By Marcia Pilgeram
It’s been a tough start to the new year for a few of my friends. Some are down with chronic winter colds; and, sadder, a couple of close pals have been diagnosed with medical conditions that require surgery, so I’ve been busy cooking some batches of healing foods.
I know food is always appreciated, and I spend a lot of time choosing meals that will help heal and offer comfort. When I have significant worries, cooking quells my anxiety, which is a healing process for me.
Most of us will agree we have certain foods that make us feel better, right? For me, it’s dry packaged Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup Mix. When I was young and under the weather, my mother prepared it with a beaten egg swirled in at the last minute. She served it with lightly toasted Wonder Bread fingers that I dunked in the broth. When I’m sick, I don’t feel like spending time cooking for myself. To this day, you’ll find two or three familiar red-and-white boxes stashed in my cupboard. Whether it’s nature or nurture, or a combination of both, it never fails to make me feel better (and miss my mother, still).
Soup has been around since 20,000 BCE. It always comes to mind thousands of years and thousands of recipes later when we want to nourish others. Many of us have family recipes we cherish. If not, don’t worry. The internet is ripe with soup recipes, and you’ll find numerous soup groups on Facebook boasting millions of members. I think we’ll also agree that nearly all of us love soup!
Typically, during my travels, I search for the traditional soups of the area. I discovered ajiaco, a Colombian chicken stew, on a visit to Bogota, and still remember the taste of the silky, warm avocado topping the thick soup. Twenty-some years later, during Hurricane Katrina cleanup, I learned to make perfect, caramel-colored gumbo roux at a soup kitchen in Mobile, Ala. My taco soup recipe came from an old friend in Missoula, Mont., and I learned to make spicy green curry in Chang Rai, Thailand.
Curry is one of my favorite cold remedy soups. I make it frequently in the winter.
Many foods, including vegetables, healthy fats and protein sources, like eggs and poultry, help reduce inflammation, improve our immune functions and promote healing, so I often use these key ingredients when I make a batch of soup. When time permits, I start with homemade stock.
It’s not uncommon for me to have a freezer (or two) full of raw bones; and, once I have an adequate supply of one type (turkey, chicken, or beef), I start the long process of preparing bone broth (stock).
It takes a couple of days from frozen bones to a rich, clear stock. Still, it’s a beautiful and healthy base for nutritious and delicious soup or as a hot stand-alone sipping beverage (sometimes I combine beef and poultry stock for soups like French onion or Italian wedding — otherwise, I use one stock per recipe).
I use a lot of aromatic vegetables, like carrots, celery and onions (maybe peppers and garlic, too, depending on the recipe) in most soups, sautéing before adding to the stock. I don’t like to add ingredients like pasta, rice and beans if I plan on freezing, as it compromises the integrity of the component — plus, they tend to soak up a lot of broth, so I wait and add those after I thaw and reheat the soup.
I like to use small pasta shapes, like acini de pepe or orzo (and, right now, there seems to be a shortage on the pasta shelves, so if you find some, stock up) because they don’t soak up the broth.
Lemon chicken orzo soup is a favorite recipe with any tiny pasta shapes. It’s creamy, zesty and travels well. Any friend, convalescing or not, would be happy to receive a batch!
Lemon chicken orzo soup
This soup is classic and creamy. Serve with bread and butter and a glass of white wine. Add more or less lemon juice to suit your own taste. Serves 4-6.
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 celery stalks, diced
• 2 carrots, finely diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 shallot, diced
• 2 tbs flour
• 2 quarts good chicken stock
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 boneless chicken breasts
• Zest a lemon (reserve), then squeeze to equal 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
• 3 tbs butter
• 1 cup dry orzo, cooked until al dente, according to package directions
• Lemon wedges, for garnish
In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the celery, carrots, garlic and shallots, and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove and set aside.
Add the flour to the pot, stirring, then add in the stock, slowly so you won’t have lumps, and stir until all the flour is dissolved in the liquid. Add the bay leaves and thyme.
Add in the chicken, bring to a low simmer and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and let it cool.
Continue to simmer the soup for half an hour or so. Remove the thyme and bay leaves. Shred or chop the cooled chicken. Warm the serving bowls with hot water as you finish the soup.
Add in the butter to the soup, whisk, and add the lemon juice. Taste and season.
Portion the orzo and shredded chicken into 4 bowls. Ladle the soup over and garnish with thyme sprig, lemon zest, and an extra lemon wedge.
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