Welcome to On Board in 20: a recipe series where we share wholesome, family-style meals you can prepare in about 20 minutes. The recipes always contain whole food ingredients and are intended to be brought to the table for family members to build and construct their individual plates as their senses guide them. Along the way, we bring you tips and tricks for speeding up prep and clean up for those busy weeknight meal times.
Happy New Year!
I’m excited to kick off another year of the On Board in 20 series and what a better meal for January than a warm broth-based soup. After a season of excessive sweets, treats, spreads and breads, our family meals in January tend to lower the carbs and up the greens. This build-your-own soup bar fits the bill perfectly.
Whenever we visit my Italian mother-in-law and she makes her perfectly simple chicken noodle soup, she always adorns the bowls first with noodles and chicken and then gracefully ladles the steaming broth into the bowl. The process yields the perfect temperature of comforting goodness and allows for the big and little folks at the table to lovingly interject “more noodles for me please” or “extra chicken over here.” I thought the same concept would work so well for a quick weeknight meal.
The key to getting this board together in a short period of time lies in the first two steps. Get the kettle boiling and the three pans heating up. I’ve chopped enough onions in my day now that I’m pretty quick at getting a good mince efficiently but a rough chop and throwing it into your food processor is another shortcut. I also find being strategic with hand washing is key. Raw chicken obviously carries a high risk of contamination so I try to only touch it once, so I only have to wash my hands once after coming into contact with it. That said, you could also use tongs, but make certain the tongs with raw chicken on them don’t touch the cooked chicken.
Israeli (or long grain) couscous is a fun pearl to add to soups. It cooks faster than orzo and has a texture that holds up well in liquid. And not having to cook the vegetables saves you a step as the hot broth wilts them to an al dente texture.
This type of build-your-own soup board works well for a family with different tastes. There’s no way the spinach or escarole are making it into my five-year-old’s bowl, but we compromise with peas. (Carrots or corn would also be great substitutions/additions to this board.) In attempt to keep my resolution in check, I tend to load up on the greens and go easy on the couscous.
Like all of the meals in the On Board in 20 series, the objective is to not only make meal prep time shorter by serving more dishes family style, but also to give more control and choice to family members, encouraging lively and healthy conversations around the dinner table. Enjoy!
- ½ white or yellow onion
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
- 1½ tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup dried long grain (Israeli) couscous
- 1.5 litres of unsalted chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1.5 cups of escarole, torn into bite-sized pieces, lightly packed
- 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped and lightly packed
- 1 lemon, cut into six segments
- small handful of fresh dill
- ⅔ cup of frozen peas
- Fill kettle and heat to a boil. Place a heavy cast iron griddle pan over medium-high heat. Place a large pot/Dutch oven over medium heat. Place a medium pot over medium heat.
- Finely chop the onion. (This can be done in a food processor as well.) To the large pot add the olive oil and chopped onion. Saute until translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Lay a down a piece of parchment paper the same size as your cutting board. Lay out the two boneless, skinless chicken breasts and season generously with oregano, salt and pepper. Lay another piece of parchment over the chicken. Pound the chicken out until it is about ½-inch thick. Place the chicken in the preheated cast iron pan. Cook about 5 minutes per side. When cooked, remove from pan, let rest about 3 minutes and then slice.
- While the chicken is cooking, add the couscous to the medium pan and pour the kettle water over until the couscous is generously covered. Boil the couscous for about 8 minutes, then drain and rinse.
- Add the stock and the bay leaf to the onions. Place a lid on the pot, turn to high and bring to a boil.
- While chicken, couscous and broth are cooking, wash and dry fresh dill.
- Rinse peas under warm warm in sieve and place in a small bowl.
- To assemble: Place boiling broth on a wooden serving board (on a trivet if necessary) and remove bay leaf. Drain couscous and put in small serving bowl with a spoon. Add spinach, escarole, dill and lemons to serving board. Add peas to board.
- To serve: Have people add couscous, chicken and greens to their liking to their individual bowls. Ladle hot broth over and garnish with fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon.
Looking for More 20-Minute Meal Ideas?
- Vegetarian Potato & Cauliflower Curry
- Coconut & Bean Soup with Crostini Bar
- The Big Banh Mi Sandwich
- Or check out our entire 20-Minute Meal gallery for more ideas!
Lisa Bolton is the creator, writer and photographer behind Food Well Said, her blog about bringing thoughtfully prepared, whole food recipes. She lives in the Lower Mainland of BC and you can reach her on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.