The Soup Cure
Chicken soup is almost always the remedy of choice for a cold or the flu. But does it really have curative powers? In 1999 researchers at Tel Aviv University declared that chicken soup should be classified as an essential drug. In a 2000 study, scientists at the University of Nebraska Medical Center foundthat chicken soup inhibits the movement of white blood cells, one of the causes of congestion and cough. Clinical studies need to be done, however, for the results to be conclusive. "All we can say now is that chicken soup is a placebo," says Manfred Kroger, a specialist in food science at Pennsylvania State University. "When you drink it, your body recognizes you're making an effort to cure yourself. It's mind over matter."
Every country in the world makes healthy and delicious soups. Here are five standouts.
borscht Russia A peasant soup of beets, green cabbage and potatoes often enriched with beef shank.
minestrone Italy A chunky vegetable soup with shell beans and pasta laced with tomatoes, basil and garlic and served with grated Parmesan cheese.
pho Vietnam One of the defining Vietnamese experiences is eating this rice-noodle soup with beef at a street stall for breakfast. You choose thick or thin noodles, the cut of meat and garnishes: bean sprouts, herbs and chiles.
rasam India Sometimes called pepper water, this spicy broth is made with small yellow lentils and tomatoes. Extra pepper goes in when it's prepared for the sick because of pepper's supposed warming properties.
tom yum kung Thailand A brothy hot-and-sour shrimp soup infused with lemongrass, kaffir-lime leaves, fish sauce and cilantro and served with straw mushrooms.
Soup To the Rescue
Soup kitchens are probably the best expression of this food's ability to nourish and comfort. Some of the first soup kitchens opened in New York City in the mid-1800s as hundreds of thousands of immigrants poured into the city. The Bowery Mission, one of the oldest, was founded in 1879 in the notorious Five Points slum and provided soup, bread and coffee to the homeless, including the eponymous Bowery bums and out-of-work sailors. Today it serves 359,000 meals a year (800-BOWERY1 or www.bowery.org). The Bowery Mission is but one of many hunger-relief charities around the country. America's Second Harvest can help you find a soup kitchen like the one below where you can volunteer (800-771-2303 or www.secondharvest.org).
Five Steps to Soup
1. Simmer a liquid Healthy options include stock, water, low-fat milk and buttermilk.
2. Add vegetables Toss in one or more aromatic vegetables—onion, leek, garlic, celery, carrot—plus any other vegetables you can think of: cabbage, tomatoes, winter squash. Use them raw or sauté them first.
3. Enrich the pot with meats, poultry, seafood Long-simmered soups are a great way to use tough beef cuts from the shoulder and leg, older chickens, whole fish or crab in the shell. Quick soups require more luxurious ingredients cut into smaller pieces: chicken breast, beef tenderloin, shrimp, fish fillets.
4. Stir in a thickener Rice, potatoes, pasta, dried peas, shell beans, bread, flour (mixed into the vegetables as they sauté) and cornstarch (whisked into the finished, simmering soup) all lend body. At this point, the soup can be pureed to make it more refined.
5. Garnish Choices can be homey or elegant: toast, dumplings, ravioli, choux pastry, croutons, custard cutouts.