Midweek chicken soup

You can quickly get a hearty main-course chicken soup on the table without much effort.

chicken soup 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
chicken soup 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you have cooked chicken in your refrigerator or freezer, you can quickly get a hearty, warming, main-course chicken soup on the table without much effort. A few days ago, as I was making duck soup with fresh ginger, white radish and other vegetables, using some extra roast duck from my freezer, I reflected on how valuable this method has been for me over the years. I find it so useful to have roast poultry - whether chicken, turkey or duck - on hand, in order to make soups. Indeed, preparing soup is also one of the best ways to transform leftover Shabbat chicken into a completely different dish. For easy thawing and fast cooking, it's best to remove the meat from the bones before freezing a roast bird, and to cut it in fairly small pieces. But don't throw out the bones. Even after being roasted, they still have enough flavor to improve soups. You simply put them in a pot, cover them with water and simmer them for 1 or 2 hours (or longer in the case of a whole turkey). You can even make broth like this from a roasted chicken that you purchased at a deli. Such a broth will not have quite as much flavor as chicken soup you make from an uncooked chicken, but it will taste good, and it's certainly preferable to many salty, fatty soup powders or cubes. Once you have cooked chicken and a broth of some kind - even the store-bought type will do when life gets hectic - all you need are a few vegetables and seasonings. You can add the same vegetables that you normally put in chicken soup, such as onions, carrots, leeks and celery, but cut them smaller. Ginette Mathiot, author of the French home cook's standard reference manual, Je Sais Cuisiner (I Know How to Cook), chooses carrots, leeks, turnips and cabbage. She stews them for over an hour in butter (olive oil would be a good substitute for kosher cooking), then heats them in broth and combines them with diced cooked chicken and beef. The soup is then served with grilled bread for dunking. For a speedier, modern version, I quickly saute the diced vegetables in oil, then simmer them in the broth for 7 to 10 minutes until they are just tender. If I want a quick chicken soup with a taste that recalls the wonderful Yemenite soup my mother-in-law made every Shabbat, I use different vegetables - usually onions, potatoes and zucchini-like summer squash (kishu), and add garlic, a little tomato and plenty of cumin, turmeric and ground black pepper to the vegetables as they cook. Instead of toast, I serve the soup with thick, fresh pita. Savory soups can include frozen vegetables, which are great time-savers, and even some canned ones, as long as some of the soup vegetables are fresh. To make her wintry chicken soup, Lucy Saunders, author of Seasonal Soups, includes frozen peas, corn and green beans, as well as fresh celery and carrots and canned tomatoes. Soup noodles or long-grain rice cook directly in her soup to thicken it and make it more satisfying. To a turkey soup made with basic soup vegetables, Yolanta Fintor, author of Souper Skinny Soups, adds cooked dried beans, small pasta shells, potatoes and mushrooms to make a minestrone-like soup, which she flavors with tomatoes and garlic. With any of these, stir in 1⁄2 to 1 cup of cooked chicken strips per person and heat them thoroughly in the soup. They not only make the soup more substantial; even during the few minutes it takes the chicken strips to heat, they contribute flavor to it. To gain time, I sometimes cook certain elements of a soup separately. While the rest of the soup is simmering, I microwave a potato whole, then I dice it and stir it into the soup. If I'm going to serve the soup more than once, I cook rice or pasta in a separate pot, the way my mother did. This not only saves time, but ensures better texture when the hot rice or pasta is added to each bowl of soup at the last minute. FAST CHICKEN, VEGETABLE AND BEAN SOUP The perfect time to make this hearty, healthy soup is after Shabbat or a holiday, when you have cooked chicken or turkey and chicken broth on hand. Frozen vegetables and canned beans make this a particularly fast soup to get on the table, and fresh coriander and dill give it a lively taste. Serve it with fresh whole-wheat bread or pita, or with separately cooked white or brown rice. 1 large onion, chopped 5 or 6 cups chicken broth, or half broth and half water 1 bay leaf 1 large pale-green-skinned summer squash, diced 450 to 500 gr. frozen mixed vegetables (such as carrots, corn, green and lima beans, peas) a 400-gr. can white beans, drained and rinsed 2 to 3 cups thin strips of cooked chicken (dark or light meat, or some of each) 1 Tbsp. chopped dill or 1 tsp. dried 3 to 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander salt and freshly ground pepper Cook onion in chicken broth with bay leaf in a covered saucepan for 10 minutes. Add squash and frozen vegetables and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender enough, according to your taste. Add chicken and beans and cook for 5 minutes, until heated through. Remove bay leaf. Stir in dill and coriander and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Makes about 4 servings. CHICKEN VEGETABLE SOUP WITH CUMIN, MUSHROOMS AND PASTA SHELLS This soup gains richness not only from its curry-like seasoning, but from a quick saute of the vegetables in olive oil. You can skip this step, though, for a faster, lighter result. If you don't have pasta shells, use other small pasta shapes, like small tubes, alphabet noodles or macaroni. If you are making enough of this soup to serve more than once, add some of the cooked pasta to each bowl instead of stirring it into the pot of soup. Instead of pasta, you can serve the soup with cooked rice or with pita. 2 Tbsp. olive oil 1 large onion, chopped 1 carrot, diced 3 large garlic cloves, chopped 1 tsp. ground cumin 1⁄2 tsp. turmeric salt and freshly ground pepper 5 or 6 cups chicken broth, or half broth and half water 2 medium zucchini or kishuim, halved and sliced 225 gr. mushrooms, quartered 2 to 3 cups cooked chicken strips 3⁄4 to 1 cup small pasta shells 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander or parsley In a medium saucepan, heat oil, add onion and carrot and saute for 5 minutes over medium heat; stir occasionally so vegetables do not burn. Add garlic and saute over low heat, stirring often, for 1 minute. Add cumin, turmeric, salt, pepper and broth. Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 7 minutes. Add zucchini and mushrooms and return to a boil. Add chicken strips. Simmer for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Meanwhile, cook pasta shells in a saucepan of boiling salted water uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes or until tender but firm to the bite. Drain well. Just before serving, stir pasta into soup and add chopped coriander. Taste again and adjust seasoning. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.