Soup's on, and it's not what you'd expect. Cooked long-grain rice does double duty here, in the vegetable-packed broth and as a binder for the small meatballs made from ground chicken. The last-minute addition of cubed avocado adds a silkiness to each slurpy spoonful. And where there's avocado, a little lime is right at home.
For best results, use a non-cloudy, good-quality chicken broth. Chayote squash lends sweetness to the soup, but feel free to omit it if you can't track it down. We found it at Whole Foods Market.
- 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 1/2-inch piece ginger root
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1 small or 1/2 large fennel bulb
- 6 to 8 baby-cut carrots
- 1/2 medium onion
- 1 (9 ounces) chayote squash (optional; see headnote)
- Leaves from 6 stems cilantro
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 8 ounces ground chicken
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1/2 cup cooked long-grain rice
- Flesh of 1 ripe avocado
- 1 lime
- 1 to 2 Thai or serrano chili peppers (optional)
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high to high heat.
Meanwhile, add the following to the broth as you work: Peel the ginger and cut into 3 slices. Use a knife to smash and peel the garlic. Core the fennel, then cut it into small dice (1/2 cup). Cut the carrots into small dice (1 cup). Peel the onion and cut into small dice (1/2 cup); peel the chayote, if using, and cut into small dice (1 1/4 cups). The soup should be bubbling at the edges or at a slow boil while you add the vegetables.
Finely chop the cilantro to yield 1/3 cup.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of the oregano; stir to mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes; the vegetables should be almost tender.
Meanwhile, combine the ground chicken, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the remaining 1 teaspoon of oregano, the white pepper and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro in a medium bowl. Mix well, then add 2 tablespoons of the cooked rice.
Uncover the soup and increase the heat to medium. Use a small disher (scoop) or tablespoon measure to form the chicken mixture into about 16 balls that are slightly smaller than walnuts. Drop the meatballs into the broth as you work. Cover, and reduce the heat to low; cook for 5 or 6 minutes. The meatballs should be cooked through.
Cut the avocado into small dice. Cut the lime into very thin slices. Seed and mince the chili peppers, if using, to taste.
Uncover the soup and discard the ginger slices. Add the remaining rice and stir to combine. Cook uncovered for 5 minutes, then add the avocado. Cook for 1 minute to warm through, then remove from the heat.
Divide among individual bowls and garnish with the lime slices, the remaining cilantro and the minced chili peppers, if desired. Serve hot.
Adapted from "The Elements of Life," by Su-Mei Yu (Wiley, 2009).
Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick.
E-mail questions to the Food Section at email@example.com.