Cure the winter blahs with chicken soup

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In these gray and cold winter months, what could be better than a nice, hot bowl of chicken soup?

It’s guaranteed to warm you up, both physically and spiritually. It’s not for nothing that it’s called “Jewish penicillin” and that all those books full of pithy statements about positive living–and there are hundreds of them–are called Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Chicken soup really can help cure the common cold! Researchers have found that chicken soup reduces upper-respiratory inflammation, according to a study published in 2000 in the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians. Nasal inflammation is what causes stuffy head and runny nose.

The inflammation is caused by an increase in white blood cells that rush to the site of a viral infection and try, usually unsuccessfully, to kill off the virus. The Nebraska study found that fewer white blood cells were present in people who had eaten chicken soup. Another benefit: Just by being a hot liquid, chicken soup will loosen congestion and keep you hydrated.

Hold a chicken soup cook-off!

If you’re looking for a fun wintertime activity, consider a chicken soup cook-off. You can do this socially with a group of friends or co-workers–have everyone bring a different chicken soup to a potluck–or you can run a cook-off through your congregation or organization as a fundraiser.

Temple Shir Shalom in suburban Detroit recently held a Chicken Soup Cook-off as a charity benefit. They invited ordinary household cooks as well as restaurateurs and caterers to enter a  pot of their best chicken soup in one of three categories: chicken noodle soup, matzo ball soup and creative/contemporary chicken soup.

More than 500 people paid an entry fee to sample the soups and vote for a People’s Choice winner. A panel of professional foodies also named winners for each of the three categories in both a professional division and a home cooks division.

The judges rated the soups for taste, texture, flavor and overall impression.

Personally, the chicken soup I make most often is what I call “Cheater’s Chicken Soup” because it’s a free by-product when I cook chicken.

Make “Cheater’s Chicken Soup”

I often make roast chicken, using either whole or cut-up birds, for our Friday night Shabbat dinner. When the chicken comes out of the roasting pan, I pour off the “juice” and then deglaze the pan by adding a cup or so of water and swirling it around to loosen all the nice brown bits. This goes into the same container with the “juice.” If I’m not going to use it within a few days, I freeze it.

Whenever I make a whole roast chicken, I save and freeze the carcass.

When I have at least one carcass and a couple of chickens’ worth of “juice,” it’s time to make soup! I defrost the carcass and the chicken juice (scrape off any chicken fat that has risen to the surface) and put it all in a large soup pot.

I add a large, unpeeled onion cut in quarters (the onion peel helps give the soup a little color), a stalk of celery and a carrot cut in chunks, a half-dozen whole black peppercorns and a few teaspoons of dried dill (or fresh dill from my garden if it’s summertime).

I cook this covered for several hours, then cool and strain through cheesecloth, keeping the carrot chunks to serve with the soup. I add salt to taste when I reheat it. I confess I sometimes add a little powdered chicken stock if the soup tastes weak–but the result is way better than soup made entirely from powder.

I often add noodles or matzo balls before serving.

The Chicken Soup Cook-off winner!

Today’s recipe is a little more complex, but I’m sure the effort is worth it.

This recipe was the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the Temple Shir Shalom Chicken Soup Cook-off. It comes from Elwin Greenwald, who owns a wonderful take-out joint called Elwin & Co. in Berkley, Michigan.

It’s named for his grandmother. “My Bubbie Gratzielle left Poland for Sorrento. Italy, and brought her recipe with her to America!” he told the Detroit Free Press, which printed the recipe. The photo below, which appeared in the Free Press, is by Elwin Greenwald.

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