Chicken Soup for the Sick Buddha’s Soul: Soto Ayam

Today’s recipe couldn’t have come at a better time.

As I started making this soup, or Soto Ayam, on Sunday, my mouth watered in excitement like Pavlov’s dog upon hearing a ringing bell. The aroma that filled my kitchen, a mixture of lemongrass, ginger, garlic and shallots, took me back to those days when my family visited my aunt and uncle in Pittsburgh. My quirky-yet-loveable Auntie May, Burmese to the core, would whip up dish after dish of fabulousness that shared a lot of the same flavors prevalent in Indonesia.  They were tastes that I didn’t get very often at home, so they were definitely a real treat.  This soup reminded me of those times.

Soto, considered by some to be the national dish of Indonesia, is that country’s answer to chicken soup. There are a ton of variations, and can be made with any protein (or innards), with or without coconut milk, rice, noodles or potatoes, and your pick of vegetables.

Like most soups that I make from scratch, this took me two days merely because I like to let the fat rise out of homemade broths. Like this:



This is completely unnecessary and, if you don’t have the time to make stock from scratch, you can easily do this with store bought broth and chicken.

So, why is this soup, hot in both flavor and temperature, perfect for a late July day? Well…yesterday I found myself stricken with one of those annoying summer colds. You know, the kind that come out of nowhere and hits you like a brick.  And what’s the perfect food when you’re sick? Mom’s chicken soup.

Well, because soups like this soto are just as much a part of my childhood as mom’s, I wasn’t settling to swap out a bowl of this for mom’s recipe.  In fact, it may have helped even more, since the added kick of chili peppers did wonders for clearing my sinuses.

Now that I got the food covered, I just need someone to come over and serve it to me with a side of Kleenex. Any takers?

Recipe adapted from The Cooking Nook


1 small chicken (about 3 pounds)

2 tsp salt, or to taste

½ TB vegetable or coconut oil

4 shallots, chopped

2 stalks fresh lemon grass, bottom 4-5 inches only, crushed

lemon grassI’ve never used lemon grass before. Does this look crushed?

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 inch piece of ginger, crushed

½ tsp black peppercorns

¼ tsp turmeric

6 cups chicken broth, or water to make the broth

1 cup dried mung bean threads

2 TB soy sauce

½ TB red chili sauce

½ tsp sugar

4 scallions, thinly sliced

2 hard boiled eggs, chopped

1 leek, sliced

1 lemon, juiced, plus  more to garnish


1.  Wash the chicken, rub with salt and set aside.

2.  Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the shallots, lemon grass, garlic, ginger, black pepper and turmeric. Cook, stirring constantly, until the aroma is apparent, about 30 seconds.  Remove from heat.

3.  Combine the water and remaining salt with the chicken and shallot mixture in a soup pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes. Skim often and remove the foam that rises to the surface during simmering.

4.  Remove the chicken from the broth and, when cool enough to handle, remove the bones from the chicken, return to the broth and simmer for another hour.  Meanwhile, dice the chicken meat and set aside.

5.  It was at this point that I put the cooled broth to sit in the fridge overnight. You don’t have to do this. If you skip this step, strain the broth in a fine sieve.

brothLook at the color of this stock. Awesome.

6.  Add the soy sauce, chili paste and sugar to the broth.

7.  Add the chicken, bean sprouts, leeks, scallions, chopped eggs and lemon juice to the broth.  Bring to a simmer until the veggies are soft, about 30 minutes.

8.  Serve with a squeeze of lemon and an additional sprinkling of chili flakes, if desired.



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