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Soup's On
By Gale Jacobs

What is it about a chilly, gray fall day that makes you yearn for hot, home-cooked meals? Geese flying south, the smell of wood smoke in the air and tree leaves yellowing all have me thinking about exchanging my summer tee shirts for cozy, comfortable sweatshirts and sweaters. It is also time to retire the summer salad dishes for those well remembered warming soups.

Chicken soup, just like Mom’s, is what I crave. A bowl of steaming, golden broth with tender bits of chicken, wide noodles or perhaps rice gently bob among chunks of bright orange carrots, green crescent celery slices and dotted with peas. Crackers are on the side, waiting to be crushed atop this homey feast.

Mom’s chicken soup is tasty, warming and filling but a variety is always welcomed and often needed. Let’s have some fun and gussy up our chicken soup. Take the same clear broth or stock, chicken bits and carrot chunks but use fine noodles instead of the wide noodles. Stir in chopped sweet red pepper, thinly sliced green onions, soy sauce, grated fresh ginger and crushed red pepper. Add halved fresh pea pods and you have an Asian variation. Or take a trip to your local oriental market and purchase white miso to use instead of soy sauce. Udon or soba noodles, broken in half, substitute for the fine noodles for a Japanese flavor. To try curried soup, use the same clear broth and chicken bits but uses Japanese curly dried wheat flour noodles, unsweetened coconut milk, and some peeled, chopped sweet potato. Red or green Thai curry paste substitutes for the soy sauce or miso and add diced tomato. Omit the other vegetables. Fresh cilantro leaves complete the transformation.

For an Italian flavor, add garlic and fresh spinach sautéed in olive oil to the same clear chicken broth with carrot chunks. Your favorite tortellini pasta, Italian seasonings, freshly ground pepper and shredded Parmesan cheese make this soup a favorite. Chicken bits are optional. Italian flat bread, focaccia, cut into small cubes and lightly oven toasted, is the garnish for the next variation. Use the same clear chicken broth but add chopped zucchini or yellow summer squash, sweet green pepper and onions sautéed in the olive oil. Add one can diced tomatoes along with basil, oregano and garlic. Serve this delectable soup with grated Parmesan cheese. Chicken can be added if a heartier meal is desired.

Potatoes, whether russets or new, are always a good addition to chicken soup. Cubed and cooked in the chicken broth, they compliment the addition of sautéed chopped leeks and onions. Add pepper, freshly ground, and milk or half-and-half before serving. Browned ham bits garnish this delicious soup. Vary this soup by adding Dijon mustard and dried thyme. Replace the ham with cooked chicken. Fresh cabbage, cut into ¼ inch strips, is added just before serving.

Peanut butter in chicken soup? You bet! Simmer peeled, diced and browned sweet potatoes in the clear broth, along with garlic, red onion, salsa, black beans, cooked chicken pieces and rice. Whisk in peanut butter just before serving. Or, to be more exotic, stir sautéed onions, celery and sweet red pepper into clear broth, thickened with flour, along with unsweetened coconut milk, ground red pepper and finely shredded lemon peel. Add peanut butter, chicken chunks and soy sauce and garnish each serving with peanuts, cilantro and thin red pepper strips.

Your favorite chunky garden-style salsa, mild, medium or hot, heats up the clear chicken stock for a south of the border flavor. Chili powder, corn with red and green peppers, cooked chicken pieces, shredded jack cheese and broken corn tortilla chips complete this tasty soup. Omit the salsa and chili powder but add diced green chilies and chopped onion to the peppers and corn. Substitute browned bulk breakfast sausage for the chicken and thicken the soup with flour. Garnish this delightful southwestern variation with shredded jack or cheddar cheese and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Love Cheddar cheese? To chicken stock and milk thickened with flour, add sautéed onion and celery, pepper, and dry mustard. Stir in shredded cheddar cheese and heat until melted. Sprinkle with paprika just before serving. Add chicken bits or cooked potatoes for a heartier version of this classic creamed soup the next time you want a stick-to-the- ribs lunch on a cold, frosty day. Beer and carrots make interesting additions to vary this cheese soup. Substitute cumin, nutmeg and cloves for the mustard. Sour cream, instead of the milk, is added just before serving.

Want to wow your family or guests this fall? Bake your chicken soup in a pumpkin. Cut a lid in the pumpkin, remove and discard seeds and fibrous insides. Rub the inside with butter and salt and place sautéed minced onion, breadcrumbs, pepper, nutmeg and sage along with Swiss cheese in pumpkin. Fill pumpkin with enough chicken broth to within ½" of top. Place on cookie sheet and bake with lid on for 1-½ hours. Add enough heavy cream to fill to top and bake until heated through. Use the pumpkin as a tureen to serve and be sure to ladle out the soft insides of the pumpkin with each serving. Garnish with parsley.

As you can see, chicken soup does not have to be limited to chicken and noodles. Have fun with your soups. Start with the clear broth or stock, canned or home made, and add your favorite ingredients or try using the leftovers that hide in your refrigerator. Shrimp and ham jambalaya left over from last night’s supper? Add it to clear broth and you have a Cajun tomato rice soup. Mashed potatoes left from Sunday’s dinner? Add them, along with your favorite vegetables and spices to create your own original soup.

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