Last week, I was morbidly ill (read: I had a cold) and all I wanted was some soup. As my sinuses revolted against the benevolent patron who regularly treats them to ginger tea and essential oil diffusers, I writhed about in bed pining for nothing more than a steaming bowl of broth into which I could plunge my face and dissolve my affliction.
As pretty much all children of immigrants know quite well, a good bowl of soup has serious therapeutic powers. Hot stock and chopped vegetables can cure anything, making it the drug of choice for grandmothers and Greek diner waitresses around the world.
And it’s not all placebo; a quick Googling will prove that there’s serious science behind the power of soup. For one, salts and other electrolytes in broth do wonders for your hydration. Warm homemade stock with a good gelatin content can coat your throat and soothe a cough. Plus, the signature flavors of certain cuisines’ soups (like ginger, turmeric and more) can qualify as so-called superfoods and provide a real boost to your immune system.
So you can understand why I was so disappointed to be without this globally revered restorative last week. Hoped as I did, no knight in shining armor, mounted upon his noble Blue Jay Shuttle, appeared on the horizon to deliver a gently reinvigorating bowl to my door.
Therefore, tragically enough, I had to manage on my own. Half-awake, I sauntered down to the kitchen and emptied the bag of vegetable scraps I keep in the freezer (which is especially clutch in moments like this) into a pot of cold water. I added kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms for some body, a splash of sake, some bay leaves and a tiny palm of black peppercorns for extra flavor. I also tossed in a few star anise pods as a sort of allusion to pho, that undefeated elixir in which this somewhat reluctant vegan can no longer indulge.
After the broth simmered away for a few hours, I strained it before adding some chunked up turnips and sweet potatoes, seasoning it with soy sauce and brown rice vinegar and cooking it long enough to tenderize the vegetables.
The addition of some noodles made it a more complete meal, but it wasn’t enough to assuage my resentment at my friends’ failure to deliver the goods sooner. So this week, I’m sharing a student-friendly recipe for chicken noodle soup, the great granddaddy of sick-day meals.
You don’t need much more than a whole chicken (they sell them for dirt cheap at Eddie’s), a few basic vegetables and water. You can sub in or out whatever feels right to you (for instance, I like fennel in place of celery in the broth and always add turnips to the final product), but this basic formula is a good place to start. So the next time you, your roommate or your significant other falls victim to a freshman plague, head to the kitchen and whip this up.
Chicken Noodle Soup
1 medium carrot, scrubbed clean and cut into large chunks
2 ribs of celery, cut into large chunks
1 medium yellow onion, halved
3 cloves of garlic
1 bunch of parsley
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1 whole chicken
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into coins
1/2 lb. any type of noodle, but I like smaller dry pasta like ditalini or orzo
Make the broth. Combine the carrot chunks, celery, onion, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns, chicken and four quarts of cold water in a large pot and bring it to a boil. As it rises, skim the nasty, cloudy scum off the top and discard to keep the broth from becoming murky. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer with some vigor for about an hour and a half.
Then, remove the chicken and strain the rest of the broth through a fine mesh sieve, lightly pressing on the vegetables with a spoon to extract the flavor but being careful not to pass them through. Refrigerate the broth for a couple hours.
Once the chicken is completely cool, pick the meat off the bones and season it with salt and pepper. It shouldn’t be as well seasoned as a roast chicken or chicken salad, but it should be close.
Once the broth is cool, skim the fat off the top. Use that reserved fat to lightly sauté the carrot coins in a large pot with a little bit of salt until they are fairly soft. Add the broth, season with salt and bring it to a boil before adding the pasta and cooking to your liking. If you’re a try-hard, boil the pasta most of the way in a separate pot of water before adding it to the soup. Add the chicken to warm it through and serve with parsley leaves as a garnish.