The soup season
Rural people understand that whatever season you are currently enjoying, you always need to be working on a plan for the season to come. I’m not being too much of an alarmist to say that in the midst of enjoying fall colors, one needs to be making preparations for winter.
For me that includes seeing that I have everything on hand for that most powerful weapon in combating the winter-time ailments: chicken soup. Yes, the time is now to lay in supplies to call on when you start to develop that tell-tale tickle at the back of your throat, when everyone around you is coughing and wheezing, or you just feel dragged down by long nights and short days. Here are the basics: A large, whole chicken. Chuck it in the freezer until you need it.
A large onion and four cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped, put in a baggie and freeze.
A bunch of thyme and bunch of rosemary. These can be found in the coolers in the produce section. Toss them in the baggie with the onion and garlic.
A bag of kale or spinach. Chop it up, put it in a plastic bag and freeze it.
Two large sweet potatoes. These should keep in a cool dry place for several months.
Ground ginger and a bottle of lemon juice. These will keep fine in your pantry.
When you or someone you have care of starts feeling under the weather, it is time for a soup day. Put the chicken in a large, heavy stock pot. Add water to cover it by an inch. Add the onions, garlic, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down until barely simmering and let it cook for about two hours, or until the chicken can be poked apart at the joints with a large spoon.
Set a colander over a large metal bowl and empty the stockpot into it. Rinse out the pot and pour the strained broth back into it and return to low heat. Remove the chicken from the bones, chop and set aside. Put the bone and gristle into the broth and let it simmer uncovered for about an hour.
Remove the broth from the heat and pour through a mesh strainer into a bowl, then return the strained broth to the pot on low heat. Taste your broth. If it seems watery, let it simmer down for a while. Add a tablespoon of ground ginger. Taste it. Add more ginger if you like. Add about two tablespoons of lemon juice. Taste, etc. Last of all, add salt, ½ teaspoon at a time, until it seems about right.
Peel and dice the sweet potatoes, adding them to the broth at a low simmer. Add handfuls of chopped kale until it seems correct. Cover the pot and cook the vegetables until they are soft. Your soup is now ready.
You now have a large pot of soup and a container of chopped chicken meat, which gives you many options, depending on the variety of sick you are treating. If your stomach is upset, drinking the broth alone will provide liquid nourishment while giving comfort from the lemon and ginger. If you can handle a light meal, the broth with vegetables is very sustaining. If you want heartier sustenance, add in some of the chopped chicken. If there are just one or two people in your household, this system provides basic food for several days of broth, soup, chicken burritos, chicken salad, etc. and you can have a break from cooking duties.
Since I like to make this soup quite often through the winter months, I have come on many ways to vary the flavors. Since we now have 40 quarts of salsa canned and stored in our pantry (yes, that was me bragging), one quick and dirty way to make soup is to boil up the chicken all on its own (minus the onion, garlic and herbs), then dump a pint or more of salsa into the strained broth. Once you have the broth tasting right, add a can of small white beans and pasta, simmering until the noodles are soft.
Another variation: simmer the chicken with onion and garlic, but not thyme or rosemary, then season the strained broth with smoked paprika and chili powder, a teaspoon at a time until it tastes right. Vegetables like carrots and pumpkin or squash go well with this broth.
Again, simmer chicken with onion and garlic, but not thyme or rosemary. Dissolve miso paste (found in cooler in natural foods/ethnic section) into the strained broth, or add soy sauce until it has an agreeable flavor. Celery, sweet potatoes, carrots pair well with this broth.
Sally Rasmussen lives in rural Taylor County with her husband, Tom.