All About Food: Chicken soup for your health

It's the season to feel fluish.

Help may come from something Jewish.

Long called Jewish penicillin, chicken soup's power to heal has mainly been viewed as folklore but recent scientific studies have proven that it has genuine health benefits, so much so that research doctors in Israel have asked the World Health Organization to add it to the List of Essential Drugs for Infections.

Forget pills, sprays and prescriptions. What you really need is hot chicken soup.

Around the 12th century, healers started to prescribe " the broth of fowl" for their ill patients. Egyptian Jewish physician and philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides started to write extensively about the benefits of chicken soup. He used this fowl brew to treat such things as constipation, hemorrhoids and even leprosy but he especially praised its healing power for respiratory illnesses.

In the 1990s, Dr. Stephen Renard at the University of Nebraska wanted to test his mother-in-law's theory that chicken soup is good for colds.

He conducted many tests, using a recipe he titled "Grandma's Soup." The results demonstrated that chicken soup is a good anti-inflammatory. Current researchers agree that chicken soup breaks up congestion and eases the flow of nasal secretions. And many say it inhibits the white blood cells that trigger the inflammatory response causing sore throats and the production of phlegm. Chicken soup also contains a sulfur compound called cystine, which protects against infections of the throat, sinuses and chest.

Here are two recipes, one Eastern, and one Western, for this magic elixir.

Remember, no matter its provenance, it must be served hot. Soup from cans, boxes or packets has been proven to be less beneficial. So, if you are starting to feel ill, quickly run out to the market and grab yourself a chicken or call your nearest and dearest, then whine and moan and, hopefully, they'll bring over the soup.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at


Terry's Grandmother's Chicken Soup


1 roasting chicken, halved or quartered, excess fat removed

3 quarts of water

2 teaspoons salt

1 small parsnip, peeled

2 large carrots, peeled and quartered

1 medium onion, whole

2 stalks celery with leaves, cut in half

3 or 4 sprigs of parsley

pinch of sugar

salt and white pepper to taste

Cooking instructions:

Put chicken in large pot, cover with water. Add 2 teaspoons of salt.

Bring water to a simmer and cook uncovered skimming frequently.

When broth seems clear, cover and cook on low flame for 45 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients except for salt and pepper.

Continue to cook for another hour.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Strain soup and discard solids unless you want to eat them.

Serve soup with vermicelli egg noodles or matzoh balls, cooked separately.

Garnish with parsley or dill.

Elle's Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup (pho ga)


1 large chicken (4-5 pounds), excess fat removed, water to cover

3½ quarts water for soup

1 3-inch piece ginger, peeled, cut in slices

2 green onions

1 whole Serrano chile

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

3 kaffir lime leaves or one stalk lemongrass

2 star anise

8 ounces thin rice noodles, cooked according to package directions.


2 cups beans sprouts

cilantro sprigs, basil leaves, mint leaves

lime wedges

sliced chilies

Sriracha sauce

Cooking instructions:

Cut chicken breast meat off in two whole pieces. Put remaining chicken in pot. Add water to cover and boil for 5 minutes.

Dump the chicken in a large colander. Discard water. Rinse with cold water.

Put chicken and 3½ quarts cold water in pot. Add breasts and remaining ingredients.

Bring to a simmer. Turn heat to very low. Cook 15 minutes. Remove breasts, slice, set aside. Skim broth. Partially cover.

Simmer for 90 minutes, skimming every 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with more fish sauce or sugar.

Strain broth, discard solids.

Ladle hot broth into bowls. Add noodles, then chicken.

Serve with garnishes and Sriracha.

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