Somewhere in between the indulgence of Thanksgiving and the mad cookie-baking, party-going and other binges which characterize the next part of winter holiday season, it seems important to get in a few bracing, lighter meals that can put a bit of spring in my step. Otherwise I might just sink to the sofa in a permanent haze of butter and sugar -- which, while I may enjoy each calorie-laden bite in the moment, doesn't always leave me feeling my best.
We did pretty well at Thanksgiving this year. Our menu, while certainly festive and abundant, paled in comparison to the lavish culinary excesses of other Thanksgiving meals described on various food venues. The turkey, stuffing and gravy were the richest parts of our meal (other than the savory cheese dollars, and, of course, pies). We eschewed mashed potatoes as well as creamed, bacon-y, glazed, cheesy, nutty and be-crumbed side dishes for some spicy roasted brussels sprouts, plain baked garnet yams, and a salad of pristine and beautiful organic greens in a perfect lemon vinaigrette. G did eat two very full plates as well as a goodly share of what was proclaimed the best. apple. pie. ever, and felt the rather weighty results of this enjoyment for some while afterward. It did my heart good to see my creaky old dad (who has for years now had a very "iffy" appetite) go at his Thanksgiving plate like a trencherman, spooning on extra cranberries and enjoying every mouthful. His wonderful caregiver, Galina, also entered into the spirit of American Thanksgiving wholeheartedly, exclaiming "We don't have stuffing in Russia! It's so delicious!" as she went back for her second plate. I, unfortunately, after cooking and tasting for days, had the cook's malady of being able to do no more than pick at my plate, which I left half unfinished. I have been greatly enjoying the leftovers, however. We were lucky this year to have a gorgeous free-range turkey from Quattro's Game Farm in the Hudson Valley. As I've nibbled at bits and pieces, I've remarked upon the fact that despite all the turkey-hatred that seems to surface during this season, turkey is actually very delicious when properly prepared. Most often it's too dry and flavorless, but this year we struck the right chord, with a high-heat, salt-roasted bird that was really far more flavorful than most chickens. The frame of this bird rendered an excellent broth.
Which brings us to soup. Each year I make Thanksgiving soup from the turkey frame. Last year I made my mother's excellent turkey-lentil, which I prize as much for its hearty, wintry deliciousness as for its nostalgia. This year, however, I'm going for more of a tonic. Inspired by a recipe for Spicy Turkey and Jasmine Rice Soup from Cooks' Illustrated, today I'm making a zingy and flavorful soup with rice and turkey bits, flavored with lemongrass, ginger, chili, garlic, and cilantro. The Cooks' recipe has no vegetables in the soup itself, only those that are cooked with the broth and then discarded. I like some vegetable heft to my soups, so that's where my variation comes in. I've already made and strained the good stock, and today I'll add the usual soupy suspects: celery, carrots and leeks. I'll put in the jasmine rice about twenty minutes before dinner, along with some fresh herbs, which I'll blend up in a bit of soup to thicken the broth slightly. Then, toward the end, in will go a nice clump of chopped baby bok choy for extra greens, and the leftover turkey bits picked from the frame after the soup simmered.
I haven't made it or eaten yet, but I'm giving you the recipe below, as far as I have conceived it. I have a lot riding on this soup. It's my desire that it will inspire us to get back to the gym and into a reasonably healthy eating mode before party time begins. The heat from the spices will kill germs and prevent incipient colds and flu. I suppose I can't really expect that it will make us a fortune or cure any other major diseases, but a girl can hope.
Edit: And here it is!
Spicy Turkey-Vegetable-Jasmine Rice Soup
Makes about 3 quarts, serving 8 to 10
Basic Turkey Stock
1 meaty turkey carcass from 14- to 20-pound turkey, cut into 4 or 5
rough pieces to fit into the pot
1 large onion, unpeeled and quartered
2 large carrots, cut into rough chunks
2 large ribs celery, cut in rough chunks
3 medium cloves garlic, unpeeled and smashed
2 cups dry white wine (we used leftover champagne -- outstanding!)
2 bay leaves
5 sprigs fresh parsley leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme and/or other fresh herbs
3 quarts of stock from above recipe
1 stalk lemon grass , trimmed to bottom 6 inches and bruised with the
back of a chef's knife
3/4-inch piece fresh ginger , peeled, cut into thirds, and bruised
(smashed, really) with the back of a chef's knife
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
4 shallots, diced fine
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large ribs of celery, cleaned, stringed and chopped
1 cup jasmine rice
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves
1 handful fresh basil leaves
5 medium scallions, chopped
1-3 teaspoons of chili-garlic sauce
4-5 baby bok choy, cleaned and chopped
reserved turkey meat from stock
salt and pepper to taste; extra chili-garlic sauce
extra chopped herbs and scallions
For Stock: Bring turkey carcass, onion, carrot, celery, garlic, wine, bay leaf, and 4 1/2 quarts water to boil in 12-quart stockpot over medium-high heat, skimming fat or foam that rises to surface. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, 2 hours, continuing to skim surface as necessary. Add parsley thyme and/or other herbs; continue to simmer until stock is rich and flavorful, about 2 hours longer, continuing to skim surface as necessary.
Strain stock through large-mesh strainer into large bowl or container; remove meat from strained solids, shred into bite-sized pieces, and set aside; discard solids in strainer. Cool stock slightly, about 20 minutes; spoon fat from surface. Use stock immediately or cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate up to 2 days. Remove any more fat that congeals on the surface.
For Soup: Bring turkey stock to simmer in large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lemon grass, ginger and garlic; cover and simmer until broth is fragrant and flavorful, about 20 minutes. With slotted spoon, remove and discard lemon grass and ginger. Add leeks, shallots, carrot and celery; cook for 1/2 hour or until vegetables are cooked through. Add rice and chili-garlic sauce; bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Spoon about 3 cups of hot soup, with rice and vegetables, into a blender jar or a separate container for using an immersion blender. Add fresh cilantro, basil and scallions. Purée this mixture, and add it back into the soup. Add bok choy, and cook until just done. Add the reserved shredded turkey meat from stock; adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and add extra chili-garlic sauce if desired. Garnish with more chopped herbs and scallions if you wish. Serve immediately.