Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sopas (Filipino Chicken Noodle Soup)

It's been very cold here in Calgary, with temperatures hovering between -22°C to -33°C this past week. This has been very fitting considering Gastropost Calgary's mission this week is called "Warm It Up"! So I figured what a great time to make some chicken soup, the quintessential comfort food. 

Every culture out there has a variation that moms have been making for their little ones on a cold day or during sick days. The Filipino version called Sopas (literally "soups" in Spanish), is a creamy version traditionally made with macaroni and evaporated milk. Because my partner, Jesse and I have adopted a low carb, ketogenic, paleo(ish) lifestyle, I made a few tweaks to my grandma's recipe to recreate this childhood favourite of mine. 

Whenever I make Sopas, memories of my grandma and Christmas holidays when we lived in the Philippines come to mind. She used to serve us this soup for Noch√© Buena (Christmas Eve dinner), along with a huge pot of creamy hot chocolate, made from raw cacao blocks. Both were the highlight of the meal, eaten right before we went to Misa de Gallo (Midnight Mass). 

My grandma just turned 90 last December so she doesn't spend much time in the kitchen anymore, especially with multiple double knee surgeries in the past few years. But all the cooks in my family have taken her recipe and adapted it to their own. 

This soup is quite easy to make on the stove top or in the slow cooker. There is some prep work involved with the mise en place, especially because my grandma's recipe calls for dicing the vegetables. This is optional and you can chop the vegetables in larger chunks, however, I do prefer the smaller pieces since it is easier to get a little bit of everything in one bite:) 

Aside from the macaroni  and the evaporated milk, the traditional recipe also calls for vienna sausages or ham. Because I am not a huge fan of vienna sausage and because it and ham are both overly processed and not paleo friendly, I omitted them altogether. 

The macaroni I replaced with shiratake noodles which is low in carb and low in calorie. The evaporated milk I replaced with full fat cream. I also added broccoli, which is not traditionally included, but I had some on hand so I thought, why not? 

I know some paleo purist are very strict with no dairy at all, but we are following a ketogenic/paleo-ish lifestyle, so as long as the carb contents fit within our daily allowance for ketosis, we are going for it! 

Fish sauce is also in the grey area, however, it is made from fish and salt, both are natural ingredients so as long as you read the ingredients and there isn't anything there that you don't know as a non-scientist, I think it's fine. Besides, fish sauce is an ancient condiment, widely used in ancient Asia and even ancient Rome, which they called "garum".

My grandma used to just chop the chicken, bones and all, into small pieces and brown lightly before adding water to make the stock. Then she adds all the other ingredients and simmer until tender and serve. My version is more "eater" friendly especially because Jesse hates having to watch for bones in chunks of meat when eating soups. 

I roasted the chicken in the oven first, bone in and skin on, as this gives it a lot more flavour. Then I removed from the bone and skin and chopped the meat into bite-sized pieces. You can chop the skin and pan fry it until crispy. This is called chicharron and can be eaten as a snack, just like pork rinds, which is still keto/paleo friendly. You can also use it as an extra condiment for the soup along with the green onions. 

I included the drippings from roasting the chicken in the broth to add more flavour. You can also use the roast chicken you can get from grocery stores instead of roasting your own, for convenience. 

The soup really hit the spot and makes enough for left overs the next day. I find the flavours become more prominent the next day and it keeps very well in the fridge especially with the shiratake noodles, which doesn't soak up the broth and get soggy like wheat based pasta does.

Here's the recipe:



2 chicken thighs, legs attached, with bone & skin
1 tsp avocado oil
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small broccoli head, diced
2 - 120 g package shiratake noodles, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 - 900 ml organic chicken broth
1/4 cup full fat cream
1 tsp fish sauce (you can substitute salt, if you don't have any or can't find paleo friendly versions)
salt & pepper to taste
4 stalks green onions to garnish, sliced


Pre-heat the oven at 350°F. Season chicken with salt & pepper and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool, remove skin and bones and chop into small cubes. 

In a soup pot, heat avocado oil on medium. Sauteé onions and garlic until lightly browned. Add broth and bring to boil. Add all the other ingredients and let simmer until vegetables are tender.

Serve in hot and garnish with green onions. Enjoy!

Serves 4 as a meal, 6 as a starter.

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