Chicken soup from around the world

  • Ingredients for West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Claire Hopley ladles West African Chicken and Peanut Soup into a bowl, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018 at her home in Leverett. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Claire Hopley adds spinach to the West African Chicken and Peanut Soup at her home in Leverett. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ingredients for West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Assembled here are some of the ingredients for the rich soup. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Claire Hopley’s version of West African Chicken and Peanut Soup is flavored with cumin, jalapeno and peanut butter. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • West African Chicken and Peanut Soup. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

For the Gazette
Published: 1/7/2019 11:34:20 AM


As the French gastronome Brillat-Savarin noted in 1825, “Chickens are to the kitchen what his canvas is to the painter.” Even if you think of chicken soup alone, you’ll find a multitude of colorful recipes from broths with delicate strips of chicken and green herbs to thick dark pottages, thronged with chicken chunks and tingling with spices.

And thinking of chicken soup is the perfect thing to do in January. It’s cold. We need something hot and nourishing when we come in out of the dark, longing for the comforts of supper at home. Equally, as we emerge from the biggest eating month of the year — possibly a size larger than we were at the beginning — we need a break from December’s festive excesses.

Chicken soup meets both these needs. Warm and aromatic, it’s always welcome in cold weather, and that huge gallery of recipes has many toothsome versions at the lighter end of the culinary spectrum.

The extraordinary variety of these recipes is rooted in the chicken’s ability to thrive anywhere in the world except near the poles. This ubiquity has let chickens cozy up to all sorts of vegetables, grains and herbs — making it a culinary team player around the world.

Some are regional classics. In Poland, rosol, a chicken soup with dumplings or noodles, is considered one of their national dishes, while the Scots are equally proud of their cock-a-leekie made of chicken, leeks and — rather surprisingly — prunes. Middle-Eastern cooks make chicken soup with rice and beans. Every country of West Africa has a favorite soup of chicken and peanuts fortified with vegetables such as tomatoes, okra, yams and eggplant. Southeast Asia has numerous soups based on garlicky-gingery chicken broths plus vegetables, noodles and sometimes fiery peppers. Indian and British cooks contributed to the invention of spice-laden mulligatawny, which is now traditional in both their countries.

All traditional chicken soup recipes use chicken broth as the liquid, and most call for it to be made with a whole chicken — often specifying a boiling fowl. In former days this was a bird too old to lay eggs and too tough to be baked, but with life experience of stomping around a poultry yard that gave it depth of flavor. Today these are virtually impossible to find in a supermarket. The best alternative may be chicken parts rather than a whole bird because you can choose the most flavorful pieces, and, if necessary, trim off some of the fat typical of modern chickens. The dark meat of the leg is best for soup. Chicken drumsticks make a particularly rich broth that sets to a firm jelly. Winglets and gizzards are also tasty choices. Chicken breast, if used at all, is best poached then sliced and added just before serving.

Whatever chicken you have, simmer it gently for 30-45 minutes with a carrot or two, a celery stick, a bay leaf, and herbs such as thyme, sage and parsley. Skim off the greyish foam that rises to the surface as the broth cooks, then strain out and discard the vegetables and herbs. Using fresh vegetables and flavorings in the soup deepens the flavor.

Right now, the best soup vegetables are roots such as carrots, rutabaga, potatoes and parsnips, squashes such as butternut and pumpkin, and members of the onion tribe, especially onions and leeks. If your recipe calls for tomatoes, good quality canned tomatoes are often better than the bland tomatoes of winter. Among greens, cabbages of various kinds still have lots of flavor.

Here are some recipes to take off the chill.

West African Chicken and Peanut Soup

Soups and stews made from chicken and peanuts are popular throughout West Africa, with different countries having their own variations. Accompaniments range from rice in Senegal to couscous in the north, fufu made of cassava, yams or potatoes in Ivory Coast and hard-boiled eggs in Ghana. Salt fish and leafy greens may also be added.

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil

3 chicken thighs

2 large onions, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 teaspoons powdered cumin, or to taste

2 carrots, scraped and cut in disks

2 cups chopped fresh or canned tomatoes

¾ cup (about 6 ounces) smooth peanut butter

1 jalapeno or other hot chili pepper, or hot pepper flakes to taste

2 cups baby spinach orchard leaves (optional)

Heat the oil in a large soup pan over medium heat. Add the chicken skin side down, and cook let for 4-5 minutes until the skin is golden brown, then turn and cook for 3-4 more minutes. Remove from the pan, and when cool enough to handle, discard the bones and cut the meat into bite-size chunks. It will still be partly raw but it will fully cook later.

Add the chopped onions to the oil in the pan, and cook gently for 4-5 minutes. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and return to the pan. Sprinkle in the cumin, then add the carrot disks and the tomatoes. Simmer over low heat while you mix the peanut butter with 4 cups boiling water in a large bowl. Stir into a creamy sauce and pour it into the pan. Chop the hot pepper into tiny bits and add a little to the mixture (or add a large pinch of red pepper flakes.) Simmer for 25 minutes or until the chicken is thoroughly cooked and tender, stirring occasionally and adding more water or hot pepper as you think necessary. Just before serving, stir in the spinach or chard leaves.

To make a complete meal, serve with rice or couscous or other starch on the side.

Chicken Mulligatawney

Mulligatawny is a classic of Anglo-Indian cooking, with all authorities agreeing that it originated as spiced broth called molligo tunnee — pepper water — from southern India that was endlessly elaborated by British residents. Variations include vegetarian and lamb-based versions. Some include coconut milk; some have lentils; some have both — or neither. Rice is often served alongside. This version includes red split lentils and aromatic vegetables to give substance for wintry evenings.

2 large chicken thighs or breasts, bone in and skin on

2 carrots, peeled

1 small washed leek or small peeled onion

1 celery stick

1 bay leaf

6 black peppercorns

Salt to taste

1-2 tablespoons ghee or butter

¾ cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 large garlic clove, chopped

1-2 tablespoons (to taste) curry powder

1 tablespoon powdered coriander

½ cup split red lentils, washed

2 leafy stems cilantro plus more for garnish

½ cup heavy cream or coconut milk

Trim off excess skin and fat from the chicken, leaving only the skin covering the meat. Put the chicken in a saucepan with one of the carrots cut in 3-4 pieces, the leek or onion cut in 2-3 pieces, the bay leaf, peppercorns and half a teaspoon salt.

Add 6 cups water, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and reserve the chicken. Strain the liquid through a sieve and reserve. Discard the vegetables. (You can proceed this far up to one day ahead.)

In a saucepan, heat the ghee or butter over low heat. Add the chopped onion and soften it for 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger, garlic, curry powder and coriander. Cut the remaining carrot into 5-6 bits, and add along with the red lentils, cilantro stems, the reserved broth and the roughly chopped meat from one of the chicken thighs. Simmer for 25-30 minutes or until the lentils are disintegrating.

Let cool a little then process in batches or pass through a sieve to make a smooth mixture. Return it to the pan. Cut the meat from the other thigh in thin strips. Set aside about a third of these for garnish; add the rest to the pan. Reheat just until the soup comes to boiling point. Stir in the cream or coconut milk and pour into soup bowls. Garnish with the strips of chicken and, torn cilantro leaves plus an additional swirl of cream if you like.

Chicken Soup with Ginger and Bok Choy

This gingery Southeast Asian-style soup is light and flavorful

6 slices fresh peeled ginger the size of a quarter

2 chicken legs

8 scallions, trimmed

½ cup rice cooking wine

1 head of bok choy or 4 baby bok choy, washed

2-3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1-2 large cloves of garlic (to taste), finely chopped

2 teaspoons soy sauce or nuoc mam to taste

¼ teaspoon white pepper

Leaves from 8 stems of cilantro

Salt to taste

Smash 3 of the ginger pieces with the flat side of the knife. Trim any excess fat from the chicken legs and put them in a large saucepan along with smashed ginger pieces, half the scallions, the rice cooking wine, and 6 cups of water. Simmer for 25 minutes, skimming any greyish foam from the top. Strain and reserve the liquid. Also reserve the chicken legs. Discard the vegetables.

Cut the bok choy in half to separate the leafy tops from the white stem ends. Chop the stems into 1/ 2-inch slices, and roughly tear the leaves.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan over medium heat, add the onion and soften for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile slice the remaining ginger into short matchsticks. Add them to the onions then stir in the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. If the oil you started with is all used up, add the remaining tablespoonful and stir in the bok choy stems. Cook for a minute or to. Now add the remaining scallions, cut in 1-inch bits, and the reserved broth, soy sauce and pepper. Simmer for 3-4 minutes until the bok choy is tender.

While the soup is cooking remove the skin and bones from the chicken and cut it into slivers. Add these to the pan along with the torn bok choy leaves and half the cilantro. Cook for a couple of minutes. Taste and add a little salt if it seems necessary. You can also add extra pepper or soy or fish sauce to adjust the flavor to your liking. Serve into deep bowls and garnish with the remaining cilantro.

Chicken andLeek Soup

The combination of chicken with leeks is typical of Welsh cooking, and chicken and leek soups are favorites also in France. This thrifty soup uses the skin and bones of the chicken and the green tops and outer layers of the leeks to intensify the flavor.

1 pound (2-3) skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs

1 pound (3-4 large) leeks with leafy tops

1 large celery stick

1 medium carrot

1 big stem of parsley

1 teaspoon dried thyme

4 white or black peppercorns

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon oil

1 large (about 8 ounces) potato, peeled and cut in half-inch cubes

Strip the skin from the chicken thighs. Cut off visible fat. Set both aside.

Wash the leeks. Cut off the tops and green sections and split them, holding them under a running tap to remove any grit. Put them in a large pan along with the celery and carrot each cut into 3-4 pieces. Add the parsley, thyme, peppercorns, salt and 6 cups water. Finally add the chicken pieces. Bring to simmering point and hold there for 20 minutes then remove the thighs to a cutting board. Cut off the meat in small or large pieces as you prefer and reserve.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining white and pale-green part of the leeks into half-inch pieces, adding any tough outer layers to the pan if necessary.

Put the reserved skin and fat from the chicken. Cook gently for 2-3 minutes until you have about 1-2 tablespoons fat in the pan. Discard the skin and any other residue, then add the potato cubes and stir them around for a couple of minutes. Stir in the cut-up leeks. Now strain in all the broth from the other pan. Bring to simmering point and keep there for 10-15 minutes. When the potatoes are tender add the pieces of chicken and cook for a few minutes just to reheat them.

Turkish Chickenand Rice Soup

This soup is closely based on a recipe contributed by Nur Illan and Sheilah Kaufman to Soup for Syria, published by Northampton’s Interlink Books to raise funds for Syrian refugees. The mint and lemon brighten the flavors.

2 whole chicken legs

1 onion, halved

1 small carrot, peeled and halved

A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley tied together

1 bay leaf

6 black peppercorns

Salt to taste

½ cup rice

2 tablespoons oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon dried mint or 3-4 fresh leaves, chopped

½ teaspoon, or more to taste, paprika

1 cup canned or cooked chickpeas, drained

2 lemons cut in wedges

In a large pan bring 6 cups of water to the boil. Add the chicken, onion, carrot, parsley, bay leaf, peppercorns and salt to taste. Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is tender — about 35-40 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid. When the chicken has cooled, remove the skin and bones and cut into bite-size pieces.

In a medium pan bring 1 cup of water to the boil. Add the rice, cover, and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until the rice has cooked. Add 6 cups of reserved chicken broth, (making up the amount with water if there is not enough), and the chicken. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Stir in the tomato paste and flour and then the mint and paprika. Stir this into the mixture along with chickpeas. Cook for another 5 minutes. Squeeze in the juice from a couple of lemon wedges. Have more lemon wedges for serving.

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