Cook | Your mother was right: Chicken soup is the best medicine

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Chicken soup, aka “Jewish penicillin,” is good for what ails you if what ails you is the common cold, according to both your mother and science. Turns out hot soup not only relieves congestion and helps with hydration but also amps up the body’s immune system.

While any hot, broth-based soup will help, chicken soup has an added benefit. Research shows cooked chicken contains a chemical that may help keep bronchial tubes clear.

Most commercial brands of chicken soup have been found to be effective, but to me a bowl of homemade soup is the best medicine.

The prescriptions (er, recipes) below incorporate cold-fighting ingredients such as:

Red bell pepper, lemon juice and spinach — to reduce a cold’s duration.

Green leafy vegetables — to help fight off infection.

Carrots — to bolster the immune system.

Ginger — to reduce nausea and maybe rid body of toxins.

Garlic — to combat infections and aid immune system.

Turmeric — to boost the immune system.

Salt — to aid hydration. (A little is good, a lot isn’t.)

Cayenne pepper — to relieve congestion.

If desired, replace raw chicken with 11⁄2 cups shredded cooked chicken (add when shredded chicken is called for). Use homemade or low-sodium store-bought broth. Serving sizes will vary depending on the appetite of the patient.


Get Well Chicken Soup

Serves 3-4

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1⁄8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄8 tsp. ground turmeric

1⁄8 tsp. ground ginger

1 Tbs. grated lemon rind

6 cups chicken broth

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast

2 large carrots, chopped

1 medium-large red bell pepper, chopped

2 large zucchinis, chopped

1 Tbs. lemon juice

Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until beginning to turn translucent. Add garlic. Sauté until garlic is beginning to brown. Add cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper, turmeric, ginger, lemon rind and chicken broth. Bring to simmer. Lower heat to keep at a simmer. Add chicken breast, cover, and simmer until cooked through. Remove chicken and shred. Return soup to simmer and add chopped vegetables. When vegetables are just tender, add shredded chicken and simmer until vegetables are softened and chicken is heated through. Add lemon juice. Stir well. Taste and correct seasonings.


Chicken and Egg Garlic Lemon Soup

Serves 3-4

6 cups chicken broth

8-10 peeled whole garlic cloves

1⁄4 tsp. salt

1⁄4 tsp. ground black pepper

1⁄8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

1⁄8 tsp. ground ginger

1 lb. chicken breast

1⁄2 lb. uncooked orzo or other very small pasta

6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3 egg yolks

2 cups chopped spinach or arugula (optional)

Bring broth to a simmer in large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, salt, pepper, cayenne, ginger and chicken. Cover. Lower heat to keep at simmer. Remove chicken as soon as it is cooked through and shred. Keep cooking garlic until very soft. Let soup cool until safe to handle and purée with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender until smooth. Return to stove and bring to a simmer. Add orzo, cover and simmer until pasta is cooked. Return shredded chicken to pot. Keep at simmer. Beat lemon juice and egg yolks together until combined. Slowly drizzle into soup while stirring soup at the same time. Stir in greens, if using. Simmer until wilted. Stir. Taste and correct seasonings.

Faith Kramer
is a Bay Area food writer. Her columns alternate with those of Louise Fiszer. She blogs at Contact her at [email protected].

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].