Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chicken & Vegetable Tamarind Soup

This meaty vegetable rich tamarind base soup is a common Filipino dish known as Sinigang.  The signature flavor of all the sinigang soups comes from the distinct tangy flavor of the tamarind base.  There are several variations of the sinigang dishes which are mostly determined by the choice of meat used. The common meat options are beef ribs, pork ribs, fish or shrimp.

This chicken variation of the soup is better known on Filipino menus as Sinampalukan Manok which roughly translates to chicken tamarind stew.  The base is also complemented with the flavors of onions, tomatoes and ginger.  Combined with a rich variety of vegetables including eggplant, okra and mustard greens makes this a hearty meal for lunch or dinner.

I've made this soup several times in the past.  It was so easy to make the first time that it became a regular favorite.  With less than 30 minutes cooking time it was also a good choice for a quick meal to cook even after a busy day.  Although I do recommend defrosting the chicken first, it is actually possible to simply add frozen chicken into the soup during the cooking process.  Simply place the chicken in with the onions and ginger during the first 5 minutes of simmering.  That will defrost the chicken enough for it to be removed, deboned and cut before adding it back in with the vegetables to complete the cooking process. 

Traditionally the dish calls for boned-in chicken that is browned before added to the soup.  Often the  chicken is usually cut through the bone to expose the marrow to the broth. Although the marrow does provide some additional flavor to the soup, I found it to be negligible to even be noticed over the rich tamarind and ginger base.  I also felt that the bones tend to get in the way of simply eating the soup as a soup and preferred the meat boneless. The browning process does provide a different texture to the meat, but again the difference for me was negligible.  Instead I opted to simply add the chicken in the soup and have it cook at a very low simmer to allow the tamarind base more time to marinate the meat during the cooking process. 

The dish is also very flexible in terms of vegetable choices to be included.  Mustard greens are a must for me, but other vegetables I have also enjoyed with this soup are: mushrooms, green beans, Chinese long green beans, bok choy, eggplant, and Daikon (White) radish.  I would even recommend this soup as a vegetarian option by simply omitting the meat and using a greater variety of vegetables.

To cook this dish you will need to purchase a tamarind soup mix which contains the flavorful tamarind powder used to create the soup base.  In Northern California most major groceries such as Lucky or Safeway carry a variation of this product in their Asian aisle.  The most common brand names for Sinigang Mix or Tamarind Soup Mix are Mama Sita, Knorr or Dragonfly. The soup mix is also available at many Asian Groceries throughout the U.S.

Chicken & Vegetable Tamarind Soup

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes


2 Teaspoons Tamarind Soup Mix (special ingredient)
5 Cups Water
2 Lbs Boneless Chicken Thighs Quartered
1 Cup Yellow Onions Sliced
2 Inches Ginger Root Sliced
2 Tomatoes Quartered
1 Small Japanese Eggplant Roughly Chopped
1 Jalapeno Pepper With Top Cut Off (optional)
12 Okras
4-6 Leaves Mustard Greens Roughly Chopped

Step 1: The Soup Base --  Fill a large cooking pot with 5 cups water.  Add 2 teaspoons Tamarind Soup Mix and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a vigorous simmer and add the onions and ginger to the soup mix.  Stir, cover and cook for five minutes.

Step 2: Chicken & Vegetables -- Add the chicken, tomatoes, eggplant and okra to the soup. To give the soup added spice add the jalapeno pepper to the soup (optional).  Reduce the heat to a low simmer.  Stir the ingredients together, cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.  

Step 3: Adding the Greens --   Save this last step until you are just about ready to serve. Add the mustard greens to the pot and stir it into the ingredients.  The leaves will cook quickly turning from a bright green to a dark green color (about 2 minutes).  Once the greens are cook, the dish is ready to be served.

If you give this dish a try, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  It's delish.

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