Have you ever thought about how many cultural variations there are on chicken soup? From Mexican Tortilla Soup to Japanese Udon, it seems like every great cuisine has a soup recipe for those cold breezy days when you’re not feeling quite like yourself. Some researchers claim that chicken soup contains compounds that actually help speed up the healing process when you’ve got a bug.
My grandmother always used to make us tortellini soup – steaming bowls of her homemade pork-and-veal-filled belly button-shaped tortellini with her incredible paper-thin pasta, full of warm nutmeg flavor and topped with handfuls of freshly grated parmesan cheese. I have yet to make the tortellini on my own – her recipe is somewhere at my grandfather’s house and no one has had a chance to really look for it – but I’ve found a suitable replacement at Vons (chicken and prosciutto borsetti – my uncle says that my grandma’s secret ingredient was prosciutto and, after tasting these the first time I had to agree it probably was). Every time I have a hard day, I crave her tortellini soup.
When we were sick, growing up, my mom would make plain chicken broth with alphabets, or pastina, or cream of wheat (try it – just use the recipe on the back of the box, with 1/3 of the cream of wheat in proportion to the liquid – it works really nicely to help fortify an upset stomach).
In college, I was introduced to Thai and Japanese and Vietnamese cuisine, which all have beautiful chicken soups. Last year, my friend Shera shared her homemade matzo ball soup with me, and I can see why it’s known as Jewish penecillin. Chock full of veggies and herbs, it’s like a great big hug. I’ve experimented with making my own matzo ball soup, and it’s not too tricky (especially with the Shera-approved matzo mix!), but it’s definitely labor-intensive.
Today I stayed home from work. Two nights ago I started feeling really weak and achy, and all day yesterday I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open (despite sleeping a crazy number of hours the night before). I made it through the workday by the skin of my teeth, but when I woke up this morning I was just as weak and tired and achy, with the addition of a headache, sour stomach, sniffles, and a little cough. I decided it was definitely better to take one day and get better now than struggle through the week and have a lingering sickness! I’ve been napping all day, drinking loads of orange juice, taking vitamins and Oscillococcinum, and trying to get myself well.
Of course I wanted chicken soup. I was craving chicken soup!
The leftover soup from last week is actually in the freezer for just such an occasion, but I wanted something different. I flirted briefly with the idea of making an abbreviated matzo (chicken broth + matzo balls) but I decided on pho.
Pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup. It’s typically made with beef and there are entire menus devoted to pho variations, but I’ve always really liked the chicken version. It’s what I love to order at Vietnamese restaurants. My “homemade” pho used just what I had on-hand, so it wasn’t very authentic, but it hit the spot. It was garlicky and gingery and slightly spicy and so awesome. It really felt almost as restorative as a big ol’ bowl of matzo ball soup, which is a high compliment! It was so incredibly yummy and so pretty that I had to share.
My White Girl Pantry Pho
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 1/2 cup water (I always think of the pho broth as a little lighter than regular chicken broth – if I’d made my own broth, I probably wouldn’t have added water, but I really liked the slightly-lightened-up broth in this)
- A piece of fresh ginger – I used quite a lot, approx. 3/4 inch square – grated or cut really fine
- 2 large cloves garlic, cut very fine or put through a garlic press
- A small piece of yellow, red, or white onion, cut into paper-thin slices (I think I used about 2 tbsp worth)
- 2 tsp soy sauce (you’re supposed to use fish sauce – but of course I didn’t have any… strange that it’s the second time in a week that I should have used some in a recipe; when I had some in the pantry it went unused for years!)
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- dash ground pepper
- dash Chinese five spice powder (okay, I know… you’re supposed to toast up coriander seeds and anise… I looked it up… But I have neither in the house because I actually don’t like either, on a regular basis, so I improvised… I was a little worried, to be honest, because Chinese five spice is pretty sweet, but I was pretty excited because it actually did give the broth a little anise flavor that I think I might have missed)
- handful cooked shredded chicken (it’s so nice to have this in the freezer for just such an occasion!)
- 1/4 package rice stick noodles
- 1 green onion, cut into rings
- a small bunch of basil, chiffonade (you could also use mint or parsley, or cilantro if it works for you – it makes me sick, so even though it’s actually the traditional accompaniment I don’t use it)
- I didn’t have bean sprouts but they’re traditional in this soup too!
In a small saucepan, bring the broth, water, garlic, ginger, pepper, five spice,soy sauce, lime juice, and regular onion to a simmer. Add the rice sticks and cook until tender. Add chicken to bring up to temperature. Serve in a large bowl topped by green onion, herbs, (and bean sprouts). The broth is flavorful, and while it’s not authentic pho, it was sure a welcome bowl of goodness! Here’s hoping it helps me get better fast!