My hairdresser asked me why I lived in Dallas. “You’re not like most of the Dallasites I know,” he said. “In fact, when I first met you, I figured you’d move back to New York after six months.”
Yet I’m still here, almost five years after arriving in the spring of 2019. While my choice has been curious to many, I always explain that Dallas is where I was born. I am a Dallas native. Also, both sides of my family have been in the area for multiple generations, with the majority still here. My Dallas roots are deep and strong. We have a history together.
That said, because my immediate family moved to Houston when I was nine, for many years I was considered a Houstonian, where my mom still lives today. While I do love Houston very much, I opted not to return because of the weather. Though I do enjoy visiting and will always hold the city in my heart.
Austin was the last Texas city I called home before moving to New York in 1995. Back then, it was celebrated for being laid-back and quirky, a vibe personified in movies such as Richard Linklater’s Slacker. These days, however, it’s become a more crowded, ambitious place.
After 24 years in New York City, that kind of fast-paced energy is not unusual to me. But one of the reasons I left Manhattan was to savor a more balanced way of life. Current-day Austin no longer fits that bill. Though like Houston, I also love to visit.
While I pondered moving to other Texas cities such as San Antonio and El Paso, because of my strong ties to Dallas, I ultimately chose it because I wanted to get to know it better. Even though we left when I was young, I have fond memories of my time here from my early years. And I was ready to make new memories now that I’m older.
One of my favorite books when I was a young Dallasite was Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak. It’s a story that celebrates the joys of a hot bowl of chicken soup throughout the year.
My family is no stranger to chicken soup, but they’ve always prepared theirs with noodles, not rice, which was part of the book’s allure. Since the author was based in New York, I just figured that was how New Yorkers ate their chicken soup. To a young person, it seemed quite glamorous.
That said, I didn’t encounter much chicken soup with rice when I lived in New York. And I’d never cooked chicken soup with rice myself until recently. Rice isn’t my favorite grain, which may explain my reluctance. However as I get older, I do enjoy it more. And a warm bowl of chicken soup is always a pleasure.
Here’s my version of chicken soup with rice, where I make a basic chicken broth and then stir in a salsa puree. It’s not too spicy but the tomatoes, aromatics, spices, and jalapeños add a familiar layer of flavor.
The rice absorbs these ingredients as it cooks in the soup, and after it becomes tender, the blend of meat, broth, and rice is like arroz con pollo in liquid form. It’s a savory and warm comforting bowl that, like myself, is perhaps not typical but still a welcome native of my hometown.
Chicken soup with rice, Dallas-style
For the chicken broth:
- 2- pounds chicken thighs with bone and skin
- 1 celery rib
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¼ medium yellow onion
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ lime
- 4 cups water
For the soup:
- 2 plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ medium yellow onion
- 1 jalapeno, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
- 1 cup water
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ¼ cup long-grain uncooked rice
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
To make the broth, place the chicken, celery, garlic, onion, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and lime in a pot and cover with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
When the broth is done, turn off the heat. With tongs, remove the chicken from the pot and place it in a mixing bowl.
Strain the broth, throw out the vegetables, wipe out the pot, and then pour the broth back into the pot. You should have about 4 cups of broth.
Meanwhile, for the soup, turn on the broiler and place a rack 6 inches from the heating element.
Place the tomatoes seed-side up on a sheet. Place under the broiler and cook for 15 minutes. After this time, add the garlic, onion, and jalapeño to the sheet with the tomatoes, and cook for 10 more minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven. Place the vegetables in a blender.
When the blender contents are no longer steaming, about 10 minutes, puree the vegetables. Scrape out the tomato blend and add to the soup pot with the strained broth. Pour 1 cup water into the blender and swirl around to get any remaining bits and then pour this into the soup pot, too.
Stir into the soup pot the cilantro, cumin, oregano, and rice. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes or until the rice is fluffy and tender.
Meanwhile, when the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin, pick the meat off the bones, and either shred or cut it into bite-sized pieces. Sprinkle the chicken with salt to taste, then add to the soup pot while the rice is cooking. (Since the chicken is cooked, it’s not necessary to add it when you add the rice. You could also make the chicken and broth a day ahead if you prefer.)
Once the rice is cooked, stir in the lime juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Serve warm.
If you want to take a shortcut, you can replace the homemade broth with 4 cups prepared, and stir in 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken.