Flu and cold season already has arrived at my house. After being laid up on the couch all weekend with a scratchy throat, aching head and the sniffles, all I wanted was a hot bowl of chicken soup.
Nothing out of a can or a box would do, and I wasn’t interested in anything from the takeout counter. I wanted homemade soup and it was up to me to make it.
Truth be told, it’s so easy I can’t imagine why anyone would buy chicken soup. Even someone as unsteady and fuzzy-brained as I was can make her own as long as there are a few staples in the pantry, some basic veggies in the fridge and chicken parts in the freezer.
If you have a food processor, you don’t even have to chop anything.
Everyone knows chicken soup is good for you. Scientists have studied it and doctors recommend it. Invalids crave it. But it really needs to be homemade if you’re to get the anti-inflammatory effect found by University of Nebraska researchers in 2000. And it needs plenty of vegetables.
I decided to pump up the nutrition by throwing in a handful of garlic and a bunch of dark leafy greens. Garlic strengthens the body’s immune system and the greens are packed with anti-oxidants. Not incidentally, they tasted great.
I wish I could say I had homemade stock waiting in the freezer. Instead, I had a box of commercial stock in the pantry, which I used to boost flavor. Chicken soup can be pretty pallid if you just use a few chicken parts–thighs in this case–and water. The packaged stock gives you a head start and cuts the cooking time. Just be sure to get a low sodium brand.
Everything gets thrown into the pot and is allowed to simmer until the flavors blossom and meld. If you feel up to it, you can pull the chicken out, remove the skin and tear the meat into shreds. Otherwise, give your fellow diners knives and forks to cut the poultry up themselves.
Emergency preparedness experts advise us all to maintain a stockpile of food and water in case of disaster. To their list, I’d add the makings for chicken soup.
1 32-ounce box of reduced sodium chicken stock
4 cups water
2 medium leeks, white and pale green parts, sliced
or 1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, scrubbed and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and roughly chopped
4 chicken thighs, skin on
or 1-2 pounds of the chicken part of your choice
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon peppercorns
Salt and pepper as needed
1 small bunch of leafy greens (I used beet greens but spinach or chard would work)
½ cup small pasta or spaghetti broken into 1-inch lengths
In a 4-6 quart pot, bring stock and water to a boil, then lower heat until liquid is bubbling steadily. Add vegetables, chicken, bay leaf and peppercorns. (You can tie the bay leaf and peppercorns in cheese cloth–I use a large mesh tea ball–or just fish them out when you eat.) Raise the heat, if necessary, to a lazy simmer. Skim off any foam rising to the top and partially cover the pot. Simmer for 40 minutes to an hour, until the vegetables are tender and the thighs are thoroughly cooked.
Remove chicken parts from soup and allow to cool. Remove and bones and discard. Shred meat and reserve.
Meanwhile, add greens to broth and cook until they begin to wilt. Add pasta and cook 4-6 minutes, until al dente, and stir in shredded chicken.