If Moliere said “I feed on good soup, not on fine words,” then he’s in good hands with me because I have, at long last, arrived at the soup chapter. He also said, “I feel good on soup, not on beautiful language.” That’s because soup is feel-good food. And we need that. After a week of beautifully balmy weather, we are suddenly back in the freezer of winter. Eating can’t change the miserable weather, but the right soup definitely makes you more comfortable in your misery.
So put on a pot of soup and see how you feel. It’s not only good to eat, it’s soothing to prepare. The aroma, oh, the aroma. It is suffuses the house, every corner, with its spirit long after it’s finished cooking and you have gone to bed. It provides comfort and re-assurance for days.
Claudia Roden must be a Grande-Specialiste-en-Soupe, because the recipes in this Soups chapter are gems. I prepared the first two this past weekend. I must say that they lived up to their unforgettable characterization as “the most egalitarian of foods” (I forgot who said that). Claudia says that the first, Shorba bi Djaj, were scandalized. Who would eat chicken soup for breakfast???? Their outrage dissipated quickly after they tasted it. Thick, creamy and aromatic, the soup disappeared as quickly as they could spoon it in. Swooning and stuffed, they headed for the couch. “Delicioius,” they muttered into the sofa pillows.
Here’s how I made it. I used a whole chicken, although Claudia Roden suggests sixteen chicken wings. I put it in a pot and covered it with water. When the water boiled I added celery, rice, salt, four cardamom pods, juice of one lemon, turmeric and cinnamon. I followed the Calcutta Baghdadi version (even though I had said I was not going to do “variations”) and put in a chopped onion and some ginger. I just couldn’t see making a chicken soup without an onion. I let the whole thing simmer for an hour and a half.
I’m pretty passionate about soup making. I love the variety and possibilities that the soup medium offers, the chance to be creative. I almost never make the same recipe twice, but one thing I do repeat maybe once a month is “Kitchen Sink Soup” which contains anything I can find in the pantry or the refrigerator: leftover pasta, barley, beans, old but still serviceable zucchini. It’s a real favorite here at home, especially with my husband.
For Sunday I cooked Sopa de Huevo y Limon, (Egg and Lemon Soup). It’s a Greek dish, eaten in Salonika to break the Yom Kippur fast, in Egypt before the fast. It is very popular in the Sephardi world. You start with a chicken carcass in a pot with onion, carrots, celery and parsley. Cover all of this with water and boil it. Remove the scum as it rises to the top. Simmer it for an hour. Claudia says to strain it, but, being a bit lazy, I just removed the largest pieces. I’m an amateur cook. I just want it to taste good. If I think I can get it to taste just as good without making the extra effort then that’s what I do.Add rice and simmer about twenty minutes more. Just before you serve it, beat the eggs in a bowl, add lemon juice and then beat in a ladleful of soup. This is the only tricky part because you don’t want the eggs to curdle. Once you’ve beaten the egg mixture and broth together you put it back into your pot and beat it constantly until the soup thickens. Just don’t let it boil. Serve it immediately, if possible. And don’t forget to breathe in while you’re eating. You won’t want to miss the aroma.