Brrr … it’s cold out there! We’ve been experiencing a cold snap here.
While I am usually pleased with my first floor apartment across from Central Park, used to lying in bed marveling at the curtains billowing from the breeze of the park, these days I am questioning my sanity. It’s freezing! That wonderful breeze off Central Park I was always so proud of and took such pleasure in, I could do without right now!
I’m normally not a cold weather wimp. Having been raised in Denver, I always adored the winter season and all things accompanying it, from fireplaces to winter accessories and everything in between.
But that’s because it was Denver winter, not New York winter! It’s like two different seasons. In Denver we don’t have to deal with the winds and the bitter brutal moisture and red raw skin. In Denver, it was dry. There was sunshine. It was different. The snow, for starters, was white; not to mention the special Colorado powder quality we had, snow that’s reminiscent of sugar.
It’s not just that. In wintertime everywhere, people tend to be nicer. It’s a humbling season. Everyone feels more vulnerable and how powerful the elements are. So, when such cold weather arrives, there’s one thing to do: Go forth and make soup! Come inside and turn the fire on.
You can’t have enough pots of soup on the stovetop, boiling away, simultaneously comforting your soul, whetting your appetite and providing warmth and toastiness to your apartment or home.
Before you know it, you are ladling these elixirs into deep bowls for the perfect, soothing, wondrous winter meal. All you need is a crusty piece of fresh bread, and you are good to go.
I love vegetarian soups, all kinds. Indeed, these are the soups I prepare most often. But come icy winter, there is one soup that crowns them all: why, it’s chicken soup, of course! The mother of all soups.
I don’t mean the newer twists on chicken soup we’ve all been making these past few years. Tortilla chicken soup with a fresh twist of lime, avocado and cilantro, and fried strips of tortilla — yum! But no, that’s not it.
Lemon orzo chicken soup with its bright citrus flavor and deep yellow color — lovely! But no.
Sephardic short grain brown rice chicken soup with a beautiful palette of earth-toned colored spices and flavors — delicious! And it’s close! But, no.
I’m talking Old-School Ashkenazi Golden-Amber Long-Time Cooked (10 hours) Jewish Penicillin European Jewish Grandmother Love is the Secret Ingredient (or maybe it’s Shabbos) Chicken Soup.
Aside from its heavenly flavor, it’s worth preparing just for all the derivative chicken dishes you can get from this one pot of soup. You can repurpose it into a variety of dishes, like chicken crepes, chicken pot pie or fajitas.
For this heimish soup, the humbler the ingredients and methods of preparation, the better. Mirepoix and herbs de provenance are lovely, but I’m talking about the kind of soup where the starring role are things like “petrushka,” as my Bubbie used to say. That’s Yiddish (or is it Hungarian?) for parsnip.
Which then reminds me of a wonderful unique Yiddish expression: hefker petrushka, meaning chaos, or as would be translated into modern Hebrew, balagan. It’s a pretty unbeatable expression — perhaps parsnips grew wildly in Europe and so the Yiddish saying for a wild, out-of-control situation developed from out of a patch of disorganized, overgrown parsnips?
Who knows? But see, you decide to prepare traditional chicken soup and the next thing you know, you are transported to another time and place. You think you are just writing up a grocery list of ingredients when the next thing you know you are wondering about the linguistic origin of hefker petrushka.
There is some serious deep grandmotherly layers to preparing a true Jewish chicken soup — whether you use a whole bird or some cut up chicken, or even just wings and necks or bones alone; whether you roast your bones first, caramelize onions and brown the chicken or not; whether you just use carrots and celery or also loads of root veggies; whether you prefer a cloudy untouched pot of soup or for your bowl to be filled with crystal clear liquid gold; whether you put more or less herbs in; whether you include the onion skin or not; whether you add slices of fresh egg lokshnnoodles, or prefer floating knaydlach dumplings as light as a feather … whether you keep your various soup ingredients wrapped in mesh bags, or let ’em float loose in the pot, whether you slice your veggies into round coin shapes or long strips, whether you cook it at a high heat or let it gently simmer for hours on end — perhaps even a full day — please, I implore you, do something good for yourself and stay warm by going forth and make yourself a pot of delicious traditional chicken soup!
I assure you, it will be comforting.
And your grandmother will be proud!
Now just start preparing your grocery list: hefker petrushka — oops I mean, parsnips!
Ess gezunderheit and stay warm out there!
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News