Thursday, June 30, 2011

Easy Vegan Chicken Noodle Soup-Tastes like the real thing!



(Sorry--I don't have a photo!)  We all know that nothing makes you feel better than a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup, heavy with vegetables and thick noodles.  I have stumbled upon--strictly through experimentation--a recipe that I feel is very close to the real thing.  The beautiful part is that this recipe is vegan!

I like thick, thick noodles, so I use lasagna noodles.  I just break them up into the water, rather than cooking them whole.  I have not found "egg noodles" or the wider noodles that are vegan--they all seem to have egg in them.  I could make my own, vegan version, but with the full time job, I just don't have time for that.  (Making pasta is definitely something I would like to learn how to do, though!)  I use whole wheat pasta for this.  It adds substance and is higher in protein, fiber, and other nutrients than "white" pasta.

Before I cook the pasta, I cut up a shallot, half an onion, and 2-3 cloves of garlic. (It really depends on how I feel at the time.)  Saute them--in margarine, not oil--until the shallot and onion are transparent, and try not to brown the garlic.  Using margarine adds some robustness or heaviness to the broth.

I use bullion, because we have found that to be an economical, low-pollution (recyclable packaging and less of it) option for broth, but any vegetable broth will do.  Instead of simply heating up water for the pasta, I start with the broth.  (6-8 cups. Again, it depends on how I'm feeling at the time. In winter, a thicker soup is nice, so less broth. In summer, a lighter soup is often better.) I don't remove the sauteed garlic and such from the pot.  I simply add the water and bullion cube (or the broth, if you use pre-made broth) to the pot.  The vegetables will permeate the broth with their flavor this way, and it dirties less dishes.  Bring the broth to a boil for the noodles.

While the broth is heating up, I get my vegetables ready.  The staples for this (for me, anyway) are celery, carrot, and onion.  I use 2-3 stalks of celery, greens and all, 2-3 carrots, greens and all, and I tend to dig through the fridge for whatever leftover veggies we have.  This allows me to clean up the fridge and reduces waste.  What are you going to do with half a tomato and 3 mushrooms, for example?  Chop the veggies, and separate the greens from their respective vegetables.  You will add those toward the end.

Now, here's the important part (for me.)  What I have found through my experimentation is that the meat substitute that adds the closest flavor to actual chicken is Gardein Chick'n Filets.  They are spiced just right, and the mouth feel is very, very close to actual chicken.  When I pull them out to cube them for the soup, I pour the juice from the packages into the broth.  Works like a charm.  (I really think you will be amazed if you try this.)  I have made this soup in the past with store bought seitan, but that's usually not seasoned.  It's good, but it's not quite the same.  (You will find I don't do an excessive amount of cooking with tofu--it's not my favorite.)  You can get Gardein products in most natural foods markets.  I can't recall at the moment whether they are available yet in conventional grocery stores.  You can find out from their website.  (I am not in any way affiliated with Gardein!  I'm just sharing a product that works for me.)

I guess you don't have to wait for the noodles to soften before adding everything, but I do. I want to make sure the noodles cook all the way through but don't get mushy.  I usually add everything else when they are al dente.  That way, they will stand up to the longer cooking time.  Hold back the greens and the "chicken."

Lower the heat, once you've added the veggies and simmer the soup for 30-60 minutes.  This is an area where you just have to go with your intuition or check the veggies for softness.   I usually check and stir the soup after 15 minutes and then again every 15 minutes until it feels about right.  After this period, add your greens (chop them) and the "chicken."  

You can add your herbs and spices now, too, or you can wait until about 10 minutes before you are finished cooking it.  I usually add mine then.  I usually only use black pepper, red pepper flakes, salt (You will need to add salt,) and sometimes sage fresh from my garden.  I might chop up a few leaves or pick smaller ones and put them in whole.  Other possibilities are oregano, basil, dill, tarragon, rosemary, thyme--anything, really, depending on what kind of a flavor you want.  There are no set measurements.  Sorry.  Everything here is about using your intuition and/or your sense of taste to figure out what is right.  You do want to be careful with the red pepper flakes, though!

Once you lower the heat, simmer the soup for 15 minutes and check it every 15 minutes until it seems or tastes ready.  You do want to give everything time to cook all the way through. There's nothing quite like enjoying a nice, hot meal only to come across something that's cold in the middle!

Serve with bread or a salad, and voila!

I cannot make any healing claims about my soup, but it sure as heck is tasty, and it comforts me.  This soup will likely feed you for a few days--it makes a very big pot--so be prepared to either reduce the recipe or portion it out for freezing.  Better yet, invite some loved ones over to enjoy it with you!  That's my favorite way to eat it.  ;)

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