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Have you ever seen the Swanson chicken broth commercial, where each home cook that appears declares that they cook because “I make the best chicken noodle soup”? Every family should have some comforting soup in their recipe repertoire for those miserable winter days when sickness strikes and the weather outside makes one despair that spring and sun shall ever return. When one of us falls ill, my mom swears by the healing properties of her homemade chicken soup.

Any soup just makes one feel better – a little brighter, a little cozier. However, homemade, in-house chicken soup has a special quality to it. Some may say that the addition of love has a hand in that and, while a cliché explanation, I have reason to believe it. A soup made by a family member is different from one purchased from a store, or even one made by a friend.

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From a medical standpoint, the ingredients of this have inherent healing qualities.

  • Carrots have laudable doses of beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A. Vitamin A strengthens white blood cells, the power cells of the immune system.
  • Celery has various vitamins and minerals, but one of its more noteworthy contributions to the soup is at least a dozen phenolic phytonutrients. Phytonutrients boast numerous antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Onions, like other alliums, have organosulfur compounds. The sulfur in onions synthesizes glutathione, an antioxidant made from three amino acids and one of the most important defenses against infection. [1]
  • Like onions, garlic contains a sulfur compound called allicin that crushing or slicing the clove releases. [2] Allicin boosts the immune system by promoting the activity of the white blood cells.
  • Chicken, when cooked, releases a sulfur-containing amino acid called cysteine, one of the amino acids in the antioxidant glutathione. The protein in chicken also helps strengthen muscles wasted by illness.
  • The broth itself, having contained all of the chicken and vegetables, might provide all of the benefits mentioned above. My mom claims that if someone is feeling too unwell to eat the actual soup, he or she can just drink the broth. In addition, the warm of the broth soothes sore throats and the steam clears nasal cavities and loosens mucus.

Spring nears, but winter is not ready to depart. If illness strikes you, a family member, or a friend, I encourage you to reach not for the medicine cabinet, but for a bowl of healing soup.

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Recipe: Healing Chicken Soup

Prep time: 15 min

Cook time: ~1 hr 30 min

Ingredients

For the stock:

  • 2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts
  • carrot, rough chopped
  • celery stalk, leaves on, rough chopped
  • 1/2 white onion, rough chopped
  • garlic cloves, smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • Whole peppercorns (5-6)

For the soup:

  • 3-4 carrots, chopped
  • celery stalks, chopped
  • onion, chopped
  • Salt, to taste
  • Small pasta, such as acini de pepi, orzo, or ditalini

Instructions

  1. Place all of the ingredients under “For the stock” in a heavy-bottomed pot filled with water. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer for about an hour, until the chicken is cooked through.
  2. Remove the chicken and vegetables from the pot. Shred the chicken and return the pieces to the pot. Add the carrots, celery, and onion from “For the soup” to the broth. Bring to a boil again, then simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender. (The vegetables used in the stock you can just save for eating later.)
  3. Meanwhile, boil the desired pasta separately.
  4. When the vegetables are tender, off heat and salt to taste.
  5. Serve with as much pasta as each participant desires. If you have one lying around, slice a warm, crusty bread like a baguette or ciabatta, to enjoy with the soup.

Vegetarian alternative: Replace the chicken with two 15-oz cans of chickpeas or cannellini beans, drained. Simmer the vegetables in “For the stock” as specified to make a vegetable stock, then remove and simmer the beans with “For the soup” vegetables, until the vegetables are tender.

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[1] About glutathione
[2] About garlic