I came late to chicken soup. Of course, I’d had the reconstituted packet stuff, with its parsley-esque green flecks and uniform, soft noodles. But I’d not tasted the real deal until I sat down to dinner at my husband-to-be’s family dinner table.
“How many kneidles?” his mum asked.
Kneidles? I looked to my not-yet-husband for help.
“Three?” he suggested.
A shallow bowl was placed in front of me, containing three pale dumpling balls, a few neatly cut slices of celery and carrot, and one half cherry tomato, its skin starting to slip away from the pulp, all floating in a fragrant, golden broth. I lifted a spoonful, waited for it to cool, then supped. It was amazing.
Sadly, my mother-in-law is no longer with us, and of the many things I miss about her, her cooking is right up there. “I’ll bring the soup” she’d say, when we were putting together the big festival family meals. She’d arrive, glammed up to the nines, carrying a bag with two huge containers of soup, and a separate one for the kneidles. She’d be unpacking the food and kissing her grandchildren before she even got her coat off. And although I know I’m nowhere in her league when it comes to the classics of yiddishe mama cookery, I’m doing my best to keep the traditions going.
And so it is, that when my big girl had flu recently, and was home from school, all she wanted to eat was chicken soup. And now that I have a horrible gunky chest cold and am feeling sorry for myself, chicken soup is my first port of call.
If you’re making Jewish chicken soup, first you need a jewish chicken or pieces thereof.
You can also use an old boiler fowl, or just bones from the butcher. If that’s the case, you might need to bump up the flavour at the end with a little extra stock.
In a large pot, put…
one or two onions, cut in half. You don’t have to bother peeling them, in fact, the skin adds an extra colour to the soup.
a large carrot, snapped in half
a stick or two of celery
10 peppercorns (just a guess! don’t stand and count them!)
two or three cloves of garlic, again unpeeled but stabbed with the tip of a sharp knife to allow their flavour to penetrate the soup
a slice of turnip (swede) cut into chunks
two bay leaves, crumpled in your hand to release their flavour
a tablespoon of salt
Add the chicken bones or bits and cover with cold water. Put on a medium heat to bring to simmering point, then turn right down and leave to gently simmer for several hours, until it’s golden and slightly viscous. You’ll know it’s ready when your whole house smells wonderful!
Strain the soup and dispose of all the veg and bones and stuff. Some people like to pick off pieces of the soup meat to put in, but that’s not what we do. Our lucky dog gets them.
You can serve the soup as it is, a health-giving consommé. Or you can finely slice a little carrot and celery and cook it in the broth, add a few halved cherry tomatoes near the end. The final touch is kneidles, little matzo dumplings. That’s a recipe to give you later, but if you do want to add dumplings, remember, never cook them in your soup! Just warm them through in it at the end.
And I’d like three, please.