Not Just a Bowl of Chicken Soup

Smells like dill

In my opinion and in the opinion of many others, being Jewish is all about tradition. To some, it’s adhering to customs that are thousands of years old. To others, it’s about ritual prayer.
And to this Jew, it’s all about the soup.
My grandmother made the best chicken soup on the planet and possibly, in recorded history. It was the reason I looked forward to holiday dinners. It was my last meal should I ever be on death row. It was my tradition. And most of the time, there was some ritual prayer involved as well.
In my family, the soup was served from oldest to youngest. I was the youngest and there were times that my uncle was on his second bowl before I had my first. So, I would pray. I would pray that there would be enough soup left for me and that maybe someday a random toddler would show up for dinner.
With the High Holidays upon us, my mind is consumed with memories of soup, my grandma, and the tradition that is now mine to continue. For as long as I can remember, that soup was my thing. I remember being 3 or 4 years old, sitting at my grandma’s kitchen table and eating the lokshen with my hands. And I remember being a college freshman, walking into my grandma’s house straight from the airport, and being finally given the first bowl.
What was it about that soup? What on Earth did she put in it that made it taste so good?
As my grandma got older and less mobile, I began to realize that my family had a serious problem. For some unknown reason, my mother was not born with the cooking gene. It also became apparent that my tomboy-ish mother must have been playing stickball with the boys when her mother was preparing holiday dinners. We were doomed.
I hatched a plan.
I convinced my grandma to show me the ropes – to divulge the secrets of the soup.
So at some point in my mid-20s, my grandma stood over me in the kitchen and directed me as I made her soup. And just like that, the tradition was handed down. From that day on, I made the soup for our holiday dinners. My grandma would never verbally admit that it was better or even as good as hers. But with a nod of her head and a request for a second bowl, I knew.
I might go to services this week and next. I might say some prayers for the year ahead and atone for the year that has just ended. That’s the extent of “being Jewish” for so many of us. Not me. That soup makes me Jewish more than anything I know.
My grandma is gone now, but her soup lives on right here in Minnetonka (although finding a good parsnip around here is a major obstacle).

Here it is TC Jew Folk – the soup:

*A disclaimer – these are not precise measurements and I take no responsibility for poor results. When in doubt, use more than less. An extra carrot never hurt anyone.

The ingredients:

  • (2) whole chickens – My grandma urged me to use kosher chickens. She was convinced that they tasted better. I, however, have a full-time job and a young child so there isn’t much time left for plucking feathers. Kosher or not, get whole chickens cut up for optimum flavor.
  • (2-3) onions, quartered – Try to avoid the sweeter varieties as the carrots provide all the sweetness you’ll need.
  • (1) bag of carrots, peeled and split
  • (1) bag of celery stalks, cut in thirds
  • (4-6) parsnips, peeled and split
  • (3-5) turnips, peeled and quartered
  • (2-3) leeks, split
  • (1) bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • (1-2) bunches of fresh dill
  • (1) bag of lokshen – A thin egg noodle is best
  • kosher salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • chicken bouillon (only if absolutely necessary)
  • love – Don’t laugh. It’s a real ingredient.

The Directions:

  1. Throw the chicken parts and the vegetables into a large pot.
  2. Cover everything with water.
  3. Lightly season the water with kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Layer the parsley and dill on top of the water.
  5. Sprinkle more kosher salt on top of the herbs.
  6. Boil until the chicken is cooked through.
  7. Add bouillon only if more chicken flavor is needed.
  8. Remove chicken parts and carrots, reserve.
  9. Strain broth and dispose of remaining vegetables and herbs.
  10. Pick chicken meat off the bones.
  11. Slice carrots.
  12. Skim fat off the top of the broth.
  13. Lokshen should be cooked separately in water and reserved in some broth.
  14. Fill bowl with chicken meat, sliced carrots, lokshen and cover with soup.
  15. Serve from oldest to youngest.

Happy New Year TC Jew Folk. May only good things (and good soup) await you in the coming year.