Well, I’m home sick with a crazy cough, and I have two things on my mind: (1) OH MY GOSH I have so much to do at work this week, why couldn’t I be sick last week!?! and (2) soup.
I make a pot of soup nearly every single Sunday, which I package up into individual containers to take to work for a quick, healthy [and cheap] lunch. There’s not a firm recipe, but after making soup regularly for so many weeks I think that I could probably make a pot of soup blindfolded, or handcuffed, or with some clever speed-bump that my sicky-brain cannot think of at this very moment. I’ve been eating soup non-stop since Thursday and I’m pretty sure it is slowly working it’s healing magic.
Here are a few core principles that I make soup by:
1. I use either boneless, skinless chicken breasts or ground turkey. I don’t have time for dealing with a whole chicken or the patience for cleaning and discarding the carcass. For the chicken breast, I’ll roast in the oven at 375* with olive oil and salt & pepper or I will just boil it in the broth, pull it out when cooked to chop it up, and throw it back in the pot. It really makes no difference. For the ground turkey, I cook it in olive oil in the bottom of my soup pan, but I try to use as little oil as possible so the soup doesn’t get oily.
2. Don’t make things harder than they have to be. Sure, you can make homemade broth. But really, this soup is for you to eat. Wouldn’t you rather paint your nails or take a nap or get a massage — aren’t there actually about ten billion things you’d rather be doing than making homemade stock to eat for lunch in your cubicle? Just saying. I use two to three of the large boxes of low-sodium chicken stock.
3. Use the vegetables that you like. My typical vegetables are carrots, onions, celery, zucchini. Sometimes I add kale, but I don’t like the thick stems so I really have to be in the mood to clean and peel off those stems for kale to make it into my pot. You’re going to want to saute the onions, carrots, and celery for a few minutes until the onions are soft. The rest you can throw in to the pot after the chicken is done so long as you give it sufficient time to cook before turning off the heat.
4. Mix things up a little. At this point, I have two basic options that I follow, but I tweak them or mix them up depending on what’s in the fridge and how I feel while cooking. You can really add anything to your soup, so just follow your heart there.
(a) italian-style chicken soup: No zucchini or kale; once the chicken is cooked and the carrots, onions, and celery are sautéed and added to the broth, bring up to a boil and add in orzo pasta. Cook the pasta in the boiling soup until it is about done (read the instructions on the box), then turn down the heat and add three big squirts of lemon juice and a light handful of parmesan cheese. Shake in poultry seasoning and parsley, add salt and pepper and you are done. I learned this lemon-juice trick from Giada and it is delicious. Note: if I want regular chicken soup, I just skip the lemon juice and cheese and leave out the pasta. Otherwise, it’s the same.
(b) tomato-based with veggies: Go ahead and use the zucchini and even the kale here. Add in a can of whole tomatoes in with the broth. Take a pair of clean kitchen scissors or a knife and chop up the whole tomatoes so they are not quite so huge. Then add in spices like you are making chili: chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, etc. Shake in a bit of poultry seasoning if it needs it, add salt and pepper, and you are done. I often add a can of kidney beans to this soup too. (If you want to try this but are unsure about the spicing, google Martha Stewart’s minestrone recipe and start with that, until you feel comfortable going more free-form.)
There you have it. If you already know how to roast chicken, chop and saute vegetables, and boil pasta, you are on your way to making a delicious pot of soup without a recipe on this cold winter day. If you haven’t yet mastered these skills, you’re going to want to find an actual recipe to follow more carefully. I’m a little too foggy to write that for you today, but if that’s where you are, start here and let us know how it turns out.