Growing up in the foothills of the Western Ghats, in South India, I remember making sure my study table always faced the mountains and the deep blue sky, majestically spread above them, each day as I sat down to study….the strength and inspiration I drew from those hills was immense. To this day, mountains do that to me, with their calming presence !
The water from the rivers that flowed down those mountains was crystal clear, I used to believe it even had its own music while it flowed over fertile lands quenching farm lands and people along the way. We did not have to plan vacations, every weekend was a retreat in itself, an escape to these beautiful places surrounded by Nature’s best, rejuvenated the soul and the spirit, keeping the mind and air clean.
When the water level was low we would run along the river bank as children, picking flat rocks for our little aquarium at home.Simple joys, that the world to us even then.
When the water level raised we would hike up the mountain path….
……to go bathe in the water falls.
Trekking back down the hill, we would be mighty hungry, the state tourism department had a tourism bungalow for visitors at the foothills, where we could place an order for food before hand so by the time we got down hill, hot food would be waiting for us to relish, the aroma would tease our senses, as we winded down the path to the bungalow. Life was simple or so it seemed then, coz we were children ,cherishing every bit of childhood joy there ever was.
There lived a permanent chef in the tourist bungalow those days, who had paralyzed his right hand by falling from a coconut palm in childhood. He smiled very little talked even less. Why do I still remember him after all these years ? Yes, you guessed right, his amazing dishes, in spite of his handicap was something you would remember for ages. My favorite among them was his chicken soup, ghee rice, mutton kurma and fish cutlets, yes in that order , exactly ! Some people and some memories you carry with you all your life, today “Venu” was in my kitchen in spirit guiding me along as I cooked my spicy chicken soup, Chettinad style ( a region in South India, famous for its spicy dishes, with their classic signature in each one of them) .Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to think up the taste, the aroma, the flavor while cooking a dish, from memories past ? Today I was determined ,come what may, it is going to be “Venu’s chicken soup “in my kitchen, though I am continents away ! I craved it !!
Where did the inspiration come from ? Well, last evening, my kid came back from school with a stuffy nose and flu like symptoms.Nothing like chicken soup to chase the cold away, so off I went to get my pot brewing.Easy and delicious, with ingredients you are likely to have in your kitchen, made in a jiffy, the best and healthy comfort soup you can ever wish for in this cold winter. Make a whole pot of it & refrigerate it, I promise you, you won’t be sorry when you beat the cold winter and the crazy traffic on your way back home to have this yummy soup waiting for you, in your refrigerator. All you have to do is warm it up before you have a bowlful of it !
So here goes the recipe……
For seasoning :
To cook :
Chicken thighs with bone – 6-7 pieces
Onions- 1 large or shallots (10-12) if available
Garlic- 6-7 cloves
Coconut Oil – 2 tbsp
Vegetables- like carrots, green peas, cauliflower florets, potatoes etc -1 cup
Turmeric powder – 1 tsp
Salt- to taste
Water – 4-5 cups ( adjust , according to desired consistency)
To grind into a fine powder after dry roasting them :
Coriander seeds – 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds- 1tbsp
Fennel seeds- 1/2 tbsp
Dried Red chillies – 3-4 ( you can substitute it with cayenne pepper powder too, adjust the spice level according to taste )
Whole black peppercorns – 2 tbsp
For Garnishing :
Cilantro/ Coriander leaves – a few
1.In a seasoning pan, dry roast all the spices .Then blend them into a fine powder, once the spices cool down. Set aside.
2. Clean & cut chicken into bite size pieces, the bone pieces with the meat on them, can be left as such, coz when you cook they add to the flavor .
3. Now in a thick bottomed pressure cooker, add the coconut oil , when it turns warm, add the cloves, cinnamon, bayleaf and cardamom. Next add the crushed or sliced garlic, wait till the raw smell disappears.To this add the finely sliced onion and saute them, till they turn transparent. Add the turmeric powder & mix well.
4. Next add the cubed tomatoes and wait till they soften into a mushy mass. Then add the mixed vegetables and allow them to soften in the steam.
5. Now add the chicken pieces and allow it to cook in it’s own steam , after adding the finely blended, dry roasted spice powder to it. Make sure both the chicken pieces and the vegetables are well coated with the spice powder.
6. Add the water, cover with lid and wait for the pressure cooker whistle to blow. After 3-4 whistles the chicken will be well cooked & tender, the bone pieces would let the juices flow into the soup enriching it further.
7. Remove from stove, garnish with cilantro and serve hot.
Note : Since flu makes one dehydrated and the need to eat any solid food becomes even scanty when one is sick, this is a good way to keep oneself hydrated, healthy while maintaining energy levels. Research says ,that as long as one consumes the chicken soup in regular intervals while sick, the compound present in the chicken soup, carnosine helps prevent the congestion and minimizes inflammation in the upper respiratory tract. Eating chicken soup when you have a cold also helps coz’ you’re breathing steam, which also loosens up the congestion.Other key ingredients in a chicken soup include onions, garlic and additional vegetables that add flavor and a healthy dose of phytonutrients – vital for a well-functioning immune system. They can also help to reduce inflammation in the body, which in turn may help to ease the symptoms of a pesky cold.