Soup Is Good for What Ails You
Chicken Soups for the Cold Season

– 3/24/2001

Some foods are good for the body and the soul. Just thinking about homemade chicken soup conjures up all sorts of good memories.

Feeling a cold coming on? Make mine chicken soup, please, with some noodles. Feeling well? How about a robust soup, with lots of colorful vegetables, chunks of chicken and big noodles?

Is this making you hungry? There’s an easy remedy. Cook up a pot of chicken soup yourself. It’s easy, inexpensive and offers the added benefits of little fat and lots of nutrients.

Will it cure a cold? Probably not; at least its fabled curative powers have yet to be confirmed under controlled laboratory conditions. But while lacking hard evidence, there are still many believers in the power of chicken soup.

After more than 15 years of treating winter colds in rural Pennsylvania, Tom Weida, M.D., says he’s become convinced that one of the best remedies for colds is also one of the oldest: a steaming bowl of chicken soup.

The use of chicken soup to fight colds has been traced to the 12th century, when Moses Maimonides, a rabbi and physician in Egypt, prescribed soup made from a fat hen to relieve a cold. Today some call this remedy “Jewish penicillin”.

In China chicken soup is considered a strong tonic for reducing your susceptibility to disease and for bringing mind, body and spirit into harmony. But don’t wait till you get a cold to make chicken soup. Make it because it’s good and good for you.

Tips for making soup

Whether the bird (chicken or turkey) you start with is whole or in parts’or is what’s left of dinner’you can make a soup that satisfies your body and your soul. The first step is to make the flavorful liquid base. In professional cooking circles, it’s called a broth when it starts with fresh meat, and a stock when bones yield a more gelatinous texture.

* Keep it simple or make it fancy. If you want to wrap herbs into a bouquet garni, feel free. But if you want a lot of flavor without a lot of fuss, garlic, carrot, celery and onion do just fine. Add peppercorns if you like. Don’t add salt at this point; serve it at the table. Some recipes suggest using the giblets. Many cooks skip that’but do drop in the neck.

* Strain it when it contains bones. Better to toss the bits, clarify your broth and cook new vegetables in it before you serve it.

* Cool it. This is the best way to get the fat out of your soup. When you let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, all the fat rises to the top and congeals. When it’s cold, you can just scrape off the yellow fat.

* Use your noodles separately. If you like your soup with lots of broth, don’t put your cooked noodles in until you’re ready to serve. Noodles’and rice, too’will soak up the soup.

* Suit yourself. When you’re ready to serve your soup, think about what it looks like. Broth by itself is pale, almost colorless. Noodles and chicken pieces add texture but not brightness. That’s OK if you’re not feeling well, because a cold or flu just needs the warm comfort and simple nourishment. But when you’re well, you’ll want the whole, colorful palette of vegetables and all the vitamins and minerals they provide. Carrots have beta carotene, mushrooms add niacin (one of the basic B vitamins), tomatoes add C, onions and celery put fiber into the pot. Broccoli, spinach, string beans or peas have the vitamin virtuosity of greens. You get the idea.

* Make it on your time. How long do you cook it? Until it looks like soup. If you’re using a whole fresh chicken, after about two hours it will start to slide off the bone and there will be enough flavor in the pot. If it’s carcass soup, you may want to let it simmer longer, till you have total meltdown.

* Save it for when you need it. Freeze some soup in one-cup containers for recipes that call for soup as an ingredient. Some cooks make soup cubes in ice trays.

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