It is funny that this weeks menu is Spanish in origin since we have been planning a trip to Spain in the fall and I have been trying to get motivated for the trip. I have to admit I have a special fondness for soups. I always seem to have at least one soup in the freezer or refrigerator for easy weeknight dinners or to take to work for lunch. I love the idea of just tossing whatever is at hand into the pot and with a short bit of simmering you always emerge with something great to eat. I always have chicken, beef and vegetable stock in the freezer for when the mood strikes I can make a simple or hearty soup for lunch or dinner and in hot weather, a nice chilled soup and a salad always seems to fill the bill. I was intrigued and somewhat wary about this soup. At first glance it seemed too simple to really be all that good and with such a few ingredients I wondered just how good it could really be. I could tell once I started reducing the tomato/onion/garlic puree that it was going to at least be fragrant and tasty but was I in for a huge surprise when at the last few moments you toss in the cilantro and lime juice and what a transformation. Instead of a heavy tomato based soup, it becomes light and very very complex. What surprised me most was how no single ingredient took center stage, the all just seemed to play off each other so that you couldn’t really tell what exactly it was you were tasting but that it was extremely good. The final flourish of queso fresca was inspired and definitely added a nice finish without being heavy or gooey as you might expect. And, most surprising to me was just how good a tortilla can be when you fry them up yourself. I am not a big fan of tortilla chips as they always seem so heavy and greasy but these were light and crispy and just the perfect finish for this wonderful soup. I will definitely be making this one again.
As for the chicken dish, I really don’t know anyone who doesn’t like chicken and rice. There are certainly hundreds of flavor combinations that you can use to flavor this simple dish. I am happy to say that this Spanish flavored one delivered on all counts without being heavy or overly spiced. I opted for chicken breasts here instead of the chicken thighs the recipe calls for simply because we are not big fans of the dark meat. I worried a bit that the chicken might get dry but figured that with gentle backing and the amount of liquid the dish contains that I should be alright. You might think that the paprika and peppers and onions might make the dish a bit heavy but this was not the case, it was perfectly balanced with just the right amount of spice. I of course doubled the garlic called for since I just can’t seem to get enough garlic but even this didn’t overpower the dish and merely flavored the rice perfectly to my taste. The addition of the saffron is typically Spanish and I always have to watch when using saffron since too much and it can taste medicinal. It was perfect for this dish. In the end, the chicken breast were moist and flavorful and the rice was perfectly cooked and rich and savory with just enough moistness to resemble a risotto instead of overbaked rice pilaf. Just enough spice without being heavy and perfect for a summer evening. I loved every bite.