I was feeling a bit low, with a post-holiday-rush cold, and wanted some chicken soup. I have a bunch of other chicken soup varieites I make, but was wanting something different, so foraged in the fridge, and found that bag of beautiful farmers market spinach. Thought about all the sorrel I have growing in the garden — sorrel, once planted, is a perennial and my plant is a healthy 15-or-so years old, with absolutely nothing done to maintain it, so it's a great thing to have. The flavor of it is lemony-spinachy, and when it's cooked, it turns a soft, dull green. Classically it's used in a cream soup, and it also makes a great addition, raw, to salads. Adding in the lentils was a bit of an experiment. My reasoning went something like this: Hmm, soft dull green soup, a few green lentils for body and more protein? Why not? I think the soup would be equally good without them, just different. It's also a bit of a blank canvas to season as you wish, and would make a great curried soup for instance.
Adding the wine at the end is a trick I learned long ago, in one or another of the kitchens I worked in. What it does, is brighten the flavors. In this case, the acid in the wine also tames the oxalic acid quality of the spinach and sorrel. If you don't want to use wine, try a few drops of lemon juice instead. Another trick: take a couple of tiny spoonfuls of the soup and season each differently, trying before you add wine or lemon to the whole pot.
In the end, I was very happy with the soup. It made a hearty meal, and the leftovers were perfect. I have no doubt that it helped keep that cold a pretty mild one.
Yield: 4 large servings
- 1 onion
- 1 leek
- 1 Tbs. butter or extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large bunch spinach (or ½ lb. bag baby spinach)
- optional: 1 bunch sorrel
- optional: 2 Tbs. green lentils
- 1 quart chicken broth (preferably homemade, but packaged is OK too)
- About 2 tsp. dry white wine, or a small squeeze of lemon juice
- To finish: finely ground white pepper
Prep your ingredients: Halve, peel and thin slice the onions. Do the same with the leek, trimming dark green leaves away and being careful to remove dirt (halve the leek vertically, run under cold water). Wash the spinach and if it’s on the stem, trim away tough stems and lightly chop large leaves. If you’re using pre-washed baby spinach, you don’t need to do anything to it at all. If you’re using sorrel, strip the leaves from the stems and cut into ribbons, as shown above. If you’re adding the lentils, wash and pick over to remove any clumps of dirt or small stones.
Warm the butter or oil in a medium sized non-reactive (NOT aluminum) pot, and sauté the onions and leeks, seasoned with salt and pepper, over medium-low heat, until they are soft and picking up a little bit of golden color. Add the spinach, and if you’re using it, the sorrel, and continue cooking until wilted. Add the chicken broth and lentils, and a quart of water. Bring to a simmer, add the whole chicken thighs, and simmer at very low heat, so it barely bubbles at all, for about 10 minutes, until the chicken firms up. Remove it and let cool, then cut into small pieces and set aside. Don’t worry if it’s not completely cooked, it will finish when you add it back to the soup. Continue to simmer the soup until the lentils are cooked, and the soup has good body. If you didn’t use lentils, just taste and when you think the vegetables are soft and unctuous, it’s done. Add the 2 teaspoons white wine and the diced chicken; re-season with salt and pepper and bring back to a simmer before serving. Finish with a good sprinkling of finely ground white pepper, and serve with more of it on the table for diners to add. Note: The last photo is my garden sorrel plant.