Anyone who knows me knows I am a dismal cook. Start with a forgetfulness that requires timers to keep from burning things and a low tolerance for failure and drudgery and what you get is someone who is perfectly happy with take-out every night. It has been the source of much motherhood angst. What will my kids remember when they think about the good old days with Mom? Making sarcastic comments at episodes of Spongebob?
I have one recipe I can make from scratch (and from memory) that involves a few more steps beyond boiling (although, yes, there is also boiling). I call it Medicine Soup. Based on something I once read in a book called Kids, Herbs & Health: A Practical Guide to Natural Remedies, over the years I’ve tweaked it to be my own and made it for the kids whenever comfort food and hydration were in order. It’s glorified chicken soup, really.
The other day, while in Falmouth, I caught a nasty stomach bug. The one thought that kept me going during the four-hour drive home was that at least I’d make myself some Medicine Soup the next day. I got home, slept for 14 hours, then dragged myself off my death bed and went to fetch the ingredients. I cooked it up nice and warm. I gave my daughter a bowl, just because she likes it and she said, “So… is this recipe written down somewhere? Like if you keel over tomorrow, does that mean that this recipe goes with you?”
It was, possibly, one of the greatest affirmations of my worth as a mother that I could at least convince one of my kids that I possess a recipe worth memorializing. The other one is for empanadas, but my mother knows that one too, and everyone agrees she’s the undisputed empanada-champion. Medicine Soup is my one ticket into the good-mother leagues, although only partially, since my son won’t touch it no matter how deathly ill or vibrantly healthy he is.
I began to write the recipe down for my daughter (these things are matrilineal anyway, I told myself) and then it occurred to me that maybe I could fudge it into counting as my daily post. So, without further ado, Medicine Soup a la Maria:
- 3 1/2 quarts of water (does one list water as an ingredient in soup or is this a given?)
- One cup of brown rice (although, more accurately, it’s ‘enough rice to cover the bottom of a 4 quart pot’)
- One organic piece of chicken breast (whole, you’ll see why)
- 10 cloves of garlic (the little pieces of garlic are cloves, right? Not like the whole thing, but one piece? A bunch of garlic is what I’m saying. It’s got anti-viral and antibacterial properties). I vacillate as to how much. Sometimes I add 5, sometimes 10. The sicker I am, the more I add. And, honestly, you can’t really taste it mixed in with everything so you might as well load it on.
- half a Spanish onion (only because it makes me feel like a more authentic Latina to use a Spanish onion. Really any white onion will do. And I bet even a red one would do in a pinch. I’ve used shallots and those work as well)
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 shitaake mushroom (also antibacterial and antiviral). Just the top. Not the rubbery part. Chop it up into chunks.
- 1 can of kidney or pink Goya beans (because who’s got time for dried beans?)
- 1/2 a bag of organic frozen peas (see canned beans rationalization above)
- Salt. You’re on your own with how much. I hold the salt container upside down and count to eight. But then I like things salty.
Start the water boiling and put in the rice, chicken, shitaake mushrooms and salt on high heat. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Or just watch for it to boil if you’ve got that kind of patience, but that usually results in kitchen fires at my house.
While that starts to boil up, put your garlic cloves and onion in your food processor and chop them up kinda fine, kinda chunky. I mean, be a martyr and chop them by hand if you must, but I’ve noticed I’m much more apt to make this soup if I don’t have to go through the purgatory that is chopping. But, hey, to each his own.
In a pan, over medium heat, saute up the garlic and onions until the onions are clear but before anything burns. Your guess is as good as mine as to how long that actually is. This one, unfortunately, you’ve got to actively participate in.
Usually it works out that the water starts boiling and the garlic and onions are ready at about the same time. If you’ve got those same ninja powers, awesome. Put the garlic and onions into the soup (and make sure to get the yummy olive oil in there as well). Now it’s starting to look like broth.
Now turn down the heat to low and leave that whole situation on its own for about 45 minutes (seriously, I recommend several timers to alert you on this one. And don’t accidentally wander off to the store in the middle of it. Not that I speak from experience or anything).
When your various alarms go off, spoon out a bit of the rice and make sure it’s soft. If it isn’t, first, make a note to get less awful rice next time. Then boil it for a little longer, like 10 minutes.
Pull out the whole chicken breast, let it cool for like a minute (I suggest wandering off to another room for something because if you’re impatient like me you’ll just go to town trying to chop the chicken up into little pieces and burn your fingers). Why cook it first and then chop it up? This tip comes courtesy of my ex-husband, the restaurant guy. Once cooked, the chicken just falls into strips naturally. No touching slimy raw chicken (which totally skeeves me) and no fake-looking cubes. Use a knife to cut across the length but then just pull it apart into smaller pieces. Really works.
Put the chicken, now in strips, back in the soup. Add the can of beans and the frozen peas and leave it for another 10 minutes.
Voila, you’re done. The totally incompetent’s cook’s recipe for comfort soup. I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s radioactive with garlic or the placebo effect, but this brew will get you better in a hurry. You’ll reek of garlic, of course, so maybe you should hold off on kissing people. But you’re sick… you shouldn’t be kissing anyone anyway!
There you have it, my sweets!