Ever wonder why, when dinner is ready, whether the meal includes soup or not, the cook exclaims, “Soup’s on”?
Soup – a course as metaphor. Nourishment and comfort in a bowl.
Our language is replete with soup idioms. A facility to feed the hungry and poor is a soup kitchen. A revved up car is “souped up.” If it has it all, it’s “got everything from soup to nuts.” A real cinch is “easy as duck soup.” And when you’re in the thick of it, you’re “in the soup.”
Soup is mysterious, deep and alluring – think witch’s brew and blinding fog – the giver of life from whence we come, the prehistoric primordial soup. And don’t even get me started on the whole Chicken Soup for the Soul series.
Say the word “soup” and instantly that tummy warmer from childhood comes to mind. The steaming bowl of tomato soup my mother fed me when I was sick. Holiday dinners with Aunt Irene’s matzo balls or Aunt Sally’s kreplach. My mother’s incredible chicken soup.
And incredible it is. Shortly after my cookbook was published, I found this message on my answering machine from my friend Diane Weiss in New Jersey: “Judy? I just made your mother’s chicken soup, and my whole family is standing around the pot slurping with a straw!”
I know. I know. You think your mother’s chicken soup is the best. Well, it’s not. My mother’s is the best, and here’s why. You see, my mother adhered to the “if some is good, more is better” school of cooking. While this theory sometimes spells disaster, for chicken soup it is the method of choice. And this is one case where the method is as important as the ingredients. Here are my mother’s tips for perfect results:
1. Even if you’re not kosher, you must use kosher chickens. The jury is still out on why they taste so much better. Is it the method of killing? The freshness? The salting? The blessing? Who knows, but there really is a difference. (Note: Kosher chickens are salted, so watch that shaker!)
2. Pack it in! Oh, how my mother used to laugh when she saw chicken soup recipes from famous cookbook authors calling for a stalk of celery and two carrots. She used two pounds of carrots. In fact, she put the whole produce market in that soup, her deep golden brew, intensely flavorful, in short, an elixir of the gods. I hoard the leftovers to use instead of chicken stock (the real secret of my stuffing and gravy). Pack those vegetables into your pot, or conversely, use as little water as possible to produce the most intense flavor. Resist the temptation to get a little more soup by adding a little more water.
3. You must use fresh dill, and lots of it.
4. After cooking, reserve some carrots to be sliced into the soup later. Then squeeze the remaining vegetables well through a strainer for extra flavor. (Not like that. I mean really hard!)
I serve it with my Shiitake Mushroom Matzo Balls (for the recipe, go to www.ocjewishlife.com.), but sometimes you gotta have kreplach. I found an interesting vegetarian kreplach filling in a new cookbook by Nick Zukin and Michael C. Zusman called The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home (Andrews McMeel). As hearty as your bubbe’s brisket-filled dumplings, these kreplach get their gusto from mushrooms, just one example of the updated makeover given to our favorite deli food in this homage to the artisan “second-wave Jewish delis” that are springing up all over the country.
Lillian Bart’s Best Chicken Soup
Yield: About 3 quarts
While her exact ingredients would vary as the mood hit her, here is her recipe from a typical day.
2 chickens (3½ to 4 pounds each) with giblets (no liver), quartered
2 pounds carrots (yes, 2 pounds, not 2 carrots)
2 large onions, cut in half
5 large ribs celery with leaves, cut in half
2 large parsnips
1 small sweet potato (6 ounces), cut in half
1 turnip (6 ounces), cut in half
1 rutabaga (6 ounces), cut in half
1 small celery root, cut in half (optional)
½ large green bell pepper, stemmed and seeded
½ large yellow pepper, stemmed and seeded
2 large bunches dill, coarsely chopped (about 1½ cups)
½ bunch curly-leaf parsley (about ¼ cup)
3 cloves garlic
Kosher (coarse) salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Chopped dill, for serving (optional)
1 Place chicken in 16-quart stockpot and add water to barely cover. Bring just to boiling point. Reduce heat to simmer and skim off foam on top. Add remaining ingredients (except the optional chopped dill) and only enough water to come within about two thirds of height of chicken and vegetables in pot. (Most recipes tell you to add water to cover. Do not do this! You want elixir of the gods or weak tea? As soup cooks, vegetables will shrink and will be covered soon enough. Simmer, covered, until chicken is cooked through, about 1½ hours.
2 Remove chicken and about half the carrots, and set aside.
3 Strain soup through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot or container, pressing on the vegetables to extract all the flavor. Scrape the underside of the strainer with a rubber spatula and add pulp to soup. Discard fibrous vegetable membranes that remain in strainer. If you’re fussy about clarity (and we’re not), strain again through fine tea strainer, but there goes some of the flavor. (See NOTE.) Cover the soup and refrigerate overnight.
4 When ready to serve, scoop congealed fat off surface and discard. Reheat, adding more dill if desired (and we do). Slice reserved carrots, add to soup, and serve. Take bows.
NOTE: Wait! This just in! Last time I made the soup, I took all the itty-bitty vegetable particles from the second straining and put them in the blender with a little soup. This lighter mixture when mixed with the whole pot of soup isn’t really noticeable, but the flavor…oh, my!
Source: Cooking Jewish (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor
Yield: 1 cup (enough for about 100 kreplach)
This vegetarian-friendly filling is full of flavor and hearty enough to satisfy any appetite. If it’s available, porcini powder adds a distinctive deep earthiness to the mix. Find it at Italian or gourmet grocers or online. For the dough recipe, go to www.ocjewishlife.com.
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stem ends trimmed and sliced or coarsely chopped
¼ large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon porcini mushroom powder (optional)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 In bowl of food processor, process mushrooms, onion, garlic, porcini mushroom powder, if using, salt, thyme, coriander and pepper until mixture is evenly and very finely chopped.
2 Place medium skillet over medium-high heat and add oil. When pan is hot and oil begins to shimmer, add mushroom mixture. Cook, stirring occasionally until mushrooms release their liquid and liquid evaporates, leaving moist paste but no puddling in the pan, about 10 minutes. Use immediately; or cool, transfer to airtight container, and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month.
Source: The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home by Michael C. Zusman and Nick Zukin