OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Chicken and Rice Soup simple yet delectable

My Forever Chicken and Rice Soup (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
My Forever Chicken and Rice Soup (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

It's hard to believe a soup with just five ingredients (not including salt, pepper and butter) could be so flavorful and satisfying. But that's exactly how my husband and I described this chicken and rice soup from "I Dream of Dinner (So You Don't Have to) — Low-Effort, High-Reward Recipes" by Ali Slagle ($29.99, Clarkson Potter).

The hefty 400-page volume from frequent New York Times and Washington Post contributing writer Ali Slagle features 150 recipes, all with delectable photographs. Of the dozen or so recipes (Eggs With Smoky Scallion Oil, Crispy Potato, Turmeric Shrimp With Citrus and Avocado, Fried Egg Salad, Crispy-Skinned Fish With Creamy Cukes, French Onion White Bean Bake, All-Corner-Pieces Baked Pasta, Tahini-Herb Pasta Salad, Fresh Corn Polenta With Lime Butter, Broccoli Bits With Cheddar and Dates, Blistered Peppers With Mozzarella and Croutons, Sausage and Gnocchi) I immediately marked for making, I had a hard time picking which one to make first. In the end I settled on this soup simply because I had all of the ingredients on hand. Plus the weather was just a little bit chilly, so soup hit the spot.

Bay leaves and fresh lemon are what give this easy soup its phenomenal flavor. Slagle offers suggestions for embellishing the soup with add-ins like garlic and parsley, ginger and celery, pinto beans and lime, dried mint and sizzled chickpeas, but I was drawn to the simplicity of the recipe. Although I did garnish my bowl with a sprinkle of finely chopped parsley, more lemon zest and generous grind of black pepper.

I strayed from Slagle's recipe only slightly — using boneless, skinless chicken breasts rather than the thighs she calls for and I reduced the quantities by roughly half to avoid leftovers.

Slagle's recipes differ in style from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette standard, with the ingredients listed without measurements in one column, followed by the instructions, which include specific measurements.

To give you an idea of what it's like to cook from the book, I've stuck with a slightly modified version of that style here.

"Soup so likeable, Maurice Sendak wrote a kid's book about it," writes Slagle.

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My Forever Chicken and Rice Soup

  • Chicken stock
  • Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • White rice
  • Bay leaves
  • Lemons

For 4: In a large Dutch oven or pot, combine 8 cups chicken stock, 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 1 cup long-grain white rice, and 3 bay leaves. Salt lightly (some stocks have more salt than others, so start easy). Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through and the rice starts to lose its shape, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, think about what else you want to add to the soup, if anything (ideas below).

When the soup's ready, use two forks to shred the chicken into pieces (directly in the pot). Season the soup to taste with salt. Add 1 tablespoon butter. Grate the zest of 1 lemon into the pot and stir to combine. Squeeze in lemon juice a little at a time until the soup is bright but still tastes chickeny (somewhere about ½ cup, from 2 to 3 lemons).

Ideas for add-ins:

  • ◼️ Grated garlic + parsley
  • ◼️ Grated ginger + celery
  • ◼️ Pinto beans + lime
  • ◼️ Horseradish + sour cream
  • ◼️ Grated zucchini + goat cheese
  • ◼️ Dried mint + chickpeas sizzled in olive oil
  • ◼️ Kale + cumin seeds sizzled in oil

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