Moringa leaves in chicken and lemongrass broth with tomatoes, tamarind and chili : a hot and sour soup for springtime

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

I’m happy to have you seing more green on this blog thanks to the recipe I’m sharing with you today, though the greens used in it aren’t quite usual, at least for me (but I guess for most Western people as well).

Have you ever heard about Moringa oleifera leaves, also known as malunggay in South-East Asia, or less frequently drumstick leaves ? I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t, since I just found out these greens a few monthes ago. It is a pity that they aren’t a common vegetable here as much as they are in Asia, Indian Ocean or Africa : these delicate leave, which have a flavour resembling somewhat the smell of rose stems and an interesting (not too soft) consistency, are quite unique among the other Asian greens I know. They come from the tree obviously called « moringa« , which is quite a versatile tree since almost all parts of it are edible and actually consumed, especially for some health benefits. If you’d like to learn more about it, take simply a look at the wikipedia page for it, or here. And for more recipes using moringa leaves, this website in particular is very inspiring (but you’ll find others here, here and here).

A big bunch of moringa leaves

Nice bouquet, isn’t it ?

I have to thank my favorite Asian grocer, an adorable lady who never objects to advise me, for having introduced them to me. More, she was kind enough to give me a verbal recipe of how she likes the most to cook them, and here my result is ! I sincerely hope I didn’t misrepresent it and did justice to it.

The key to have the taste of the vegetable enhanced is a clear meat broth, quickly made from scratch with chicken and optional lemongrass, though a longer-simmered beef broth might be used too (see below). The soup is then given added flavour from tomatoes (which can be skipped if not in season), from chilies (but the heat shall be adjusted to what you’re able to handle) and from tamarind, an ingredient I first encountered at this occasion. It is a souring agent, but with a sourness balanced with sweetness that reminds me of plum. It is an easy to use and helpful ingredient, that peps well up such a light tasting soup.

Tamarind

This is the preferred form of tamarind to look for when you’ll do your grocery shopping. However, I know tamarind might be processed otherwise, so in case this one isn’t available, take advice from somebody who knows about it. And at worst, substitute lemon juice.

Be it or not the time to eat fresher meals, this soup would do : it belongs to that kind of light, soothing Asian soups which are perfectly satisfying on warm days as well as on cooler ones. I admit it is not as cooling as a salad would be, but as far as I’m concerned, it is definitely a spring soup.

And not only is this a light, but also a healthy soup, due to the combined benefits of moringa and tamarind. The former is especially said to lower blood pressure, and I can’t determine for certain the part it played but I actually felt relaxed each time I ate a bowl of this soup. Regarding tamarind, I find it quite helpful for digestive troubles.

Plus, it is quite a quick recipe, possibly made within 30 minutes if moringa leaves had been prepared ahead.

The thing is, the leaves should be removed from the stems, of which even the finest should be discarded. You’ll need some patience to do so, but keep in mind that once prepared, the leaves would keep frozen for several weeks (divide them preferably into serving-sized parts, roughly 35-50 gr., putting each into a airtight container or ziploc bag).

Before cooking, refrigerating or freezing, they should be thoroughly washed with cold running water (or in a basin filled with water), drained and air dried. Be careful since they tend to stick to everything once they’re wet.

Prepared moringa leaves

Moringa leaves ready to be cooked

Last but not least, I love how this simple soup is packed with flavours matching to perfection, and I’m glad I could find the right balance between the ingredients. The possible variations are numerous, since you might adapt the present recipe to your liking and changes of mood. It might even be made vegetarian, by substituting vegetable stock for the meat broth (but in this case, consider simmering it a couple of minutes with lemongrass to give it a similar flavour).

To be honest, I have no idea about the availability of moringa leaves, or whether there is a season where they are easier to find. Anyway, I’m sorry in advance if they aren’t available at all in your living area. I like to think that if I can find it here, everybody does, but I guess it’s not that easy (they aren’t available all year round for me neither). And I know how frustrating it might be to learn about a new product and not being able to purchase it ! But if you move to a place where by chance you have the opportunity to get some, consider giving a try this recipe, which really is a great way to prepare them. Good thing is, one bunch like the one shown hereabove would yield at least three 2-serving meals.

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

Ingredients

– yield 2 soup bowls.

Chicken and lemongrass broth

  • 6 cups (1L) water
  • 1 chicken thigh
  • 1-2 lemongrass stalks, to taste
  • 1 tsp salt

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

  • 4 cups (1L) chicken and lemongrass broth (or lemongrass-flavoured vegetable stock)
  • 2 tsp fish sauce (aka nuoc-mâm)
  • 1 tbsp seeded tamarind pulp (~25 gr.)
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  • 1 big tomato or 2 medium (~200 gr.) (optional)
  • 75-100g moringa oleifera leaves (prepared as shown hereabove), depending on how flavoured and thick you want the soup to be (see the differences between the previous photos)
  • 3 bird’s eye chilies, or more to taste (optional)

Method

Chicken and lemongrass broth

Rinse the chicken, pat it dry and chop it into bite-sized pieces, discarding the sinews and gristles.

You want to remove all meat from the bones, but do not throw them away, they add taste to the broth.

I do keep the skin on the chicken pieces, but feel free to discard it if you don’t feel comfortable with the consistency of boiled chicken skin (even though, you may use it for cooking the broth, since they make for added taste too).

Wash and prepare the lemongrass : cut the tough ends, keeping the middle part of the stalk, roughly 10 cm (4 inches) wide. Remove the outer drier leaf, then slice it lengthwise (prepared this way, leftover stalks might be frozen if not used within 2 or 3 days).

How to prepare lemongrass

Put the water, chicken (with the bones) and lemongrass in a wok or a medium pot and bring to the boil over medium heat.

Skim to remove any impurities and the dirty foam forming at the surface.

Add the salt, lower the heat and simmer with a lid on for about 10 mns, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sample taste to check if the broth is well flavoured, adding more salt as needed.

Preparing the broth

Take the meat pieces, bones and lemongrass stalks out with the help of a slotted spoon ; discard the bones and lemongrass and set aside the meat.

Let the broth cool down, at least a little, before filtering it (I use a fine cloth) in order to make it look as clear as possible.

Chicken and lemongrass broth

If you’re not using it straight away, you might refrigerate or even freeze it, once completely cooled down. And if you have any leftover, consider using it to make a simple noodle soup or another kind of recipe of Asian inspiration (for example, I made this one from my favorite foodblog « Taste Hong-Kong » with it).

Notes :
– to add more taste to the broth, you might fry a thinly sliced shallot with some oil before adding the water and remaining ingredients to the wok.
– you might use other meats, such as beef (my Asian grocer recommended me topside) ; in this case, you should parboil it first (cover with water, bring to the boil, then drain and rinse the meat quickly), then add it to simmering water with lemongrass (same amounts than for the chicken broth), cover and simmer on low heat for at least 2 hours (add salt after the first hour), until the meat fibers are easily separated by hand.
– to finish, the meat might be diced like here, or simmered whole and shredded once cooled ; this method applies well if using a chicken breast or a fine piece of beef).

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

Rinse the tomato, pat it dry and cut it into 8 to 10 wedges.

Wash, seed the chilies (without forgetting to remove the white membranes) and section them into desired bevelled pieces.

Thin down the tamarind pulp with the boiling water ; since it is quite sticky and very compacted, I use a mortar and pestle to loosen it more easily.

Preparing the tamarind

I then sieve it through a mesh strainer to turn it into a smooth paste, with no skin bits.

Tamarind paste

Mesuring out 2 cups per serving, bring the broth to a simmer on medium-high heat.

Season with the fish sauce and add in the moringa leaves. Stir gently, lower the heat a little and cook for 5-10 mns.

As soon as the leaves turn soft and a deeper green in color, add the chicken bites and tomato wedges and keep simmering until the chicken is heated through and the tomato softened (2-3 mns). In case you’re using frozen moringa leaves, they would wilt faster, so shorten the cooking time by adding them along with the tomato and chicken (straight from the freezer, without any thawing).

Stir in the tamarind paste, making sure to have it melting thoroughly into the soup.

Sprinkle the sliced chilies over the soup at the end of cooking, right before turning off the heat.

Divide into bowls and serve hot.

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

And for a nice twist…

This is a variation I made with a shallot and lemongrass-flavoured beef broth, hand-shredded beef (see below) and cooked rice noodles that make for a more consistent meal. And though I have a slight preference for the first version, this one pleased me too !

Hot and sour soup with moringa leaves

Enjoy !

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