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An Ode to Chicken Soup

January 7, 2013


It all started with my Grandmother’s chicken soup.  Today, looking back it seems that chicken soup is a recurring theme, actually more like a river of soup that flows along the map of my life. The earliest association, fifty plus years ago, is a scent. One that permeates, fills your nose, gets under the skin and remains in your whole being, forever; aroma of grandma’s cooking.

As soon as you entered the lobby of her apartment building, even before she opened the door, that familiar well-loved fragrance; Friday night’s traditional meal (hers and every other grandmother in the building) welcomed you. Once inside  Grandma’s house, you entered a magical land of cherished flavours and tastes that only she and no other could produce, ever safe in the knowledge that chicken soup cured everything,

Fast forward 25 years; Mom and Auntie’s mantras ‘chicken soup cures everything’ keeps the myth alive. Then one day, it really does happen.

The medical world seen through the eyes of an idealistic, naïve young hospital nurse is a promised land where high expectations soon turn to disappointment – medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

Seeing a patient recover when given chicken soup, after medical interventions were ineffective, was like two worlds colliding, an aha moment that changed everything. Familial wisdom came flooding back and from that moment food was never the same.

Until then food preparation was a necessary chore, though eating was always an unreserved pleasure. Cooking for friends progressed to parties which expanded to catering for events, cooking on yachts in the Caribbean and culminated in a full-time catering business for 10 years. Food as pleasure and vocation evolves.

Throughout, the focus has always been on health and the experience in the hospital became the starting point in a journey that continues, unabated to thrill, excite and open not just doors but new dimensions. The healing and medicinal properties that foods contain and how this can be translated to the plate and palate is the quest.

Along this road the signposts have pointed to different ways of achieving this. Relocation from the US to the UK and now back and forth between the two has brought its own contribution.  Advising people on the health benefits of food within the context of a Naturopathic private practise has broadened to include talks, workshops, courses and a children’s healthy eating program. Cooking professionally is re-emerging.

It’s also essential to incorporate this into the bigger picture – seasonality, locality and the environmental issues surrounding eating, preparing and sourcing food.

My version of chicken soup adapted from the original, handed down the generations incorporates principles of East and West to boost the nutritional benefits (and flavour). To my delight it has been confirmed by science-chicken soup really does enhance immunity.

Try this at the first sign of a cold or flu and particularly in the recovery phase.

 Not Just Chicken Soup  

1 small organic free range chicken, 2-3 chicken thighs, 4 whole wings or 4 drumsticks

2 carrots, chopped into large pieces

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 leek, sliced

2 medium organic potatoes, scrubbed and skin left on

6 shitake mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cabbage, shredded

4 stalks of freshly parsley, roughly chopped

1 stalk of fresh thyme

1/2 inch piece of ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon sea salt

soy sauce (optional)


In a large pot, cover chicken generously with water, add all ingredients except garlic, parsley, cabbage . Bring to a boil and immediately reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer, covered for 30-45 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. Remove chicken from pot to a plate. At this point add the garlic, parsley and cabbage, stir and heat for 2 minutes. Serve soup in a bowl and add pieces of chicken removed from the bone. Add a splash of soy sauce if desired.

When getting over a cold or flu, add 2 TBS tomato paste or puree to the soup. It is high in potassium and helps with recovery.

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