By Jay Holecek, Therapeutic Chef/educator
It starts with that scratchy throat, then dread: “Uh-oh, I’m getting sick.” I used to consider it a good thing, it meant a few days away from the rigors of school. But now I don’t have that luxury, I need to work. And my immune system’s efforts to defeat the infectious agent will likely result in additional symptoms. So, in order to continue working, I need to both reduce the symptoms and speed up my recovery. I’ve learned over the years that medications for suppressing these symptoms actually suppress my immune system and only prolong the suffering. They also allow for a false sense of wellness. So I think back to those times of illness and recovery that my mother and others have helped me through and they all tended to include soups and teas.
Commercial food establishments, originating in France in 1765, were called “Restaurants” (meaning “(something) restoring”) and they served highly concentrated simple soups that were advertised as an antidote for physical exhaustion. In fact, every culture that we know of has for centuries included in their diets some form of nourishing soups. Making soup, that is, cooking a variety of ingredients together to make them safe, easily digested and tasty could arguably be one of the most important inventions that helped civilization to grow and spread. So simple soups are all but simple in their effect on our health and culture.
We are always learning more about our health and food, but what we know from tradition and current science is that whole foods, herbs and spices cooked together in liquid form, have some excellent regenerative properties (see article link below). This could likely be due to multiple factors, such as the knowledge that I am being cared for by the person making me the soup; the break down and dispersal of nutrients and minerals in liquid form (making them easily absorbable and transportable around my body); the synergistic effect of multiple phytonutrients and their effects on my immune system, and even the sheer soothing pleasure of a delicious meal.
Chicken soup study
Quality or quantity?
As with all therapeutic foods, the quality of the soup’s ingredients is of the utmost importance. We need more nutrients and less toxins. (http://www.ota.com/organic/
-Fresh homemade: Avoid canned soups and ingredients. Cooking from scratch will insure the best tasting and healthiest soups. Plus to save yourself the effort when you are sick later on, you can make extra and freeze it for later.
-K.I.S.S.: (Keeping it super simple) By nature, soups are simple. And it helps me to motivate myself to make a batch of soup, if I just stick with a few ingredients that I enjoy. With time and experimentation, you’ll find yourself adding more foods from your fridge and pantry and spicing the soup the way you want it to taste.
-Delicately cooked: To prevent oxidizing oils, add them towards the end of cooking. And to avoid the creation of other toxic compounds which form at high temperatures, avoid high heat roasting and sauteing. If you like your veggies sauteed, try cooking them in a dry pan, adding small amounts of water.
-Therapeutic ingredients These include: Miso and other fermented foods, Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks, etc.), carrots, celery (these three make a great soup or broth all on their own), mushrooms, seaweed, leafy greens, herbs, spices, oil (olive, coconut, or butter, avoid others), acid (vinegar, lemon juice, etc) and protein (meat w/bones, soaked/sprouted beans, eggs, etc.).
So before you reach for that medication in your cabinet, reach for the miso in your cupboard. And when you hear of someone’s illness, offer to cook them a nourishing soup like this one below. Practicing the art of making home-made soups could be the healthiest thing you do for your health as well as your community.
Primordial Chicken Soup
According to Webster’s, primordial soup is “a mixture of organic molecules in evolutionary theory from which life on earth originated.” This basic and nourishing soup is titled after this substance, because by making it (and other soups) the foundation of your nourishment in times of illness, it will likely lead to more life for you!
Makes about 1 gallon soup
2 pastured chicken legs (or other parts)
3 quarts filtered water
1/4 cup vinegar
1 lb carrots
1 head celery
5 cloves garlic
1/2 head small cabbage
1 bunch kale
1/2 lb shitaki mushrooms
1/4 cup dulse seaweed (or any other kinds)
1 bunch fresh thyme (or 1.5 T dried)
1 bunch parsley
2 T curry powder
1 t black pepper
2 T coconut oil or butter
Sea salt and vinegar to taste
-Simmer chicken with water and vinegar for at least 1 hour (ideally overnight in the oven at 170F) then strain stock, saving the liquid. Remove the meat from the bones, chop the meat and return to pot with the saved liquid.
-Chop all the veggies to bite-sized pieces and add, along with the remaining spices and ingredients, to the pot of meat and broth and bring to a simmer for 1-2 hours.
-Season with salt and vinegar to your liking (you should say, “yum, I want more”, if not, add more seasonings). Serve it warm and jar and freeze the rest.