I had me a dose of some kind of evil stomachbug this week. It was only really nasty for about 36 hours, but it had a lead-in of queasy, and is still having residuals by way of fatique and beat-up achiness. (Aren't you glad you stopped by for the whining?) In the winter, a traditional chicken noodle or mazoh-ball soup would have been the way to go for restorative dining, once the worst was over, but in the middle of a heat wave, that is a bit less appealing. As you know, I am a champion of hot soup for hot days; it's only that a different kind of hot soup seems in order.
My ideal curative hot soup for summer illness (fantastic for colds) is the atypical wonton soup at Tram's, my friendly local Vietnamese restaurant of choice. It is available in a large size which is more than enough for a full dinner, and it features bundle-shaped wontons, plus a serious wallop of lemongrass. I swear that no sinus infection can survive it- and it is delicious, which is not something you can say about your average nasal spray. Indeed, I often order some when I am feeling dandy. The thing is, you have to go out to get it, which you may not always wish to do when you are feeling punk, and looking like the cat recently dragged you in.
One cool thing about lemongrass, is that you get a lemony (though distinctively different) flavor without the citrus juice. This is particularly handy for a cold plus stomachache situation, when a person might long for lemon, cold-wise, but be wary of the intestinal effects of a lovely glass of, say, lemonade. If I haven't totally killed any vestige of your appetite by now, I'm going to tell you about my beware-of-trying-this-at-home version. It's not so bad, though a bit different. For one thing, at Tram's the soup is not in any way chartreuse.
I was inspired to try this when having a sandwich supper in my friends' backyard, after a draggy tired day at work, playing with the beautiful baby we all adore, and guzzling cold gingerale. I am lucky indeed to have such excellent friends, for whom you do not need to spiff up. I'm sure I could have gone in my pajamas, and while they would have made endless fun of me, they also would not have minded. And they could do the same at my house. Life is good.
In my friends' compact, but highly productive vegetable garden, there is an herb patch which is thriving like crazy, containing an out of control, huge lemongrass area. I was encouraged to raid it, and did. After supper we all went to Brewsters , where I abandoned all efforts to moderate my food, and consumed a huge coffee ice cream in a waffle cone (labeled "small"!) I had dragged a giant braided clump of lemongrass along with me, and then home- so I'm in good supply. Nothing seems to have recurred, tummy-wise- despite the ice cream-so that's good. I'm still kind of wiped-out though. I thought I'd try some self-pampering and made this soup today.
I had some wonton wrappers and homemade stock in the freezer, and I do think a good stock is important for this sort of thing. I took the wrappers out to defrost, and warmed the stock. This is what you need:
2-3 quarts of well flavored stock (I used turkey stock)
2 turkey thighs or several chicken thighs
lemongrass stalks 2
cabbage leaves 8-10, half of them shredded
lettuce leaves- a few, torn
fresh ginger- two knobs
sesame oil-a drizzle
soy sauce, likewise
15 wonton wrappers
scallions or chives
zucchini- one half medium- cut thinly as you like, with mandoline or otherwise
yellow squash 1/2 medium-cut likewise
fresh cilantro- a few sprig
I did not make tiny bundle style wontons ala Tram's (I don't do them at all well), but rather my kindergarten wontons-the technique for which is identical to my kindergarten raviolis- though fillings may be varied at will. Into the food processor put about one third of the turkey meat, cut in cubes, the garlic, one knob of the ginger, half the cabbage leaves, the inner core of a lemongrass stalk, chopped very finely- about 1/2 tsp, a splash of soy, and a drop of the sesame oil. Pulse this until it pasty, and use it to fill the wontons as follows:
Arrange pile of wonton wrappers, a little cup of water, and the filling on a flat surface. Line a tray with parchment paper. On the flat surface, set one noodle square, and plop a ball of filling, about 3/4 tsp in volume, in the center of it. Dip a second wrapper in the cup of water, and set it on top of the first. Pick it up and press them together, eliminating any pockets of air , and tucking the noodle neatly around the filling. Set on tray. Repeat until everything is used up.* Set tray in freezer. When firm and dry, turn each wonton over carefully, so they do not stick, and the 2nd side can dry. You can dust the paper with cornstarch ahead of time to prevent sticking, but I find the parchment release action is sufficient. Leave those babies in the freezer until ready to cook- or- when they are very solid- bag them and keep frozen for future festivities.
Lemongrass Wonton Soup
Put the stock into a soup pot and add the rest of your turkey or chicken, the rest of the lemongrass, a clove of garlic, and the other bit of ginger. Bring to a boil, skim, then simmer until the meat is done, enjoying the aromas, and possibly leaning over the pot from time to time, inhaling. With a slotted spoon, fish out the turkey, garlic, lemongrass and ginger. Discard, except for turkey, and, of course, the soup. Remove the meat from the bone, shred it, and return a bit of it to the pot, saving the rest for something nice tomorrow. add the squash, shredded cabbage, and lettuce, and bring to a boil. Adjust for salt, and add a generous bit of pepper, which interacts nicely with the lemongrassiness. Add the wontons, and bring back to a boil. Simmer until you are sure the filling is cooked through, sprinkle with cilantro, and consume.
I used to have a lovely deep blue and white patterned bowl, with a celadon exterior, and a matching porcelain spoon. This was the perfect vessel for such things, but it bit the dust in a Frightened and Frenzied Cat Incident- so here is my soup, all alone. It made me feel very unsorry for myself, well steamed, and relaxed.
*Yes, I do realize these things never come out even...it will probably be close, though.