Four soups to comfort you during flu season

Oct. 27, 2021

We are well attuned, these days, to viruses about, although not necessarily in the way we used to be some time ago. It’s helpful — and healthful — to remember we’re also coming up on flu season. (If you’ve not yet got your flu shot, hightail it, please.)

As for other help, should influenza infiltrate you, there is hot soup. Many of the world’s soups are traditional folk medicine and here are four soup recipes for this flu season, two meatless (one vegetarian, one vegan) and two with meat (chicken for one, pork for the other).

A bowl of soup
The Muslims of Morocco often eat harira, a rich soup, as a meal to break their fast during the month of Ramadan. Photo by Bill St. John.

Hot soup warms that shivering body from the inside out; it fills the tummy and hydrates the body. Its liquid retains vitamins and minerals from the foods cooked in it because you don’t toss away its water. The steam from hot soup is an anti-inflammatory and can clear up mucus and open the airways.

Hot soup is often just a bowl of healthy eating: it’s commonly a vehicle for vegetables, generally low in fat and chock full of fiber. If it’s got noodles or other carbs, it’s a source of energy. Because it has just enough salt, it enhances or awakens dormant or clogged-up senses of smell and taste.

With modern appliances such as the Crockpot or Instant Pot, it’s simple to prepare. It’s easily freezable and reheatable. Its come-hither aroma fills the house (or sickroom). Usually, someone serves it to you, so it turns out to be a reminder of love and care.

For its part, chicken soup is high in tryptophan and thereby increases serotonin and enhances mood.

What’s not to like about hot soup when you’re down and out, especially during flu season?

Stock of Roast Chicken Carcass, Doubled

Makes 2-3 quarts

Ingredients

2 carcasses from roast (not raw) chickens

2 medium onions, peeled and sliced in halves along their “equators”

3 stalks celery (leaves OK), cut in halves

2 medium carrots, scrubbed but unpeeled, cut in halves

4 cloves garlic, unpeeled but smashed

6 parsley stems

2 sprigs fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

1 whole raw chicken, cut up at its joints, breasts quartered, and including ribs and backbone, skin on

Directions

Break apart or cut the roast chicken carcasses into pieces, especially at the joints, the more pieces the better. Sear the 4 onion halves over medium-low heat in the pot you will use to make the stock until the cut sides are very nicely browned.

Posole, a pork and hominy soup, could be called “the chicken soup” of the Southwest and is a great soup for flu season..
Posole, a pork and hominy soup, could be called “the chicken soup” of the Southwest, and is a great soup for flu season. Photo by Bill St. John.

Add the remaining ingredients, except the whole raw chicken, and cover everything with cold or room temperature water by a good inch. Bring to a soft boil, then simmer, just, partially covered, for 3-4 hours, skimming fat or foam that might rise and replenishing with boiling water, if necessary, to keep everything submerged.

Strain the stock of its solids and return to the pot with the whole raw chicken portions. Bring that to a boil, then simmer the lot, partially covered, skimming of fat and foam, for 1/2 hour. Remove the 4 pieces of breast, set aside, and continue simmering for another hour.

Strain the doubled stock, through cheesecloth if you wish it clearer, then remove the meat from the bones, including the reserved breast meat, to use for other preparations.

Cook’s variations: Use this stock as a base for any number of possible embellishments. For example, boil pieces of vegetables in it (1/2-inch chunks of carrot, celery root, parsnip, waxy potato, or sweet potato for 20 minutes; very thin slices of onion or leek for 10 minutes; corn kernel, frozen pea, thin slices chard leaf, or brussels sprout leaf for 5 minutes). Add chicken meat pieces to your liking.

Or, for an Asian-like turn, boil 1 cup uncooked jasmine rice, 1 1-inch piece peeled and small-diced ginger, and 1 teaspoon minced garlic with 8 cups of the stock for 20 minutes. Toward the end of the simmering, add 1 cup chopped raw mushroom and 4 teaspoons soy sauce (and a splash of dark sesame oil if you wish), cooking the mushrooms until just done and adding chicken meat pieces to your liking to heat through. Serve topped with sliced scallion.

Fennel and Leek Soup (‘Hot Vichyssoise’)

Makes 8 small bowls or 4 large.

Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 cups celery, chopped

4 cups fennel bulb, trimmed of fronds and stems, cored, chopped

2 medium leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed, chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled, chopped

1/2 pound waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), peeled and chopped

1 quart vegetable stock

3/4 cup half and half

1 teaspoon freshy squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon sea or kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Directions

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the celery, fennel, leek and garlic and stir over medium heat until softened, about 15 minutes. Add the potato and the stock and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through well, another 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool off a bit to avoid splash-back from the blending in the next step.

In a blender, in 2-cup batches, purée the soup until very smooth. (Alternatively, use an immersion blender on the entire batch.) Return the soup to the pot and add the half and half, the lemon juice and the salt and pepper. Refrigerate overnight to “marry” and develop the flavors. To serve, reheat slowly to the temperature you desire and finish in pre-warmed bowls with a swirl of lightly fruity extra virgin olive oil, or a few splashes of dry sherry or light Madeira.

Posole

Most, if not all, posole recipes stipulate the use of Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens), a member of the verbena family. Indeed, some feel that its earthy, citrusy notes are suited best to Mexican cuisine. Serves 8-10.

Ingredients

5 cups canned posole (white hominy), rinsed and drained

6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed, separated into sets of 3 cloves each

3 tablespoons neutral olive oil

3 pounds pork shoulder, bone-in if available, trimmed of excess fat and cut into large chunks

1 pound bone-in country style pork ribs

2 medium or 1 large white onion, peeled and sliced

4 quarts light meat broth, preferably homemade (pork, chicken, or combination), or plain water, or combination broth and water

2 tablespoons Mexican oregano, crushed

1 large bay leaf

1/2 pound fresh poblano chiles, toasted, peeled, seeded, chopped

1 pound roasted chiles, peeled, seeded, chopped (hot or mild or combination)

Kosher salt, to taste

Flour tortillas, heated

Garnishes of grated semi-firm or cotija cheese; finely minced serrano chiles; chopped cilantro; avocado chunks or slices; shredded or sliced green cabbage; more oregano; and wedges of lime.

Directions

Add the hominy and 3 garlic cloves to a large pot and cover with water by 2 inches; bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook gently for at least 2 hours, adding more water if necessary to keep the hominy submerged. Drain and set aside, keeping any garlic pieces if desired.

In a large pot, over medium-high heat, brown well the pork pieces on all sides in the oil; remove, then add the onion, scraping up any brown bits while the onion sweats 4-5 minutes, then add 3 cloves garlic and heat it through 1-2 minutes, being sure not to burn the garlic. Add back the pork pieces and the broth or water and cook the pork at a simmer for at least 2 hours, skimming off any grey foam or fat. Remove the meat from the broth; skim the broth, reserving it; shred the meat off any bones, reserving it. (Doing all this a day or two ahead makes removing the fat easier and develops even more flavor.)

To a large pot, add the cooked hominy, the shredded meat, and the broth; add the seasonings and the prepared chiles. The liquid should be more stew-like than soup-like; adjust the liquid just so. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring, for 30-40 minutes at a gentle simmer. Taste for salt (posole soaks up salt; you may need significantly more). Serve with the tortillas and the garnishes.

Harira

The Muslims of Morocco often eat harira, a rich soup, as the meal to break their fast during the month of Ramadan. This recipe is from a visit with Chef Amina Zarkat, Hotel Ramada, Fès, Morocco. Commonly made with lamb broth, this version’s base is vegetarian. The chile paste called harissa is another harira ingredient, though it is easily substitutable using other countries’ chile pastes. Small cans of North African harissa, however, are readily found about.

In place of the water or vegetable broth stipulated, you may use chicken or vegetable broth (or, if you can access it or make it, lamb or veal broth; dark brown beef broth will be a bit too burly). Makes 10-12 servings; stores well in the refrigerator or freezes admirably.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, diced small

3 center stalks celery, with leaves, diced small

2 large carrots, diced small

4 cloves garlic, minced or slivered

1/4 cup packed cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

4 tablespoons ras el hanout

2 teaspoons harissa (or other chile paste), plus more for garnish

4 cups tomatoes (diced, whole crushed, or 5 cups fresh, peeled)

2 quarts or liters water or vegetable broth

1 cup lentils (red or brown, not green), rinsed, soaked in water for 1 hour, drained

1 14-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed, or 1 cup dried chickpeas or fava beans, rinsed, soaked overnight, and cooked, drained

1 teaspoon each kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 pound thin long-form pasta (vermicelli, thin spaghetti, or angel hair), broken into 1-inch pieces

Wedges of lemon and dried dates

Directions

Over medium-high heat, and in a heavy-bottomed pot large enough to hold all the ingredients, cook the onion, celery and carrot until soft and getting translucent, about 7 minutes; then turn the heat down a smidge and add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic. Stir in the cilantro and parsley leaves, then the ras el hanout and harissa, cooking and stirring a bit for another 2 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes, being sure that they are crushed well (use a potato masher if it helps); cook for a couple of minutes until the mix thickens slightly. Add the water (or broth, if you are using), the lentils, and the chickpeas or fava beans. Add the salt and pepper, stir it in well, and bring the soup to a boil, then lower to a solid simmer.

With the lid of the pot slightly ajar, let the soup cook for an hour or more, until the lentils are well cooked-through, very soft and creamy. To retain a soup-like (and not a stew-like) consistency, add more liquid to the harira while it cooks.

Adjust for salt and, about 5 minutes before serving, add the broken pasta pieces, stirring, and let them cook through. Serve with more harissa, wedges of lemon for squeezing generously over the soup, and the dates for eating, bite for spoonful.

Blend-your-own Ras-el-hanout

A key ingredient in Moroccan harira is the spice blend called “ras el hanout” (“best of the shop”), a blend of anywhere from 10 to 30 or more different spice powders, each mixture particular to a given merchant or cook. Most ras el hanout blends are based in the powders of several “warming” spices (such as paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and black pepper), accented with powders of some “sweet” spices (such as cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice).

But, in the end, there are no rules; blending ras el hanout is each merchant’s or family’s special art. It is also difficult to find outside North Africa, although you may run across it in Colorado at specialty shops or gourmet groceries. A simple recipe for assembling a do-your-own ras el hanout is below.

You may tinker with this blend to suit your tastes; after all, that is the idea. For example, using paprika instead of cayenne will lower somewhat the chile heat index. Makes 4 tablespoons; easily multiplied.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons each: ground coriander, ground cumin, and ground turmeric

1 teaspoon each: ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground cayenne (or paprika), and ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon each: ground cardamom, ground allspice, and ground mace (or nutmeg)

1/4 teaspoon each: ground clove and crushed saffron threads

Directions

Mix the powders together well. Stores admirably, away from the light, in a tight-lidded jar. Use in cooking preparations where any savory spice blend is called for, as you would use a garam masala, for example, or a meat or fish rub, or an adobo.

Reach Bill St. John at billstjohn@gmail.com

 

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s sidewalk.com. In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.

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