Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Stormy Weather

It figures that just as we began to see the true signs of spring and even the tiniest preview of summer, April showers reared their ugly head to help usher in May. While it's by no means cold here in New York, it does seem like we went from 80 degrees and sunny to rainy and dismal in no time at all. The dreary weekend weather may have put the kibosh on my traditional Saturday morning farmers market visit, but it also inspired me to create a comforting and light dish for those warmer, stormy days and nights of spring. As I've been researching healthy and delicious dishes this year, I've been reading a lot about veggie rich chicken soups that take advantage of spring's bounty, and I've been excitedly waiting for the season and its vegetables to catch up. So last night, after four straight days of rain, I knew it was time to put a recipe to the test.

In researching recipes the last few weeks, I kept coming across ajiaco, a chicken soup popular in Colombia that involves a delicious cilantro infused broth. Unfortunately for my waistline, it also involves heavy cream, a big bowl of white rice and a sack of potatoes. So, I decided it'd need a little lightening up. It's not quite corn season yet, so I couldn't include that in the recipe (as it traditionally requires), but you better believe once summer rolls around I'll have a summer-ready ajiaco recipe in my back pocket. But for now, I'll just call this an ajiaco inspired recipe so I don't get jumped by a pack of angry Colombian foodies. I decided to eliminate the side of rice for today, and instead leave the potatoes as the only starch. Traditionally in Colombia you'd have a variety of local indigenous potatoes and tubers in the stew, but for the sake of my needing to be healthy for at least a short period of time, I went with just one type of potato. The next thing I added was fresh asparagus, just blanched for a few minutes right in the soup broth. The chicken cooked similarly, just poaching itself in the delicious clear broth, infusing it with it's essence. At the last minute I tossed in a few fresh fava beans since I could still get them, then served it all up in a bowl over potatoes (boiled separately and added to the pot), topped with fresh and cooling avocado.

The dish ended up being better than I expected and not bland at all (as I had momentarily feared) despite removing a few delicious ingredients. In fact, it had great fresh flavor and a nice textural contrast from the crisp asparagus, firm potatoes and soft, poached chicken. The avocado was a perfect foil for the whole thing, soft and creamy and slightly nutty, it added a wonderful new layer of flavor and texture. I must admit that I'm excited to give this recipe a whirl in the summer when I'll have fresh corn at the ready. Also, it'd be great with a dollop of crema or sour cream instead of adding cream to the broth. In my first test run of the soup I made it with a scoop of brown rice on the bottom of the bowl, which I will definitely resurrect when summer rolls around. In the meantime, here's the light version, chock full of springtime veggies:

Spring Chicken Soup

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 bunch (about 1 lb) fresh asparagus, chopped, ends trimmed
1 lb white potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh fava beans, shelled
6 cups chicken stock
juice of half a lemon
1 avocado, diced

1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but firm, about 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring chicken stock to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add chicken pieces, cooking until done through.

3. Add cooked potatoes, asparagus and fava beans. Cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, then add lemon juice. Stir to combine and plate, topping each with avocado. Enjoy!


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