since the ‘80’s – and proved that she still has what it takes to bring us running.
Because I’d watched Mom turn leftovers into magic so many times, I wasn’t afraid to try making soup myself when finally on my own in my tiny grad-school kitchen. It must be in my genes. Luckily for my taste buds, I was not disappointed.
We finally got some snow last night; about 5 inches of powdery, dry stuff with which the prairie winds have a heyday. The lack of snow to this point has somehow curbed my soup-longing but today I’m drooling over cookbooks, planning at least a week of soup, soup, soup!!
Here’s my all-time favorite – Wild Rice Chicken Soup. (It’s my 9-year old daughter’s favorite, too). This even won my husband over, and he wasn’t a fan of wild rice. Wild rice, in case you don’t know, isn’t really rice at all. Also known as Canada Rice or Indian Rice, it is the flowering head of a certain type of grass which grows in certain shallow lakes. Harvesting is a bit of a bother, as each grain is gotten by whacking the tops of the grasses over the edge of a tarp-lined canoe, causing the grains to fall onto the tarp. This means you need two people for sure – one canoeing, one whacking – and, as you can guess, the cost of wild rice reflects all the time and bother of the harvest.
That being said, it’s more easily found than it used to be, when people in Minnesota could find it but no one else ever could. It grows well in Northern MN, as well as (as the name suggests), parts of Canada. I know it can be found in Trader Joes across the United States, though I’m not certain it can be found in Australia – sorry to you, my Aussie readers! As with everything these days, I’m sure it can be found on-line wherever you live!
Cooking wild rice for a LONG TIME is necessary to soften the tough outer shell of the grain. The packaging should have directions to cook the rice. I think using the stovetop is best, though I’ve done it in the oven (takes 2 hours) and I’ve even seen microwave directions, though I’ve never tried it that way. Rinse the rice before you cook it, to get rid of dust and/or small stones. You can buy pre-cooked and canned wild rice…but that always seems like a bit of a cop-out to me! It does speed up the process, but it also adds to the cost…and, most likely, the sodium levels.
Cooking times for the rice may vary. You can tell the rice is done cooking when MOST of the grains of popped open. There may be some water left – it does not have to soak up all of the liquid, just enough to pop the majority of the grains of rice. Conversely, sometimes you have to add more water if not enough of the grains seem to have popped.
So, cook ONE AND ONE HALF CUPS OF WILD RICE according to the package directions. Then, when it’s ready, (it will take approximately one hour, sometimes half that again.) you can proceed with the rest of the yummy soup.
You will need, in addition to the rice:
8 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
2/3 cup flour
4 cups chicken broth – I often end up needing more…
3 cups cooked wild rice (from the one cup, dry that you already cooked – there may be more and that’s fine – but if you do add more, know that you may have to adjust the salt etc.)
1 teaspoon (or to taste) salt – though more is needed at the end
Two grated carrots – or even 3!
Two cups cooked, chopped chicken (approximately)
1 – 1 ½ cups half and half
Pepper to taste
I always need to add more salt at the end and sometimes add a little onion powder too, to up the flavor a wee bit. I have even been known to add chicken bullion (shhh…don’t tell any real cooks about that).
Melt butter in saucepan, sauté onion until tender. Blend in flour, gradually stir in broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture comes to a boil, boil and stir 1 minute. Stir in rice and salt and carrots, simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken. Mix in half and half and heat, but try not to boil with the half and half in it. Add pepper and more salt if needed. I often will add a little more broth and/or half and half at this point – depending on thickness desired, personal taste, etc.
I am by no means a professional chef, nor do I ever desire to be, but everyone who has had this likes it, and I have shared the recipe many times. Even non-soup people like this recipe!! I made this for a friend from church when she was diagnosed with cancer shortly after we moved here to SW Minnesota. Her husband remembered the soup when, 13 years later, she died of the disease. Now that’s a special soup.
So…there you have it. My medicine for a winter’s day. ENJOY!
PS – there are many other wild rice recipes out there, including many salads, but the only way my husband likes it is in this soup, so I’ve not tried them. I’d love to hear any input about more wild rice recipes!! Then, perhaps, I could try to expand his palate a little!!