If you live in Astoria, there’s a good chance you know about Yajai Thai‘s vegetable ginger soup. If you don’t, I’m about to change your world. This slightly sweet, slightly spicy, clear broth is swimming with lots of crunchy, fresh vegetables and fresh sticks of ginger—that’s right, whole matchstick-sized pieces of ginger. It’s intense, refreshing, and will cure pretty much anything that ails you. I’ve gotten it for a bad cold, food poisoning recovery, and (let’s admit) for a hangover. And I feel amazing every time I finish it.
The other night, I was craving ginger like nobody’s business, but I also had an urge to do some cooking. I wanted to try making my own version of Yajai’s amazing soup, but I had no idea where to start: enter Bon Appétit’s Cleansing Ginger-Chicken Soup. I took the same basic idea of making a gingery broth by simmering the aromatics for two and a half hours, but, from there, I went crazy on veggies instead of meat.
First, because I didn’t really want a chicken soup, I substituted some chicken broth in for some of the water. That gave me a rich base without needing to actually cook chicken in the water—and made it very easy to convert this into 100% vegetarian recipe by just subbing veggie or mushroom broth in instead. Then, instead of celery, I used celery root, which I think has a more powerful flavor and a gorgeous aroma. I also added in a bay leaf just to kick it up a notch herb-wise. Then, I waited and salivated as the smell of ginger pervaded my apartment.
Then, I picked out some of my favorite soup vegetables to add to my broth: leeks, carrot, parsnip, mushrooms (using my trick of getting a bunch of buttons and just a few pricier oysters), and spinach. To make it like Yajai’s, I also cut up another few inches of ginger into matchsticks for that refreshing, surprising crunch. This recipe is a great one to do an intense mise en place on. You’ll have a lot of time before the broth is done, so take it to get everything leisurely chopped and ready. When it comes time to cook, you’ll have no fuss—just a few extra bowls to clean.
The soup by itself is a little low-substance for a full meal, so I would recommend serving it with another dish. To keep things easy, I whipped up some chicken fried rice. I have never once measured how to make my fried rice, so the recipe below is a definite guesstimate. But it’s super quick, super easy, and super good every time, even if it’s different every time I make it. Go easy on yourself and buy frozen mixed veggies like I do—otherwise, with all the chopping, fried rice can quickly become a labor intensive dish.
I’d recommend serving the soup with just a splash of sriracha sauce in it. It adds a little bit of heat which goes nicely with the fresh ginger. But only when serving! You don’t want the soup to lose its freshness in favor of spiciness.
Ginger Vegetable Soup Serves 8
1 celery root, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes (rough cut—this is just for broth so no need to be perfect) 8 oz. unpeeled ginger, scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch slices 10 whole peppercorns 1 bay leaf 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed down with a knife (don’t chop! Just let it bust open and put it in whole) 4 c. broth (I used chicken, but vegetable or mushroom would work) 8 c. water 3 leeks, whites and light greens thinly sliced 1/2 bunch of spinach leaves, roughly chopped (about 2 cups) 1 large cluster of oyster mushrooms, thinly sliced 8 oz. button/white mushrooms, thinly sliced 2 2-inch pieces of ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks 1 carrot, cut into small cubes 1 parsnip, cut into small cubes
Put first seven ingredients (through water) in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 1/2 hours. Using a metal sieve, remove all of the ingredients from the pot so that only the broth remains. Discard the other ingredients.
Add the leek, parsnip, ginger, and carrot to the pot and simmer for 30 minutes or until the parsnip and carrot are starting to get crisp-tender. Add the mushrooms and cook another 10 minutes. Add the spinach and cook a final two minutes, until just wilted. Note, the carrots and parsnip shouldn’t be mushy, just tender with a slight bite to them.
Serve immediately with a dash of sriracha sauce if desired.
*NOTE – this is a very low salt soup. You may want to add salt, but if you serve it with the fried rice, I wouldn’t, as the salt in the fried rice balances out the lack in the soup. So, maybe just put salt on the table in case anyone wants it rather than adding to the whole pot or you may risk overpowering your palate.
Apartment Epicurean’s Guesstimated Chicken Fried Rice Serves 4
1 c. of brown rice 2 1/2 c. water 1/4 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1 Tbsp. canola oil 1 small onion, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, minced Less than 1 lb. chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch cubes 3/4 c. frozen mixed vegetables 2 eggs, lightly beaten 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter 1/2 tsp. sesame oil 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1/2 tsp. ground ginger 1 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari
Combine the rice, water, salt, and 1/2 tsp. sesame oil in a small pan. Bring to a boil. Stir, cover, and simmer for 30-40 minutes (check after 30 minutes—if there’s still water visible, cook for a few more minutes). Set aside, covered.
Heat oil in a large non-stick pan (I use a coated cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the onion starts to slightly brown. Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is cooked through.
Add the frozen vegetables and cook for about 2 minutes until the vegetables are starting to look vibrant and no longer frozen.
Move everything in the pan over to one side and adjust your pan (if you have a small burner) so that the empty side is over the flame. Add the egg to the pan in the space you just created. Let it cook for about a minute, until the bottom starts to brown slightly. Scrape up the cooked part of the egg and mix around with the rest of the egg in so the uncooked part has a chance to cook. Try to keep any of the meat or veggies from going into the egg. You’re basically scrambling eggs on the side of the pan. When the egg is mostly set but still slightly watery, mix it in with the meat and vegetables.
Add the rice to the pan and stir well to mix in all the ingredients. Smooth the mixture down so that the entire bottom of the pan is coated with rice. Let it sit like that, not stirring, for about a minute and a half. Then, mix everything up a bit. This is the part that actually fries the rice—when you mix up the rice, you should notice a slight golden color to what was on the bottom of the pan. The rice will not begin to brown, but it will change color slightly.
Add the butter and sesame oil, mix well (until butter melts) and, again, repeat the process of spreading the rice into the bottom of the pan and letting it fry for about a minute. Do this another time or two until the rice has a slight golden color and is aromatic.
Add the soy sauce and stir well until the rice is coated. This will give it the traditional brownish color. Add more soy if you want extra salt or extra color, but add a little at a time and TASTE in between. Soy sauce is a powerful flavor and can quickly go from delicious to overpowering.
Serve hot with the soup.