Chicken Soup: Good for Your Cold and Your Soul

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Chicken soup is chock-full of vitamin-C-packed veggies to boost immune systems and ward off illness. | Photo by Jan Vašek.

Let’s face it. A pot of delicious-smelling chicken soup simmering on the stove brings back childhood memories of days spent home in bed. Cooking, blending and infusing for hours, a whole chicken, vegetables and herbs transform water into a flavorful and soul-satisfying soup, the basis of a tasty, warming meal.

The Georgetowner recently went in search of chicken soup recipes — some with pasta and others with matzo balls, rice, tapioca, even Indian spices. Chock-full of vitamin-C-packed veggies to boost immune systems and ward off illness, these are the kind of recipes that will be your go-to flu- and cold-fighting meals this winter.

Fairmont executive chef Mark Timms believes that “it’s all about the [chicken stock] base” in his succulent soup. “A rich homemade stock makes all the difference in the end result,” says Timms. “Once you have a savory base, you’ve got a winning, satisfying soup.”

Newseum executive chef Tom Blundell’s “Getting All Better” soup has lentils and a little horseradish. And he doesn’t spare the carbs, putting in both rice and rich egg noodles. A menu staple at Firefly in Kimpton’s Hotel Madera is chicken matzoh ball soup, with light, airy matzoh balls in a rich broth.

Billy Martin, owner of Georgetown’s beloved Martin’s Tavern, serves Grandma Martin’s chicken soup, the recipe dating back to the 1930s. Billy noted that Grandpa Martin added his own secret ingredient to the soup to relieve some of his cold symptoms: a tablespoon of Irish whiskey (really, just a tablespoon?).

The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon’s executive chef Sriram Hariharan bases his Indian chicken soup on his mother’s recipe, handed down from generation to generation. It highlights some unique Indian spices with known health benefits, such as turmeric, cumin, cloves, coriander and cinnamon.

St. Regis executive chef Andrew Roche, meanwhile, likes his soup classic. It’s a favorite with the hotel’s younger set and has a big fan base in guests feeling under the weather. (In fact, it’s so loved by guests that some ask for a container to go when they check out.)

Maman Samake, mom of executive chef Yves Samake at the Ritz-Carlton, always used tapioca in her soup, a tradition Samake has continued by featuring the soup on the hotel’s catering and banquet menu. “Tapioca has a rich composition of good carbs, vitamins and minerals that makes it a rich and healthy option,” says Samake. According to the hotel’s catering guru Annie Boutin-King, Samake’s soup is so popular it is often requested during the winter months as the soup course for high-level social and corporate events menus.

But are these chefs (and grandma) right to include a steaming hot bowl of chicken soup for what ails you? Is it really the best remedy for a cold?

“Research has shown that chicken soup may have anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce or help you cope better with cold symptoms,” said Suzanne Doud Galli, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S. “Chicken soup helps people dealing with cold and flu symptoms stay hydrated, the soup’s salt and steam help soothe passageways in the nose and throat — all playing a big role in the cold sufferer’s recovery. Homemade broth is less salty then the commercial brands, so it makes a much better choice. It’s packed with protein-rich chicken and healthy, fresh, vitamin-rich ingredients and antioxidants like carrots, onions, celery, which also help build the immune system.”

So there you have it — soups that kick like winter’s aphrodisiac.

You don’t need to have a cold to enjoy these soups; they’re nutritious and wonderful comfort food for getting through the cold dreary days of February. But if you are one of the unlucky ones who comes down with the flu or a cold, prepare one of these satisfying recipes — or better yet find a sympathetic friend to make a batch — and see if you don’t feel half human and healthy again.

And to add some points to your good-karma score, make a big pot of your favorite recipe “to go and share” if you have a friend or neighbor who’s sick. That’s definitely something good for the cold and your soul.

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