Avgolemono – Chicken Soup Recipes and Sick Kids
2 large, bone-in chicken breasts
6 cups of water
8 oz. orzo or long-grain rice
juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp. cornstarch
In a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat, place chicken into water and bring to a boil. Cook chicken completely in water. When chicken is cooked, remove from saucepan and let cool.The water is now your broth base.
Strain the juice of 2 lemons into a bowl. As cornstarch and whisk into lemon juice. Set aside.
Add orzo or rice to chicken broth. Boil low until rice or orzo is cooked and “soft.”
In a separate, medium-size bowl, crack eggs and whisk. Add whisked eggs to lemon juice/cornstarch mixture.
One cup of broth at a time, scoop chicken broth into the egg/lemon juice/cornstarch mixture, whisking vigorously so as not to scramble the eggs. You’re bringing the eggs up to the soup temperature gradually (tempering). Scoop one cup of broth and whisk until you have incorporated about half of the broth into the egg/lemon juice/cornstarch mixture inside the bowl.
Add the broth you mixed with the egg/lemon juice/cornstarch mixture back into the saucepan with remaining broth and mix well, keep on low flame.
Pull apart cooled chicken from the bone, and add torn strips of the poached chicken into the soup.
Matzo Ball Soup
For Matzo Balls
3 eggs, separated
1 tsp. salt
1 cup Matzo Meal
2 tsp. parsley (optional)
2 tsp. schmaltz *
Bring stock pot of water to a rolling boil.
Beat egg whites until frothy. Add yolks and schmaltz (you can also use oil) to egg whites.
Add Matzo Meal and salt.
Form matzo balls the size of a plum and drop in boiling water, cover and cook for 15-20 minutes.
Take out and cool.
After matzo balls are cooled, add to chicken soup.
For Chicken Soup
1 whole chicken
In a large pot of boiling water, add chicken and vegetables and boil until broth looks rich and golden.
Remove chicken and let broth cool.
Put some meat from poached (boiled) chicken back into pot.
* schmaltz is chicken fat, and can be purchased at most supermarkets in the kosher section.
My son was home sick last week from school for three days straight.
Body and mind, this flu season is like nothing I have ever experienced. I have neti-pots, I have Snuggies, I have saline solution and cotton swabs at the ready, I have anti-bacterial spray, wipes, and hand gel, the warehouse size packs of tissue, and have spent more on gummy vitamins this year than probably all my years as a parent combined.
I indulged myself in the occasional thought that I was prepared and ready.
To crush that fantasy, all I had to do was log on to an online news site, or hear a child coughing in any public place before I went into panic mode – albeit a silent panic – until I could plug my maternal fears into a realistic outlet.
That place is my kitchen. I’ve been waging a war on illness there. I’ve got some fight in me, and my weapons have been used by people like me for centuries.
I’m cooking away my fears this year as I make soup and other organic, anti-oxidant rich foods that are supposed to contribute to the health and development of little people.
My antidote is information, and I have found more than I need in my recent quest. I read that hot liquids such as tea and soup can stop proliferation of viral populations. I have also read that chicken soup has healing properties. I’m not claiming these things to be undoubtedly true, but am I willing to put some faith in generations of common advice? Without a doubt, and with a media filter. I won’t be good for anyone if I let the news dictate my emotions.
I tried not to let my son see how worried I was.
My sick little guy, normally so active I have to stop and think “which practice is he at?”, lay on the couch under his Snuggie, watching World Cup qualifying matches and baseball movies, asking me when he could return to his “normal life”. I took his temperature every twenty minutes. I called the doctor three times in two hours. I checked Facebook and Twitter to distract me and put worst-case scenario thoughts out of my mind.
In my kitchen – the heart of my home – bad, hurtful and scary things are beatable against my will and wooden spoon. I made not two, not four, but five different soups. Even that was not enough; my mother-in-law made soup too, what I call the Greek version of Jewish penicillin (also known as matzo ball soup), or avgolemono.
Sick day number one, my husband told my mother-in-law that her grandson was sick. Within three hours, she called to tell us that there was a pot of soup ready to be picked up for the patient.
This is what we do, we cook illness away. Sauté, steam, poach, stir, and mix your fears into one pot, like the way you pour all of your soul into your kids. It all goes into one place. In this place, you have to have keen senses and sharp edges. The kitchen becomes a design center.
When I was sick as a child, my grandmother would make matzo ball soup or send my grandfather would run to the nearest Jewish deli to retrieve it. When my husband and I first started dating and I got the flu, he would buy and prepare for me Lipton Chicken Noodle Soup mix and squeeze fresh lemon juice into it, before he made me chamomile tea with honey and lemon, spiked with a little whiskey.
Now the mom and chief caretaker, I draw from all of these practices and knowledge when someone is sick, and when I am scared.
Back in September, I asked my mother-in-law to teach me the art of avgolemono. I got Grandma’s matzo ball soup recipe from her little sister, after Grandma died. These scribbled down recipes grace my journal like familial elixirs of healing and remind me of two swords angled together on a mantel.
Those four nights of staying awake to monitor my son’s fever are when I concocted the five soup recipes for the following days; 8 bean soup, chicken tortilla soup, roasted tomato bisque, traditional chicken noodle soup, beef and barley soup. Even with less than six hours of sleep each night, I executed the soups as if driven by some elemental force. As if a recipe would watch over us if I obeyed it to the letter, as if cooking and baking like a madwoman could keep a virus at minimum safe distance, or save me from my own nightmares. Maybe it did. I asked myself more than once if my children were at more risk of an epidemic flu, or from my constant state of doomsday distraction; smiling less frequently, 98.6 degrees obsessed.
I don’t know the answer to that question. So I will keep doing what I know how to do – add love, chicken broth, and every healing tool I’ve got into that place, that one place where I am defined by tradition, preparation, and waking dreams.
Ms. Jensen is a leading advocate for families and children and was the founder and president of ACES, The Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
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