Monday, September 21, 2009

5 or Less: Mexican Chicken-Rice Soup

At Hallmark magazine, we ran a little feature called 4-Ingredient Challenge in which readers were invited to send in recipes that used only 4 ingredients—not counting oil, salt and pepper (or a sweetener if it was a dessert). It's an interesting exercise in cooking, and I had readers who came up with some pretty cool solutions, like using an orange to count as one ingredient but provide two kinds of flavor: juice and zest.

The trick to this type of cooking is to find a single ingredient—like an orange—that does double or triple duty. Spice blends, like garam masala or Italian herbs, are a good example of that. Another good trick is to take advantage of store-bought mixtures with a complex of flavors, such as bottled salsas, curry pastes, or, as in the recipe below, one of the gazillion flavors of diced tomato on the market.

Since 4 ingredients is indeed a challenge (a huge number of readers sent in variations on hamburger meat, onion, tomato sauce and cheese), I decided to add one more ingredient. This still makes for a pretty streamlined recipe and gives you some more flavor wiggle room. Here is my first "5 or Less" recipe. Only 5 ingredients and it took about 30 minutes to make, but only about 10 minutes of it was hands-on.

Mexican Chicken-Rice Soup

If you want to splurge and go for a 6th ingredient, add a little bit of cumin or oregano. I used chicken breast here because I happened to have it on hand, but chicken thigh will make a much more deeply flavored broth. Just be sure to take off all the extra fat that comes with thigh meat or you'll have a greasy soup.

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks
6 cups water
3/4 cup rice
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 can (14.5 ounces) spicy diced tomatoes
1/2 cup minced cilantro

1. In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, heat the oil and garlic over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the chicken, and cook for 2 minutes, just to sear the outsides. Scoop into a bowl and set aside.
2. Add the water, rice and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, partially cover and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and return to a high simmer. Cook uncovered until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.
Makes 4 to 6 servings

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