Chicken Soup with Fregula Sarda

March is always a welcome relief to the many months of winter, with its hints of warm, spring days. But it also seems to be the month in which my family develops the last great sickness of our cold season. This week has proven to hit my family hard in the viral department, with my son bringing home some unwelcome germs, then my husband contracting the disease, and now, finally, my daughter. Fortunately, while I type this post, I have not yet come down with this bad cold, and I am extremely happy about that, because as any other mother knows, if mamma falls ill, the whole ship goes down with her!

There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup when you aren’t feeling well. You can feel the warm liquid nutrients working their magic as they pass into your body, working their sickness-healing magic. Science has now confirmed that chicken soup actually helps to break congestion and contains an amino acid called, cysteine, which inhibits white blood cell production and the triggering of the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and phlegm. I guess grandma did know a thing or two.

For this chicken soup, I decided to use some fregula sarda I had in my pantry, which is an Italian pasta, originating from Sardinia. The pasta dough is rolled into tiny balls, resembling Israeli couscous, and toasted twice, which promotes its pleasant nutty flavor and golden colors. If you aren’t able to purchase fregula sarda, then Israeli couscous (or another type of small pasta) would be an excellent substitute for the following soup.

Of course, this soup is delicious whether you are under the weather or sailing atop clouds of health. But if you find yourself with a bit of a cold, this soup will definitely hit the spot. Stay healthy and happy eating!

1-1.5 lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
1 small onion, whole
4 stalks celery, cleaned, halved and chopped into small pieces*
5 md. carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into small pieces**
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
small bunch of fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
12 cups water
1/2-3/4 c. fregula sarda
small bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped

In a pot, large enough to accommodate 12 cups of water, add the chicken thighs, one carrot, one celery, the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Be sure not to add too much salt at this time. You can add more before you add the fregula sarda. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any fat that floats up to the top. Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the base of your soup to continue cooking for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, and discard the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. I find it works best to do this with a large, cook’s spoon that has holes. Remove the chicken thighs, and allow them to cool slightly before you remove the meat from the bone. Place the chicken back into the pot, along with the chopped carrots and celery. Bring the liquid back to a slow boil. After about 15 minutes, add the fregula sarda, along with about 1.5-2 cups of water. Allow the fregula to cook through, about 8 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the finely chopped parsley. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

*Leave one celery stalk whole to make the soup base
**Leave one carrot whole, unpeeled to make the soup base


Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

Crab and Corn Chowder

Once you learn the basics of soup-making, it becomes fun to experiment and come up with new creations. And I like to make soup for dinner about once a week, for several reasons — it’s an easy meal that can be made ahead of time, a good way to use things up that might otherwise spoil, extras can be frozen for a later meal, and, lastly, I just love to eat soup! The recipe below is an original creation of mine that has become a favorite in our house. This soup is easy to make and most definitely restaurant quality.  It has a little thickness to it, but it’s not as rich (er, full of fat) as its cream-based counterparts.

1 quart homemade fish stock from shell fish (recipe below)
olive oil (about 3 Tbsp.)
1 cup chopped red or white onion
1/2 cup chopped red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup diced carrots
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 Tbsp. Emeril’s Essence (click to get the recipe)
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 pound crab meat, picked over for shells

To make the stock:

The stock that I use for this recipe is made from crayfish shells, but stock from lobster or crab shells will do, too. Simply save the cleaned shells from 1-2 pounds of crayfish (each pound will yield about one quart of stock). Cover the shells with water in a large pot and simmer gently for 30-45 minutes. While it’s cooking, leave it alone, except to remove any foaming at the top with a spoon. When done, remove and discard the shells, then strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve. Then strain it again through the sieve lined with a coffee filter. Use immediately or refrigerate or freeze for another day.

To make the soup:

Heat a large soup or stock pot over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil — enough to coat the bottom of the pan — then add the onion, pepper, carrot, parsley, and one tablespoon of Essence.

***Let me just take a moment here to talk about Emeril’s Essence.  I use this in my cooking a lot and always have some of it around. It’s a really good spice mix for fish, meat, roasted vegetables…whatever. I know that it is available to purchase, ready-made, but it is very simple (and, I bet, a lot cheaper) to make on your own, and it requires only a few basic spices that many people regularly have on hand. My one alteration is that I omit the cayenne pepper — I have a 3-year-old that doesn’t take too well to heat — but if you like it spicy, cayenne away!***

Ok, back to the recipe…cook the vegetables and spices for about 6-7 minutes, adjusting the heat, if necessary, so that nothing burns. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir the tomato paste around with the vegetables for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. (Note: pre-heat the stock before adding it to the pot so that the soup doesn’t stop cooking.) Taste, and add up to one more tablespoon of Essence to the soup for flavor. Simmer, covered, for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Remove the soup from heat and, with a wand blender, puree the broth and veggies until smooth. If you don’t have a wand blender, you can leave the soup chunky or use a regular blender, but be very careful not to burn yourself if transferring the hot soup out of the pot. Return the soup to the stove and add the milk. Bring back to a simmer, then add the corn and crab meat. Simmer for about 5 more minutes, and it’s ready to go!

Serve with some croutons or crusty bread. Delicious!

$8 Meals: Use it or Lose it Soup

We are back with another fine $8 meal. (Actually this dish may come in under $8, considering that you aren’t going to be buying any ingredients you don’t already have lying around in your fridge.) “Use it or Lose it Soup” is composed of all those slightly neglected veggies on the verge of spoiling in your fridge. Please don’t freak out on me…I am certainly not asking anyone to use slightly moldy, slimy veggies. Perhaps slightly wrinkly, but certainly not squishy! I often am an overzealous shopper at the farmers market, leaving me with a few vegetables or fruit that need attention by mid-week.

The last time I made this soup, I happened to have a zucchini, some mushrooms, a few carrots, a few stalks of swiss chard, an onion, and some garlic on hand. But feel free to experiment. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter what you have on hand. I also incorporated some amaranth, which is a tiny, high protein grain. I love to add it to soups and stews because it retains its crunchiness even when cooked in liquid. If you have some chicken stock handy, it also makes a nice addition to this soup, but it certainly can be left out, creating a strictly vegetarian dish.

I also added some turmeric, which provides a lovely rich yellow color to the soup. Turmeric is a natural cleanser of the body and an immune system stimulator, and may even aid in a faster metabolism. Just make sure that you wipe up any drippings while cooking, as turmeric does stain clothing and countertops easily. While it does provide color, its taste is minimal, making it a great healthy addition to many recipes without compromising taste. Of course, if you like the taste of curry, it is another great addition to the “Use it or Lose it Soup.”

1 large zucchini, grated
3-4 mushrooms, finely chopped
3 large carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 stalks swiss chard, de-veined (remove the thick stalk) and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 bay leaves
1 heaping Tbs. turmeric (or other spice of your choice)
salt, pepper to taste
10-12 c. water
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil

Heat a stock pot, or large casserole dish on medium-high heat. Add the oil. Add the mushrooms, carrots, onion, and garlic. Stir to coat with oil and allow the veggies to soften, about 3-4 minutes. If you plan to use turmeric or curry, add it to the cooking vegetables, as these spices need to sauté before adding any water. Add any grain you may be using, giving another good stir to the pot. If you are using grated zucchini, add it to the pot. Add the salt, pepper, swiss chard, and bay leaves. Add the water (and  optional chicken stock). I usually boil my water prior to adding it to the soup so the cooking process doesn’t halt in any way. Give the pot another good stir or two, cover, and bring down the stove range to low. Allow the soup to gently simmer for about 30-45 minutes.

When the soup is finished cooking, taste it to make sure the seasonings are to your liking. You can always add more salt at the end, but if you put too much in at the beginning, you most certainly can not take it back out! Feel free to add some chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley or cilantro, which gives the soup another great dimension of color and flavor. Serve with some warm, crusty bread and a cheese of your liking. Happy, healthy, (and slightly cheaper) eating!!

Chickpea Chorizo Soup

While on vacation this past February, my husband ordered some chickpea chorizo soup, of which I had the opportunity to sneak a few spoonfuls into my mouth before the entire bowl was rapidly consumed. Needless to say, it was extremely yummy. I quickly jotted down the soup’s contents to the best of my ability and tucked it away so I could try to recreate the dish when we returned home. So without further ado, I give you my version of chickpea chorizo soup…….

3 Tbl. butter (you can substitute with olive oil)
3/4-1 c. dried chickpeas*
1 md. yellow onion, finely diced
2 lg. carrots, peeled and chopped
4 stalks celery, cleaned, trimmed, and finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
3 md. potatoes, peeled and chopped into approx. 2″ cubes (you don’t have to be too exact, any shape will do!)
1/2 stick of dried chorizo sausage, chopped into 1/2″ cubes
1 Tbl. (or more) of sweet paprika
2 lg. bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
8-10 c. water, depending on how watery you want the soup
Greek-style yogurt, for garnish (may be omitted)
chopped parsley or chives (optional)

In a stock/soup pot, on medium heat, melt butter. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the drained, soaked chickpeas, potatoes, chorizo, salt, pepper, and paprika. Give it a good stir and let it cook for 2 minutes. Add bay leaves and water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to low and cover pot, allowing soup to slowly simmer for about 1 hour. Test for seasonings. Discard bay leaves. Serve with yogurt, chopped parsley or chives, and a sprinkling of paprika if desired.

*Either overnight, or approx. four-five hours prior to cooking, cover the dried chickpeas in 1″ water and allow to soak.

Lentil Soup

Lentils, in my opinion, should be a staple in your dietary menu. And because there are so many different types of lentils (red, green, brown, yellow, black, and even, speckled, just to name a few), all with different tastes and cooking qualities, it really isn’t difficult to keep things interesting. Lentils are delicious served alone, combined with rice, or incorporated into soups. They are a wonderful source of protein, essential amino acids, dietary fiber,vitamin B1, and iron.

I began serving my children lentils from a very young age. And I am very pleased that they both enjoy consuming those lovely, small disks of goodness! The following recipe is a tried and true family favorite, and whips together quickly for a weekday dinner. Be sure to make some extra servings for lunch. The flavors blend together overnight, leaving you with an even more intense flavor. Yum!

1 c. lentils (you can mix different types, adding some red and green, etc.)

1/2 onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole

2 md. carrots, chopped into small pieces

2 bay leaves

1 Tbl. cumin (add more or less to your liking)

salt, freshly ground pepper to taste

1 c. greens; spinach, kale, etc. (optional)

8-10 c. water

1 c. chicken stock

olive oil for cooking

Sauté the onion, carrot, and garlic in some olive oil on medium. Add the cumin; cook for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and lentils; allow to coat with oil for about 1 minute. Add the bay leaves, chicken stock, and water. (Depending on how much liquid you want left in your soup once it’s done, add more or less water accordingly. You can always add more at the end if there’s not enough.) Bring to a rolling boil, then cover and turn down the heat to low. Allow to cook for about 45 minutes. Towards the last 10-15 minutes of cooking, add your greens if you choose. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with some nice, crusty bread.