Friday, January 25, 2013

Chicken soup for my soul

Yes, I've been all happily spiritual and thinking curiously about the concept of souls lately, but no, I'm not writing here about the popular series of books by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

I'm talking about the real deal here: a nice pot of homemade chicken soup to heal my body and soul.

Chicken soup always hits the spot. No matter what's going on in my life or how I feel, the liquid gold warms my physical and spiritual soul. The stuff plainly makes me feel good.

What's the chicken soup recipe for success? There is no one right recipe. There are so many good ones to choose from.

Every Italian cookbook I own includes a good chicken soup recipe. I raised my children on chicken broth and pastina with Parmesan cheese.

Oh, that dish brings back great memories of my little ones dumping the bowl of slurpy goodness on their high chair tray to feed themselves their way and lick it all up clean in between warm smiles of happiness. To see that messy sight in my mind's eye brings a smile to my own face.

Sitting on my shelf is a cookbook that features chicken soups from around the world. I could read it like a bible. Through all the recipes' similarities and differences, it's apparently no secret across cultures that this comfort brew warms the soul and heals all sorts of maladies.

We all have access to a bazillion shared chicken soup recipes on the web - everyone's got a variation they deem the best.

But when I'm ready to simmer a pot myself, even though I generally love to try new recipes, I don't always crack a cookbook or search online for a new chicken soup recipe.

Usually when I need to be soothed and don't want to think too hard to put together a pot on my stovetop, I'm happy to fall back on my own standby recipe.

My recipe is nothing extraordinary. If anything, it's a pot of peasant food.

But that's what makes it so easy, special, heartwarming, and delicious to me.

I'm really into organic ingredients, so I won't label each as such in my recipe to avoid repetition, but basically, organic is a given for me. It's my lifestyle choice.

If organic ingredients aren't readily available where you live or you don't want to or can't spend the extra money (although I've noticed prices are coming down due to consumer demand), just be sure to scrub the synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers off your veggies really well before you use them.

It's better to eat this nutritious stuff grown the conventional way than to not eat it at all.

Organic chicken soup for the soul

(I should have a good picture here to motivate you to pin this recipe. Shame on me. I probably have one on my camera, but I'm a bit lazy right now. And I just cooked a pot this week and forgot to snap a pic! But I'll post this recipe anyway now and update later with a photo. For now, kindly use your imagination to visualize a beautiful pot of homemade soup!)

  • 1 or 2 pounds of boneless chicken thighs or breasts (you can use a cut-up whole chicken or chicken parts on the bone, but then you have an extra step to fish the chicken out of the pot, cool it, and de-bone it all later)
  • 1 pound of carrots (peeled baby carrots or sliced carrot coins, your preference) 
  • whole head of celery stalks, sliced in bite-sized chunks; include all the celery leaves also, but save the tender hearts (innermost celery ribs) to nibble on while your pot simmers
  • one or two large onions, chunked
  • 2 or 3 quarts of low-sodium chicken broth to cover
  • jar of tomato paste or leftover tomato sauce or diced tomatoes, whatever you prefer or are in the mood for or have in your fridge
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oregano, parsley, rosemary, bay leaves or whatever spices smell good to you and make you happy
  • egg noodles or pasta (a shape that holds the broth always works well, e.g., shells, orecchiette or try broken-up angel hair pasta, corkscrews, pastina...heck, any pasta you're in the mood for works)
  • grated Parmesan cheese for topping your hot bowl of soup
  1. Throw the chicken, carrots, celery, and onion in a large stock pot and cover with chicken broth. 
  2. Stir in tomato paste, sauce or diced tomatoes. Season to taste.
  3. Heat and simmer, uncovered, until the chicken meat falls apart easily. 
  4. Cook the noodles or pasta according to directions in its own pot of boiling water. I don't like to cook the pasta in the chicken soup since the noodles will absorb all the yummy broth.
Some recipes say to discard the veggies, that all their goodness is now in the broth. No! I couldn't do that! No good peasant cook would discard the veggies! They fill you up. And besides, I like all those chunky, bite-sized veggies in my soup.

Even though the recipe above seems loosey-goosey, it can be even more so. I change it up a bit every time I make this. This week I added a small head of cabbage to the mix, quartered and chunked. The cabbage added great flavor.

If you like mushrooms, throw some in. Try fresh green beans or corn. Whatever makes you happy at the moment. Make it your own.

Now here are the best directions of all:
  1. Fill a good-sized pasta bowl with plenty of noodles.
  2. Ladle broth, veggies, and big chunks of tender chicken over your pasta.
  3. Sprinkle loads of grated Parmesan on top.
  4. Grab a big soup spoon.
  5. Stick your head over the bowl.
  6. Inhale the steam.
  7. Slurp down your homemade goodness.
  8. Think about your mom, grandmom, or whoever made you chicken soup when you weren't feeling well. Think of someone special you make chicken soup for now.
  9. Feel the warmth of your chicken soup heal your body and soul.
  10. Enjoy the simple pleasure of a big pot of soup, some crusty bread, and life on this good earth.
  11. Share your soup with those you love, especially someone who could use some warmth and healing. 
  12. Refrigerate leftovers and relish the fact that you don't have to cook again right away since you can pull out your extra soup for the next meal or two.
Until next time, yours in healthy cooking and comfort food for your soul...Therese

P.S. Share here your secret ingredients for your own go-to chicken soup recipe. I'd love to hear all about it, foodie that I am.

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