Cold weather is hitting just about everyone a little hard lately, and the end-of-the-year activities have us hopping from here to there. It’s a little cold. It’s a little crazy. Maybe what we all need is a little quiet time with a comforting bowl of soup.
Nothing fancy, just simple and healthy. No “layers of flavor” or “contrasting textures”. Nothing with a lot of steps or a bunch of ingredients. Just warm, nutritious, tasty, homemade soup. Something that will take no more than thirty minutes to make, from beginning to end. And for some of us, something that reminds us of home and childhood.
This chicken and rice soup is based on a Brazilian soup called canja. Canja (pronounced “cun-zsah”), is almost better known as a remedy for flu. We often make it as a meal for those who are convalescing. But Brazilians also serve it as a comfort food, and my mom made it for us often when we were children. By the way, it is an EXTREMELY child-friendly meal option.
There are different ways to make canja. Many add ingredients like carrots or sometimes tomatoes and/or celery. Mine does not include those because mine is based on my mom’s recipe.
Mom based her recipe on what the hospital served me when I was 4, and was in for surgery for an umbilical hernia. The hospital version had nothing but rice and chicken. When the hospital released me and sent me home, my mother struggled to get me to show any interest in eating, so she asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted canja. She made it with other stuff in it and I was NOT impressed. I became very upset and told her I wanted canja JUST LIKE they served at that hospital. So, she adjusted her recipe and that’s how it remained. Mine was the most loving of mothers (although I strongly suspect I’m not the only one to feel this way).
Over the years, I have often made this chicken and rice soup for friends and neighbors who were sick or recovering from medical procedures, and having difficulty keeping food down. It always amazes me that not only can they keep this chicken and rice soup down, but they love the flavor, and they invariably feel better afterward. My sons, both grown men, are always grateful when they become sick and momma whips up a batch. Now Steve, he doesn’t care if he is sick or not. He’ll take it any day!
During cold months, when I worked at the Whole Foods Market corporate office in Austin, I would occasionally take a batch of this soup as a lunch treat for my team. It was always a hit. Not only did my team love it, my boss Sam never passed up an opportunity for a bowl. It’s just tasty as tasty can be.
Let’s see what goes into making this Chicken and Rice soup
To be honest, they don’t make it with the Mrs. Dash Table Blend in Brazil. The little girl in me wants the “white canja” the hospital served, but my grown woman palette needs a bit more. I have found that the Mrs. Dash Table Blend gets me that bit more while basically respecting the memory of my childhood chicken and rice soup.
In Brazil, they often use chicken meat with the bones for a richer broth. But it is often white meat. I compromise and use dark meat, but also save time by using boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I get the bigger flavor and the tenderness of the dark meat thighs (the breast tends to get a little stringy for me), but without having to take the cooked meat off the bones.
And one more thing, I don’t really like how much fat is often on the thighs. So, I use a very sharp knife and trim much of it off. You’ll never get it all, and I’m not sure you would want to. But I remove as much of the greasy chicken fat as I can and replace it with the healthier fat from the olive oil.
Let’s look at the steps for making Chicken and Rice soup
Start by trimming any excess fat as I described above, then cubing the thighs into 1 to 1 1/2 inch cubes. Don’t make them too small. You want to feel like you are eating a little chunk of chicken when you get one on your spoon, not like you are being teased with wee bits and pieces.
Then put a soup pot over medium high heat, pour in the olive oil, and add the chicken. Also add the Mrs. Dash Table blend, and a little salt and pepper. Not too much salt and pepper. Since this is a liquid meal, you can always true it up at the end and get the balance you need.
Stir it around while it cooks. The chicken will release quite a bit of juice. Once the meat is opaque and there is quite a pool of liquid in the bottom of the pan, turn the heat to medium high and stir until the liquid is mostly gone and the chicken has caramelized somewhat. Trust me, the liquid goes away faster if you keep stirring it.
When it looks something like this, you can add the rest of your ingredients.
Start with the onion and garlic.
Then add your chicken broth.
Now, here’s the deal. My frequent readers may have recognized my pressure cooker. Yes, I make almost all of my soups in a pressure cooker.
But you don’t have to. I do it because, you may recall, I have a somewhat picky son who will remain nameless. A son who does not like the texture of onions but does like the flavor of onions in finished dishes. I found that 15 minutes in the pressure cooker not only made the chicken melt-in-your-mouth tender, but kept me from nagging Sam to stop avoiding the onions in his bowl, because they were pretty much dissolved. Oops…no longer nameless. Oh well, that’s what he gets for being picky.
So, pressure cooker or not, cover and cook on medium for about 15 minutes for all flavors to come together. Then remove the lid and add your rice. I really do not recommend instant rice. It will turn your soup into processed rice mush. You want the integrity of the whole grain to stand up, even after it is cooked.
Cook uncovered for another 8 to 10 minutes until the rice is tender. Adjust for salt and pepper to taste.
Then serve nice and hot with a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley! Don’t skimp on the parsley. I’m not sure that it isn’t one of the secret ingredients. Parsley has a lot of vitamin C and it adds a wonderful herby taste to the finished product.
Add some fresh, crusty bread on the side and dig in. You have arrived at Comfortville, courtesy of a hot, fragrant bowl of yumminess.
Thanks, mom. ♥
- 4 pounds boneless, chicken thighs
- 3 tablespoons quality olive oil
- 2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash Table Blend (dark green lid)
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, diced
- 8 cups unsalted or low sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup long grain rice
- Parsley, chopped
- Start by trimming excess fat from chicken thighs and cube into 1 to 1½ inch cubes.
- Place a soup pot or pressure cooker over a medium flame and add the olive oil and the cubed chicken.
- Season with the Mrs. Dash and a bit of salt and pepper. You can add more salt and or pepper at the end.
- Then stir to distribute the seasonings.
- Raise flame to medium high.
- Cook, stirring until the chicken is somewhat caramelized and almost the meat juices have evaporated.
- Then add the onion and garlic.
- Next, add the chicken broth,
- Cover and cook over medium flame for about 15 minutes.
- If using a pressure cooker, seal the cooker and cook on medium high until pressure builds. Cook under pressure for about 5 minutes.
- If not using a pressure cooker, cover and cook over medium-low flame for about 15 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add the rice.
- Cook uncovered over medium heat until the rice is tender.
- Serve hot, drizzled with some fresh chopped parsley.