Week 9: Plenty by Diana Henry

*Note: I wrote this before I got really sick. I’m ok, have had a fever for a few days, am hoping to get out of isolation tomorrow. We’ll see. I am also exhausted.

I’ve been experiencing a plethora of emotions since the pandemic quarantine in New York City began. Probably the most common one is panic, which has been off and on over the past two weeks-is since we were told to start practicing self-isolation and social distancing.

The book that I will eventually write about below. Find it here on amazon.

The first moment of real panic for me was when Chris went to the grocery store on the Monday morning after it was announced that our schools were closing, and he reported back that many of the shelves were empty.

We haven’t been able to even get into Trader Joe’s for weeks – nor would we really want to, given that they are practicing social distancing within the store, however people lining up to go inside are definitely not.

Additionally, we’ve been dealing with two sick children, another who seems to be coming down with this, and our own panic regarding symptoms that we may or may not be experiencing (or just having panic-induced hypochondria, which is also valid right now). So we haven’t really wanted to hang out in lines or stores or with groups of people.

We’re operating on the assumption that the children all have COVID-19, and that Chris and I have been exposed. One of the kids has been quite ill, with fatigue and a persistent dry cough that just. won’t. quit. It’s distressing, but she seems to be on the other side of the illness. Chris and I have been having symptoms off and on – today I feel spectacularly shitty, with a horrible headache and the beginnings of a dry cough, but I have hope that it won’t turn into anything more serious.

Anyway, back to the grocery store situation. They’re out of a lot of stuff. A LOT. Dried and canned beans, most canned foods, pasta, rice and potatoes (although ours just got a shipment of potatoes in). Milk supplies are running low, and if anyone can tell me WHY people would be walking out of the stores with grocery carts full of milk, I’d love to hear a rational explanation. (I’m pretty sure there isn’t one.) Do people understand that milk spoils?

As such, the cookbook project has been a bit more difficult than usual to undertake. Plus, honestly, my heart hasn’t really been in it. Cooking (for us) over the past couple of weeks has been about comfort food, made with ingredients we can actually find, with the occasional desperate grab for snacking vegetables. There’s been shells and cheese (Chris), the NYT’s fancy Hamburger Helper, and roasted chicken and baked potatoes.

The other day I really wanted a gingery soup of some sort. I was envisioning something that would sit on the stove all day and fill the house with gingery goodness, but what I came up with was Diana Henry’s Chicken, coconut, and ginger soup with lime, basil, and mint (pg 226) from her book Plenty.

The cover copy for Plenty reads “With more than 300 recipes, none of them extravagant.” Which seems appropriate for this moment in time.

I’ve purchased a few of Diana Henry’s cookbooks, and somehow never cooked anything out of them, although I have read them cover-to-cover. Learned a bunch about cuts of meat, and the alternate British names for them, which was helpful. But never cooked anything, which…seemed odd. I have probably 20 recipes from Plenty alone marked for future endeavors, including this soup, and I’m really not sure why I didn’t cook any of them.

For this soup, I actually was using eatyourbooks.com to look up ginger soup recipes, while walking down the hill to the grocery store, and it came up with this one, which sounded the best out of the hundreds that are apparently in my cookbook collection. However, eatyourbooks doesn’t give amounts, only the names of the ingredients, and since I only have a hard copy of Plenty, I just guessed at what I might need in terms of quantities.

We already had most of what the recipe called for, so I was lucky, and she does call this a “pantry” soup, which was comforting. All I really needed was eggplant, chicken and chiles. Of course the store was sold out of eggplant. Who knew that aubergines would be such a high-demand pandemic food?

The soup itself was simple enough to put together. I used the mandoline to thin slice the onions, and then I cooked them for the last half hour that I was roasting the chicken for the soup. In order to try to keep my stomach from rebelling at all onions, forever, I’ve been trying to cook them into submission. “Melting” them, if you will. It doesn’t work, but I do really like the flavor of well melted/carmelized onions.

While the onions and chicken were cooking, I worked on my mis-en-place, namely the garlic, ginger, chiles, and potatoes. We had a ton of green beans on hand (snacking vegetable), so I chopped up a bunch of those to throw in, rather than my non-existent eggplant.

I felt so organized.

The soup itself, once I got the chicken and onions cooked, only about 30 minutes to cook fully, and most of that was the potatoes. My only quibble about the recipe is that Diana Henry said it shouldn’t need anything else after adding all the ingredients and spices (which consisted mostly of fresh ginger, garlic, lime and fish sauce), however… it needed a lot more. Salt, for one. LOTS of salt. I also added some rice wine vinegar, and I ended up calling in Chris to help me season it, as he has a fantastic palate and a really deft hand with the spices. He added some cumin and something else. I probably should have been paying attention, but I think I was shredding chicken at the time.

After Chris had his way with it, it was fantastic. Flavorful, vaguely Thai-dish, and comforting, which is what I was really going for.

The fresh basil and mint really added to the final product, and I ended up shredding the rest of the bunch of basil into the soup before refrigerating it. Quite nice.

Here’s the final bowl:

All in all, Diana Henry is kind of a stalwart of the world of home cooking and recipes – even if she hasn’t garnered the kind of fame here that she has in her native Britain – so we will be cooking from her books again. The recipe was clear, well-written and easy to follow.


One thought on “Week 9: Plenty by Diana Henry

  1. Your variation on that recipe sounds absolutely delicious. I am very sorry to hear you and your kids have been sick. Please take good care of yourself and let everybody know how you’re doing. You’re in my thoughts and my prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

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