Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Chicken Soup: my favorite cold-busting food

A nasty cold had my toddler and me both feeling miserable a couple days ago. Desperate for something to soothe my sore throat, I scrounged through my kitchen hoping to find the ingredients for some chicken-noodle soup. I had most of the classic ingredients but no noodles or carrots, so I crafted this flavorful and healthy chicken & barley soup instead. This made my sore throat feel so much better, and tasted wonderful too. Homemade soup is infinitely preferable to canned alternatives, which are loaded with additives, MSG, and too much salt. This chicken soup is really easy, too -- perfect for days when you feel crummy and don't want to do a lot of work in the kitchen.

Use this basic recipe to craft your own version of delicious homemade chicken soup. The key cold-busting ingredients are fresh chicken, chicken stock, onion, and fresh crushed garlic. Chicken meat and chicken stock are loaded with zinc (a powerful immune booster) and cysteine, an amino acid that helps break up mucus. I prefer to use chicken thighs because they have slightly more fat than the breast, which makes the soup a little heartier and more flavorful. Onions are a good source of quercetin (a strong antiviral) and immune-boosting vitamin C. Fresh garlic contains allicin, which is another powerful antiviral / antibacterial compound. Veggies, spices, and grains (like wild rice or barley) add additional flavors and healthy nutrients.

This recipe yields about 5 servings, but you can stretch it out by adding more stock or water. It can be made ahead and saved in the freezer; allow it to thaw on the counter or in the fridge before reheating it over low heat on the stove. Skip the microwave for this one -- microwaving destroys many of the beneficial micronutrients that make this homemade soup effective against viruses.


1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces
1-2 tbsp olive oil, butter, or other fat
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, crushed
1 quart chicken stock
2 cups water

Optional Ingredients

3-4 ribs celery, chopped
1-2 carrots or parsnips, chopped
marjoram, rosemary, and/or thyme
1/2 cup barley, rice, or short noodles


1. In a large soup pot, heat 1 tbsp of fat over high heat. (I used leftover bacon fat, but butter or oil may be used instead). Add the chicken pieces to the pot and lightly salt them. Brown for 4 minutes, then flip and cook for 2-4 minutes. Do not stir while browning -- the burnt bits on the bottom of the pan add a significant amount of flavor, richness, and color to the soup.

2. Remove the chicken to a bowl, but reserve the fat in the pot. If there isn't any fat left in the pot, add one more tbsp.

3. Over medium heat, add the onion and any other vegetables. Cook for 4-5 minutes until softened but not browned, stirring regularly. Add the crushed garlic and spices and cook one more minute until fragrant. (Recommended spicing: 1/2 tsp ground marjoram, 1 tsp dried rosemary or one sprig fresh, 1/2 tsp dried thyme or two sprigs fresh).

4. Add 1 quart chicken stock and 2 cups water, scraping the bottom of the pot to incorporate the browned bits into the soup.

5. Add the cooked chicken back into the pot. Bring the soup up to a boil, then reduce heat to med-low so the soup is simmering.

6. If desired, add dried barley, rice, or pasta to the soup. Cook time will vary depending on the type of grain / pasta added. Short noodles will take about 15 additional minutes. Barley or wild rice will take about 45 additional minutes. Look at the package and use the cook time as a guideline.

7. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning if needed.


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