I don’t know about you, but January for me is a time for new beginnings. After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, I like to take time out to reflect on the previous year and consider my goals for the coming one. After a Christmas in the French Alps consuming vast amounts of French breads and pastries, as well as the cheesy Savoyard specialities, like Tartiflette, washed down with copious amounts of local red wine, I enjoy a more ascetic approach to food in January.
Like many people, my husband and I give up alcohol during January. The first week is always difficult, but after that, we start to enjoy the new sensation of alertness and increased energy. Along with our alcoholic abstinence, we usually to do some sort of detox , or dietary regime, to cleanse our systems and help shed the Christmas pounds we gained over the holidays. January is a dark and miserable month, so what can you choose to perk up your meals yet still keep them healthy? Generally I am a great believer in eating seasonal and local, but I feel that the dreariness of January can occasionally be lightened by the addition of exotic ingredients. The fiery heat of the chilli, for example, can compensate well for a lack of fat in a dish, and in addition triggers the release of endorphins in the body which help boost your mood too. Fresh ginger root is also perfect for this time of year. It has been used therapeutically for centuries for nausea, and helps aid digestion, as well as imparting a unique spicy, warming flavour to food.
During the week we often make broths as they make such an easy and quick post-work supper. If you have the time (or inclination), you can make your own chicken or vegetable stock using a carcass left over from Sunday lunch perhaps, but if not, Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushroom stock make a great alternative. We are currently having two weeks oil-free (more about this in a later post), so the broth is made without oil, but naturally this dish would taste nicer, and be cooked a little diffently with the addition of some fat.
Mushrooms make a great food choice at this time of year. Rich in Beta-Glucans (for more information see What Are The Benefits Of Beta Glucans? | LIVESTRONG.COM, a type of carbohydrate that help to enhance the immune system, mushroom have an umami or savoury taste that is very satisfying. Good fresh choices include Shitake or Chestnut, and to intensify the flavour, we add dried mushrooms to this broth as well. Supermarket own brands are perfect; we use Waitrose’s Cooks Ingredients Dried Mushrooms. This broth doesn’t really need the addition of meat – the mushroom flavour itself is intense and satisfying, almost meaty – so feel free to leave out the chicken if you like.
One of my most exciting discoveries of the year (thanks to the lovely Miguel of Naturopatica) is Glucomannan Noodles. I used Zero Noodles, which I buy from Holland and Barrett, and they taste pretty bland, but the texture is just right, and they pick up the flavour of the ingredients they are cooked with. They are made from Glucomannan flour, which is produced from the root of the Konjac, a starchy Japanese plant. These noodles are gluten free, fat free, sugar free and salt free. They are very low in calories and more importantly, high in fibre, so help the digestive processes of the body. I tend to use them with Asian flavoured foods as they are so similar in texture to Asian noodles, and they make the perfect final addition to this broth.
Warming Mushroom and Chicken Broth
- 2 small, skinless chicken breasts, sliced diagonally
- 150g Chestnut or Shitake mushrooms
- handful of dried mushrooms
- Marigold bouillon or Kallo mushrooms stock cubes (to make up 1 litre)
- thumb-sized piece of ginger root (grated)
- lemongrass (bruised)
- 2 cloves of garlic (grated)
- 1 dried chilli
- 4 or 5 spears of asparagus (or broccoli)
- 1 carrot, sliced finely diagonally
- 2 or 3 spring onions, trimmed
- glucomannan noodles (Miracle Noodle or Zero Noodles), prepared according to the instructions
- black sesame seeds, torn coriander and lime wedges to serve
- Sriracha chilli sauce
- Preheat oven to 180C
- Soak dried mushrooms in freshly-boiled water for about 20 minutes as per instructions.
- Roast mushrooms (Shitake or Chestnut are good) on baking tray at 180º until shrivelled (approx 15 minutes).
- Make around one litre of stock and bring to the boil adding a ginger, garlic, lemongrass and chilli.
- Split asparagus (or broccoli) in half and slice carrots into fine shards and reserve.
- Slice skinless chicken breasts diagonally.
- Add soaked Chinese mushrooms to stock.
- Add chicken to stock.
- After 2 minutes add carrots, asparagus, spring onions, roasted mushrooms and kelp noodles
- Stir and cook for further 3 minutes
- Test chicken to see if cooked through.
- Ladle into bowls and garnish with black sesame seeds, torn coriander and wedges of lime.
- If you like a good chilli kick, add a few shakes of Sriracha.