Chicken soup, the gold standard of comfort, the official food of being loved and cared for!* I’m sure you’ve heard that every culture has some approximation of comfort food in the form of chicken soup. Chicken noodle, pho, tom ka gai, the list goes on and on.
*Seal of approval granted by the International Committee on Warm Fuzzies.
Ironically, if you know I’m Lithuanian, your logical next question is, Well, what’s the Lithuanian equivalent? Truth is, I don’t think we have one. We are a culture of many soups… And we do like to be cozy and take care of one another. I can’t think of such a staple in our repertoire, though.
However! My (equally Lithuanian) sister brought me Tinola once when I was out of commission. My brother-in-law is Filipino, you see, which means all sorts of wonderful things for my culinary horizons (read: delicious things all the time, everywhere). One such delicious thing is this soup. It’s spicy, savory, fragrant with lots of ginger, and warming in every sense of the word. In other words, comfort food perfection.
Most tinola recipes I found online did not include serrano peppers, but my sister/brother-in-law’s version did, which I am 100% in support of. Spicy = delicious, and I won’t hear otherwise.
The broth is heavy on ginger, and deep, rich, and savory thanks to fish sauce. Two authentic ingredients that might be kind of tough to find are green papaya and chili pepper leaves. I found both at an Asian grocery (the leaves, frozen), but chayote squash and spinach are great (and delicious) substitutes.
Honestly, if I were to cook this again and didn’t feel like trekking across town to find green papaya and chili leaves, I’d absolutely go for the chayote and spinach instead. This is too delicious to let minor details dissuade you.
I mean, look at this beauty.
I think you should put this in your soup rotation for the season. You never know when colds, flus (flues? no, that’s something else), stomach bugs, or the hungries will strike. Let’s be prepared and eat well while we’re at it.
- 2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs, skinned and trimmed of excess fat
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, cut into thin matchstick pieces
- 2 serrano peppers, seeded and minced
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 quarts water or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 medium green papaya or 2 chayote squash, peeled and sliced into wedges
- 8 ounces frozen chili pepper leaves, thawed, liquid squeezed out (or 2 cups fresh spinach, loosely packed)
- Salt to taste
- Heat up the vegetable oil in a large pot until shimmering, then add onion and saute for 1-2 minutes until translucent and soft.
- Add garlic, ginger, and serrano peppers and saute for another minute or so, then stir in the fish sauce and add the chicken pieces to the pot, moving the onion mixture aside so the chicken touches the bottom of the pan.
- Cook chicken on both sides until browned, about 10 minutes total.
- Pour in the water or broth and bring mixture to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, for about 20 minutes. Skim and discard the foam that rises to the surface as the chicken cooks.
- When chicken is done, remove from the pot with tongs and add the green papaya or squash. Simmer until cooked through and tender, 5-10 minutes depending on how big the pieces are. Meanwhile, when the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and chop roughly into bite-sized pieces. Return to pot.
- When the papaya or squash is tender, stir in the pepper leaves or spinach, salt soup to taste, and remove from heat. Serve immediately.