Moms chicken stock is a delicious base for a variety of soups

If you were given the word “chicken” in a word association test, more than likely you would respond “soup.” As hamburgers and apple pie typify American food, chicken soup is the celebrated sine qua non of Jewish cuisine both in itself and as a base for many other traditional recipes.

Maimonides, the Spanish Jewish physician, proclaimed its healing powers back in the 12th century as a cure for leprosy. Even today, what Jewish mother doesn’t prescribe this “Jewish penicillin” for a long list of ailments?

Chicken soup is frequently served for holiday meals and has been the standard first course at Jewish weddings for centuries. It is chock full of symbols: golden color for prosperity, unlaid eggs for fertility and rings of fat suggesting golden coins.

Chicken soup is more than just a food. It is a defining ritual that binds together a history of a people’s cuisine and character. Included in the following recipes is one for a good, rich, basic chicken stock, the kind that brings back memories of a fragrant kitchen with a grandmother standing at the stove. Master this, and other soups with a chicken stock base will be easy to make.

Chicken Stock | Makes about 8 cups

2 lbs. mixed chicken parts, such as necks, wings and backs
1 large onion, unpeeled, cut into small pieces
1 leek, thoroughly washed and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 clove garlic (optional)
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs parsley
Note: Keep the skin on the onions. This results in a golden-colored stock.
In a large stockpot, combine all ingredients and cover with cold water by at least 3 inches. Bring to a gentle boil and skim grayish foam that forms on surface. Continue to skim until this foam no longer forms. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 2 hours.

Strain into storage containers, let cool and refrigerate. Remove solidified fat from surface before using.

Curried Chicken-Vegetable Soup | Serves 8

4 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 cup coarsely chopped tomatoes
2 carrots, sliced
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
2 zucchini, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
10 cups chicken stock
2 lbs. boneless and skinless
chicken breast, cut into strips
salt and pepper
4 cups freshly cooked couscous
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
In a large heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, garlic and pepper until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in curry, cumin and turmeric and cook another minute. Add tomatoes and cook until bubbly. Stir in vegetables and cinnamon stick. Cook about 2 minutes.
Add stock and bring to a boil. Simmer, partly covered, for 15 minutes. Add chicken and simmer another 8 minutes.
Remove cinnamon stick from soup and taste for salt and pepper. Ladle over couscous, sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].