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OISHII / Hearty soup to warm your heart on a chilly winter day

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Chicken meatball soup

The Yomiuri ShimbunChicken meatball soup

In this column, chefs and cooking experts share recipes that are easy to prepare at home.

To warm yourself up from the inside on a cold day, chicken meatball soup is a recommendation from Italian cuisine chef Ryuichi Hamasaki. Chicken meatballs made with lotus root feature in this soup spiced with ginger and sansho Szechuan pepper (also known as Japanese pepper) and garnished with fresh herbs. This recipe from the owner-chef of Ristorante Hamasaki in Minato Ward, Tokyo, will fill your stomach, as well as your heart and soul.

Some may find it surprising that Hamasaki offers a recipe that seems distant from Italian cuisine.

“I often eat this soup in winter at home and make it as a meal for the staff at my restaurant,” Hamasaki said.

One helpful tip for this recipe is carefully skimming residue from the surface of the water while cooking to make the soup clear.

The lotus root needs to be cooked al dente, as it adds a crunchy texture to the meatballs. “If you do not want the [lotus root] to change color, add some vinegar to the water while boiling it,” Hamasaki said.

The boiled lotus roots should then be cut into small chunks. Add them to the ground chicken and knead into a sticky dough.

Chicken balls should also be briefly boiled. Thanks to the mixture’s doughy texture, you don’t have to shape the balls with your hands — simply spoon out scoops of the meat and drop into boiling water; they won’t lose their shape while being cooked.

“Take out the meatballs as soon as their surface turns white,” Hamasaki said. “They shouldn’t be cooked through at this point, to keep the chicken’s umami flavor inside and make the best use of it in the soup.”

Add the chicken balls to the soup with sansho and other ingredients. Simmer it over low heat so the meat slowly infuses the soup with flavor. Cooking the soup over high heat could make the balls fall apart and the soup become cloudy. Strain the soup as a finishing touch.

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    Baked chicken meatballs with grated cheese

You can use your favorite herbs and vegetables to garnish the soup. Hamasaki chose the flavors of Italian parsley and green onion. Place the vegetables in cold water and dry them with a paper towel just before serving.

The dish features spices and herbs, but the clear soup itself tastes mild thanks to the chicken’s flavor. In addition to the pleasant texture of the meatballs, you can also enjoy the changing textures of the vegetables as you eat the soup.

“You can add daikon radish to the soup or replace the lotus root with burdock root or chicken gristle,” Hamasaki said.

Recipe for chicken meatball soup

Ingredients (serves 3 or 4):

300 grams ground chicken

100 grams lotus root

18 grams grated ginger

40 grams egg white

1 green onion

15 sansho peppercorns

10 grams thinly sliced ginger

Italian parsley, mizuna greens and shiso leaves, as desired

Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

1. Boil peeled lotus roots before cutting them into small chunks. Put ground chicken, lotus root, grated ginger, egg white, one-third of the green onion (chopped coarsely), a pinch of salt and a tablespoon each of mirin and sake in a bowl. Knead by hand into a sticky dough.

2. Boil 1½ liters of water in a pot. Add another third of the green onion (diagonally sliced), sansho and sliced ginger and turn the heat to medium.

3. Boil plenty of water in a second pot. Spoon out scoops of the chicken mixture and drop into the boiling water to cook briefly before cooling off in cold water.

4. Put the chicken balls into the first pot. Add a pinch of salt and 2 teaspoons light-colored soy sauce to season. Reduce heat to low and simmer until ingredients are cooked through. Strain the soup with a colander.

5. Arrange soup and chicken balls in a soup dish and drizzle some olive oil over them. Place the remaining third of the green onion (cut into slices), Italian parsley and mizuna in cold water to make them crisp. After removing, dress the vegetables and the shiso leaves with olive oil, then use to garnish the finished dish.

Baked chicken meatballs with grated cheese

When you have leftover chicken meatballs, Hamasaki recommends making a different dish that is easy — sprinkling grated cheese over them before baking them in an oven. As the balls are already cooked through, it’s good enough just to bake them until the cheese browns.

“You can use either cheese for pizza or sliced cheese,” Hamasaki said.

With its aromatic flavor and slightly salty taste, this dish can serve as a side or go well with drinks.

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