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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Love Soup and Friendship

A good home means a good kitchenI'm sure I've stated this before, but anyone who knows me will tell you I love food. I enjoy dining out, but - probably even more so - I also enjoy a home that occupies a well used kitchen, which produces good, honest home cooked meals.

Naturally, I appreciate pizza, hamburgers, chips, kebabs, southern fried chicken just as much as the next guy, but not from fast food outlets. I've steered clear of junk food with a passion ever since I was a child. I usually steer clear of the term "junk food", too. Calling food junk is an insult to food, and besides it's not the actually food that's junk, it's the preparation.

Of course this means that food takes longer to cook, but taking care and attention in preparing the food is all part of the ritual. As in all things in life, if you respect the food, the food will respect and nurture you.

Tell me which you would prefer, some greasy, mass produced kebab, or one lovingly made from trusting hands, over a charcoal fire that has been scented with special ingredients, which will work itself into the aroma of the marinated meat as it cooks?

I won't tell you what I put in my barbecue's charcoal, but you'll be biting your fingers as you eat my chicken kebabs and flame grilled olives.

Cooking for someone you care for should also give you a buzz. You put your love into the food, which then goes into the person your efforts have been for - what better display of affection can there be? When a wife cooks for her husband, when a husband cooks for his wife, and it is appreciated and viewed in this way, then in my opinion that marriage is solid.

You can't feed someone love every day and not get your just desserts.

The Love Soup

Eating well is important every season, but especially so in winter. It is the time of aches and pains brought about by the onset of the common cold and worse still, the flu.

The best remedy to soothe or even ward off symptoms is a piping hot bowl of broth based soup.

My mother has many secret family recipes that she religiously guards. They are like magic potions that secure the health of her family, and she takes her cooking very seriously. One of these is her chicken soup. I can honestly say that I have never had a cold in winter, and she puts it down to her special winter soup. She makes it for us just before the cold truly sets it, to bolster our defences for the coming months.

As a child I remember my friends and I all trampling in from snowball fights and making carrot-nosed snowmen, to bowls and bowls of hot piping soup. We'd all sit around the table, making noise and slurping our soup and my mum smiling down at us.

All my childhood friends still remember and love my mum dearly. And the reason is simple. She fed them with love.

Soup for a friend

A bowl of soupWhether you believe it has medicinal benefits or not, there are other reasons why my mum's soup is a winner. It is delicious, healthy, low in calories and a lot like good friendship.

So, how is good friendship like hot soup? Because the more you drink of it, the more it fills you up and the more warm you feel inside.

A good friend of mine in America is ill at the moment, so I thought I'd share my mother's soup with her to make her better. My mother was only to glad to help out someone in need, but I thought that it would be an ideal opportunity to share that love with everyone. It also makes an ideal breakfast for cold Christmas mornings, as it keeps well.

So, I'm posting my mum's special winter chicken soup below - minus a few special ingredients. Those are only for taste anyway, and do not detract from the soup. The special ingredients I'll email separately to my friend.

Friendship has to have some exclusive benefits, wouldn't you say?

Mrs Yıldırım's Winter Soup

It is a hearty, chunky broth based soup.

The ingredients are not given with exact measurements. My mother is a cook of the true Ottoman tradition, where they measured with taste and sense, and on how many people were coming for dinner. A cook usually knows the right amount for themselves, so put all ingredients in equal portions.

My mum always uses natural (sometimes carbonated) mineral water for this soup. The reasoning behind this technique is because it allegedly bonds with the chicken better than tap water and makes the stock as it cooks. She never adds salt when cooking as there is salt in the bottled water already, leaving people to add salt to taste. She doesn't add any extra broth or stock, either.

She cooks the soup in a crock pot, slow cooking it for around 6-8 hours. She prepares it in the morning, and it's ready for early evening consumption.

However, if you want a speedier version, from preparation to serve it's about an hour and half. It's half an hour longer than usual as you're making your own chicken stock, too.

Home made chicken soup tastes the best with home made stock. If you can make stock ahead of time and freeze it, you can still make the chicken soup in about half an hour if you use pre-cooked chicken. Allow an hour if you have to cube and cook the chicken yourself. If you want to keep the chicken moist, due to the long cooking times, boil with the skin on and de-skin after its cooked.

For slow cooking just pile all the ingredients into the crock pot and let it slow cook for about 6-8 hours.

Ingredients:

  • Still bottled water (natural mineral water)
  • Unboned, skinned pieces of chicken (preferably breast, must have bones)
  • Shelled green baby peas
  • Sweetcorn
  • White cabbage
  • Carrots
  • A few whole cloves of garlic
  • Lemon juice or lemon zest
  • 2 Bay leaves and 4 thyme sprigs

Preparation and Cooking:
Skin and wash your chicken pieces with lemon juice. With a sharp knife, carefully score the meat along the bone. This will ensure that the flavour works into the skin and that it cooks thoroughly. Then stuff the bay leaves into the cuts of the meat.

Place the chicken with bay leaves in a large pan of bottled water, with the thyme and whole cloves of garlic. Bring to the boil, and continue cooking for 30 minutes on a low heat. Skim any layer of congealed fat off the top of the soup as it is cooking.

Peel and chop the carrots, their size will depend on your taste. The smaller you chop them the quicker they will cook. Place the sweetcorn and peas in a mixture of water and lemon juice and allow to soak. Wash a few leaves of white cabbage and allow to dry. The vegetables will be added at different times during the cooking process.

Take out the bay leaves if you can and add the carrots after the first thirty minutes is over. Continue to simmer for another fifteen minutes. Then drain the peas and sweetcorn and add these into the hot pan, too.

After another fifteen minutes finally add the remaining cabbage. Do not cut the cabbage, but simply tear into small pieces with your hands and throw into the pan. Grate some lemon zest or add a small drop of lemon juice.

Allow the soup to cook on low heat for another thirty minutes. Minus the time it should take for the water to initially come to the boil, the total cooking time should be approximately 1 hour and thirty minutes.

Once the soup is done, drain out your chicken pieces. Remove the meat from the bone and cut into small pieces. You can return the diced meat back into the soup, and even leave some to add to a tomato and mango salad, which is the perfect Juliet to this Romeo of a soup.

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