Soup!
chicken_soup (17K)

We have all seen the commercials: you come inside soaking wet from the rain (or snow) and there, beckoning to you from a distance, is a glistening bowl of steaming hot soup! While most of us find it convenient to get that comfort from a can, it is less expensive, more gratifying and more healthful to make the soup yourself.

Think about it - every culture has a recipe for soup. Soup is a meal unto itself and you can put just about anything in it. It is warm, comforting, easy to eat - isn't chicken soup the perfect antidote for the common cold? Soup can be served hot or cold. It can be very simple or very complex. It is "peasant food" and high cuisine at the same time.

In my opinion, one of the most healing elements of soup is in its preparation. You can split the duties between your family or friends and make an afternoon of it. My friends and I used to make a giant pot of soup every Saturday. We would meet at the farmers' market and buy whatever we needed. Then, after everything was ready, we got to enjoy the aromas coming from the kitchen while we waited. When the soup was done, we would split it up and take it home (of course, we had to have a small bowl together - you should always taste your food before you present it to your guests!). Voila - one dinner is done for the week (with enough to freeze for another day). Pair soup with a salad and a loaf of good bread and you are set!

Here's another thing - commercially prepared soups have extra things in them that you really don't need to eat. They start out with good stuff (chicken stock, white chicken meat, carrots) but need to use other "ingredients" to keep costs down (hydrolyzed wheat gluten, soy protein concentrate, flavoring). You know what's in the soup when you make it, and there is one ingredient they can't put in a can - love.

Armed with a few extras, making soup can be a breeze. For example, a purist will make their own stock (check the recipe section for stock recipes) but there are quite a few commercially prepared broths on the market that will work just fine. Look for these items when you are shopping for sales and stock up periodically (make sure to buy a low sodium version). I always have a can or two on hand.

Parents - here's one more thing. I have had many opportunities to cook for (and with) young people and know how challenging their palates can be. I have found that kids are more inclined to try new foods if they have helped you cook them. I am not saying this is a magic bullet but it works in small increments. Don't tell them I told you, though.

Following is a recipe for one of the most fundamental soups on the planet.

Chicken Soup
Makes 6 servings as a main course

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon of canola oil
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
6 cups chicken stock (or broth)
2 zucchini, diced
1 1/2 pounds of chicken (white or dark meat), cooked, cooled and diced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 scallions (green part only) sliced thin, optional

Directions

1. Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and add the canola oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Reduce the heat to low and cook the vegetables until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to keep vegetables from burning.

2. Add the bay leaf, thyme, and chicken stock. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil. As soon as the soup begins to boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook the vegetables for about 10 minutes. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface.

3. Add the zucchini and chicken, cook for about 7 - 10 minutes more (zucchini should be just cooked through). Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig (if used) and discard. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt!). Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the parsley and green onion and serve.

Variations

- For a heartier soup, add cooked noodles, cooked potato cubes, or cooked rice before serving.

- For a meatless version, substitute vegetable stock and omit the chicken. Add some diced tofu at the end for a little extra protein.

- Feel free to add other vegetables (corn, beans, diced tomatoes). If using, add to the soup with the zucchini and chicken (step 3).

- I avoid using peas as they have a tendency to sour in the soup during storage (although you can cook them separately, put them in the serving bowls, and pour the soup over them).

Chicken Stock

Ingredients

2 (3-pound) chickens
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
4 carrots, peeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
2 parsnips, peeled and cut in half, optional
2 bay leaves
1/2 bunch fresh parsley sprigs
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns

Directions

Place the chickens, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and seasonings in a 16 to 20-quart stockpot. Add 12 cups of cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. Skim the foam that rises to the top with a ladle every 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain the entire contents of the pot through a mesh strainer into a clean pot. Drain well and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove and discard the fat that forms on the surface. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months.

Vegetable Stock

Ingredients

2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 medium yellow onions, large dice
2 medium leeks, green and white parts, well washed, rough chopped
2 cups mushroom trimmings, wiped clean
1 cup large dice carrots
1 cup large dice celery
2 cups turnips, large dice
1 cup large dice parsnips
6 Roma tomatoes, quartered
1 fennel bulb, trimmed, scrubbed, and quartered
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 gallon water
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons dried
8 parsley stems
2 bay leaves

Directions

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and add oil. Add all vegetables and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened but not browned, about 5 - 6 minutes.. Add water (just to cover) and herbs, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Skim occasionally to remove any foam that rises to the surface.
Remove from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Use immediately or cool in an ice bath, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days. (The stock can be frozen for up to 3 months.)