Chicken Soup for the Soul

I’m a bit of a soup-aholic in the wintertime. It’s warm, it’s nourishing, it’s filling, and it’s easy. It’s comfort food. It works for lunch or dinner. You can make huge batches of it to last all week or freeze it for quick meals later in the month. No measuring cups required (have I mentioned I’m a taste-and-go kind of cook?) and you can add vegetables, herbs, spices, and other boosts of Healthy to your heart’s content without altering the flavor. What’s not to like?

Everyone needs a recipe for Chicken Soup. A basic, go-to, let’s start here recipe. This is that. And for my vegans and vegetarians out there, it works well as a basic vegetable or minestrone soup as well. Simply omit the chicken (sub in white beans or lentils or tempeh) and use vegetable broth. The flavor base is the same, and it’s a classic because it works.

You don’t need a lot of ingredients. Here’s what I start with:

Fresh arugula, onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, tomato paste, and shredded chicken breast. (I know. In my haste, I accidentally cut the carrots out of the photograph. They were at the bottom. Pretend they’re there).

Not a lot of stuff, but totally enough for the soup.

The only other ingredients I include that are not pictured are: chicken broth and parsley.

So here’s what you do:

1. Slice up an onion, and chop up the carrots and celery. Saute these 3 ingredients (which are a classic flavor base) in a little bit of oil at the bottom of a large pot or Dutch oven. Salt them a little. Add some pepper and garlic powder, a few good shakes. Let them sweat it out, but just a little – first date style.

2. Now it’s time to add your chicken broth. You can opt for the boxed variety (I like Pacific brand, and they now make a nice Chicken Bone broth with no “natural flavorings” which we can discuss later), or you can use homemade broth. Now I’m not going to lie to you – homemade* tastes better by a mile.

*I used to be intimidated by homemade broth – Ina Garten (aka Barefoot Contessa) uses it in her recipes all the time, and I used to watch her show and think “yeah that’s nice but one of those things I’ll never have the time to do”. And then I did it once. And again. Now I make it weekly (in the wintertime) by roasting a chicken or two every Sunday and using the meat (for things like this soup, but also for meals) and the carcass to make broth.

You can also use a rotisserie chicken if you don’t have time to roast one yourself – just make sure it’s well-sourced.

3. So now you’ve got a pot of broth with veggies swimming inside. Time to chop the tomatoes and add them to the mix. (You can even add a can of crushed tomatoes if you like more of a tomato-based soup. I actually love it like that).

4. Now you just bring it to a boil and reduce to simmer and let it go for as long as you want. Sometimes I go for an hour or two, sometimes I go longer. That slow simmer hands-off time is what marries the flavors. You don’t have to do anything here. Just don’t leave the house with the burner on. I mean, what, who does that?

5. Towards the end of your allotted simmer, you’re going to add in the shredded chicken breast, a handful of parsley*, whole big heaps of arugula, and a few tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook a little longer and your soup is pretty much done.

*I include parsley in soups because I am not otherwise a big fan of the flavor, but in soup you can’t really taste it and you get to enjoy its health benefits all the same. It is rich in Vitamin K, which aids in the absorption of Vitamin D, which most of us are deficient in, especially in the wintertime. It’s also a good kidney-flusher. And you know you need a good kidney-flushing.

And just so you know -- you can add other spices and herbs to your liking throughout this process. Or mushrooms, or peppers, or green beans. You can also cook up some rice or pasta on the side and throw that in there for a heartier, carbier meal. Or white beans (Eden Organic is my favorite canned variety) to add some creaminess. That’s the beauty of it – everything works! Do what you like. (Do that in general, even).

And guess what? If this seems too complicated for you (it really isn’t, it’s just that I used a lot of words), you can try this version: Put all ingredients in a pot or slow cooker, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, and cook for an hour or two. Seriously. It comes out pretty much the same.

Sometimes I sprinkle Pecorino on top. Most times.

Next-day soup, like most next-day recipes, tastes even better.

Now THIS is soul-food.

This one was made with rice. Pecorino melted on top. Yum.

This one was made with rice. Pecorino melted on top. Yum.

INGREDIENTS:

(Spices & oil)

6 cups chicken or vegetable broth

1 onion, sliced

6-8 carrots, chopped

1 head of celery, chopped

2 tomatoes

1 can of crushed tomatoes (optional)

1 container of organic arugula

handful of parsley

8-12oz shredded chicken breast (cooked lentils, beans, or tempeh for vegetarian)

Cooked rice, pasta, white beans, or potatoes (for optional starch)

Any other veggies** such as green beans, peas, mushrooms, etc are optional and encouraged.

Pecorino to garnish (optional)

TO MAKE:

1. In a large stockpot, sauté onions, carrots, and celery in a few tablespoons of high-heat cooking oil (I like Chosen Foods Avocado Oil). Add a generous sprinkling of salt and allow to sweat for several minutes.

2. Add generous sprinklings of pepper and garlic powder. Saute another minute or two.

3. Add broth, crushed tomatoes (if using) and bring to boil; reduce to simmer for at least an hour or until veggies are soft.

4. Add tomatoes, arugula, chicken (or alternate protein), and tomato paste; simmer for another 10 minutes.

5. If using, add in cooked rice or pasta.

5. Garnish with Pecorino (optional) and serve hot.

**When using other vegetables, be sure to add them in based on cooking time. For example, greens and frozen peas can be added closer to the end because they don’t need a lot of cooking time, whereas cauliflower or green beans may need extra time to soften. If adding potatoes, they require much more time to cook so you'll want to add them at the very beginning. Frozen vegetables can often be added towards the end just to soften and warm through.