Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Savory, Hearty, Chicken Soup

My mother was, and still is, a big soup maker. In the winter, I would come home from school and was hit with the smell of chicken soup (or fresh chili) wafting through the house. My friends loved to come over because of this. Who wouldn't want to trudge home through a cold Chicago winter, fending off the odd snowball, slipping on black ice, welcomed by a bowl of steaming soup?

At school, we would decide which house to go to afterward: "Well, what's your mother making for dinner?" I don't know, there is probably some soup, though. "Okay, let's go." Sure enough, the first question out of my mother's mouth was whether we wanted a bowl. Second question: with noodles, rice or both (and sometimes matzah balls were listed). We would scramble upstairs to the loft, enjoying our Saved By The Bell. Seconds later, a tray full of hot soup with oyster crackers and a cup of cold milk was served. If the soup was too hot, I would add the milk to my soup, creating creamy delight.

In my house, extra broth was always frozen and incorporated into later soups, or warmed when my brothers or I fell ill. I still follow this trend of always keeping frozen, serving size containers of soup around-- they are great to bring to work for lunch, in a pinch at mealtime, or to gift to a sick friend. And now, I have added to my own soup madness: I freeze vegetable juice, to incorporate into my soups. I know, this sounds strange, but it is a fabulous flavor booster for the soup maker. Consider this: when steaming artichokes or boiling beets you hold the remnants of a fabulous vegetable bouillon.

What do you do? Usually, it is thrown down the sink. Or perhaps incorporated into a salad dressing? I hate seeing that good juice go to waste. Instead of down the drain, my vegetable juice goes into a large container in the freezer, all mixed up: beets, artichokes, carrots... When I make soup, I toss 1-2 frozen juice containers into the mix, voilĂ : vegetable bouillon. Combine this with some succulent chicken and you have an amazingly tasty meaty soup broth that is extra hearty and full of otherwise wasted vitamins.

This soup is sure to keep you healthy for the remaining winter. The smell along will heal you with memories of youth. I made mine so hearty that rice, noodle or matzah ball has no place to fit. The secret in soup, like braising, is to let it cook as long as possible. It is done when the meat falls right off the bone (making cleaning a cinch).

Another hint to make soup-making easy: when I buy carrots and celery I cut it all into sticks when I bring it home and store it in tupperware, in water, in the refrigerator. I also save the leafy top of the celery stalk to throw into my soups. This makes snacking on these vegetables quick and easy, and further cutting a breeze.

Makes about 12 servings, 14 quarts. Prep time= 20 min. Cook time= 3+ hours
* 2 lbs whole chicken with bones, the bones hold the flavor in broth. You can buy whole and cut the chicken into pieces or purchase already separated.
* 2 Tbl butter or olive oil
* 1 large white onion
* 3 cloves garlic
* 5 celery stalks, cut into bite size pieces (include celery leaves and any extra if you have them)
* 5 carrots, cut into bite size pieces
* 1 turnip, cut into bite size pieces (a turnip provides soup with a slight sweetness)
* 2 parsnips, cut into bite size pieces
* 1 tomato, cut in half (my mother would always discard this before serving the soup, she said it collected the fat. I don’t know if this is true, but it must add flavor)
* 4-6 bay leaves
* 1 Tbl of any or all of the following: fresh ground pepper; thyme; oregano; basil; celery seeds; or any other tasty green herb
* 6 cups beet juice or leftover juices from other vegetables (if none is available substitute water)
* water (fill a 16 quart pot about 1-inch under the rim)

1) In a 16-quart pot, on medium heat, melt butter. Add onions, garlic and chicken. Brown the chicken about 8 minutes on both sides.
2) Add remaining vegetables, herbs and juice/ water. Cover and bring contents to a boil (will take about 20 minutes). Turn heat down slightly, crack the lid, allow to simmer for 3+ hours. The longer the soup simmers, the more flavor will escape from the bones.
3) Remove bones and celery leaves. Season with salt and fresh pepper per serving. Add rice, noodles, matzah balls, crackers, etc.

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