Soups are a lifesaver, especially in the winter months. Read on for a little history with a dose of cultural knowledge that led to this wonderfully soothing and healthy Spinach Soup a.k.a Palak ka Shorba.
Travelling from one cold part of the world to another is no fun. We just got back from India where the temperatures were low, the fog was thick and hot tea was in abundance. But residents of north India recently celebrated the festival of Lohri which symbolizes the end of winters and welcomes the warmth of spring. I wish there was such a quick turn around in temperature on the east coast of the US too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could bid farewell to coats, mufflers, gloves, boots and all them bulky winter wear? I for one would be delighted! Anyway, one upside of winter is the excuse it provides tea lovers to drink endless cups of ginger flavoured tea (coming up soon) and for the rest of us a time to indulge in cups of steaming soup.
We are snowed in today and soup is what I made for lunch. The recipe that I used is a modified version of spinach soup that we were served at a very dear friends’ place while visiting India. The lady of the house who made this delicious recipe happens to be one of my favourite people and a brilliant cook. This is a tribute to her. This is a recipe that is for both, vegetarians and non-vegetarians. The only difference is the chicken, which is in any case an addition.
Serving size; 4 cups
Prep time: 10 minutes.
Cooking time: 30 minutes.
Ingredients for Palak ka Shorba:
Spinach, 250 gms, roughly half a pound.
One carrot. (used in the original recipe)
Lentils (Moong & Masoor) 1/4 cup
Onion, half a bulb.
Tomato, one, blended.
Garlic, 2 pods.
Ginger, one inch piece.
Water, 2-3 cups.
Salt to taste.
Pepper to taste.
Bay leaves, 2.
Cinnamon stick, one piece, one inch long.
Chicken, half a pound. (I used boneless chicken thighs)
*Note: To make this soup truly fat free or with the minimum possible fat, use chicken breasts. I had thighs available and went ahead with them.
Making the soup
First and foremost, wash all the ingredients. Beginning with the spinach, rinse it in cold water a couple of times until you are sure it is rid of dust and stones. Set it aside to drain.
Now in measure 1/4th cup of lentils. I used a mix of split moong and split masoor dal. If you have these handy, go ahead with them or you may choose to use another mix of lentils. I used lentils because I did not have carrots at home. But if you do, use one carrot. Wash it and peel it and chop it into big chunks.
Add spinach along with the lentils/carrot into a pressure cooker. Add as much water as necessary to cover all the ingredients. To this add peeled garlic pods and ginger as well as salt and pepper. Close the pressure cooker and set it on high heat. After the first whistle, reduce to medium heat and let it simmer until you get another whistle. Then turn it off. Let it sit until all the steam has escaped and you are able to open the lid easily.
The lentils and spinach will take a while to cool down. If you are in a hurry, pour the mixture into a bowl and make a water bath with cold water and ice. This usually does the trick. Once the ingredients are only mildly warm, blend them in a mixer. I used puree settings to get a fine blend.
Next, pour the blend into a large saucepan. In your mixer blend one tomato and add it to the pan as well. To this mix add cloves, bay leaves and one tiny cinnamon stick. Cover and boil for at least 15 minutes before serving. Because I used lentils for the soup there was some froth on the top. You can skim this off with a spoon. Add water to the soup while it is boiling to bring it to the desired consistency.
The original recipe was only a spinach soup served with a dollop of butter. I added some chicken to it. The recipe until now has been fat-free and to keep it so, I steamed the chicken too. Here’s what I did. I took two boneless chicken thighs, washed them, removed any excess fat, made some incisions with a knife and sprinkled a pinch of salt and pepper onto them. Next I took a microwave proof casserole and cooked the chicken thighs in it for approximately 5 minutes. I would recommend checking once in between to see how well the chicken is cooking.
Once you are able to easily pull apart strands of chicken with a fork, it is cooked. Slice it into half-inch pieces and add it to the soup just before serving.