Saturday, October 29, 2011


No sooner than a winter ambush in mid-autumn is forecast that my thoughts meander to my mom's chicken soup. A bowl-full is what I crave for most when the promise of polar conditions brings memories of a mother's warmth to the forefront.

I liken stirring up a batch to time traveling as the blend of scents and reminiscence takes me back to her Cuban kitchen. Visions play out vividly with my mom at the stove and six children -- smaller ones in the family room, teens scattered about -- inside, outside, on the phone, at the piano, on the drums -- whatever! I get tired just recalling what she must have gone through raising six unique personalities.

Warning: my reproduction of her chicken soup falls a couple of ladles short of authentic, thus, any pretenses of me cooking up a perfect pot are left outside my own kitchen entrance. Life doles out its regrets in the later years... I had never asked her for her recipe. Nonetheless, I learned from observing enough to make a mixture that doesn't hold a candle to hers, but guaranteed... comes deliciously close.
I remember secretly laughing when she expressed disdain for cooking and the kitchen, because to me, no one could turn out a "sopa de pollo" or any meal, for that matter, like my mom. It's a soup that, to this day, I reach for when a heart needs warmth and a soul needs comfort. No measuring cups here -- or even tablespoons or pinches. I was never good at math, so forget amounts of any kind. I just wing it, knowing that all's well that blends well. So here you have it! The Mercedes of all chicken soups...



6 cucufates (translation: my cousin, Lucia's, term of endearment for a brat pack of 6)
Autumn on ice
Reflections of a Cuban kitchen
Pot(s) full of water
Chicken pieces (boneless, skinless to make it healthier/everything on to make it tastier)
Potatoes, golden or red
Sweet Potatoes (I love sweet potatoes; my dad used to call me Sweet Potato)
Quimbobo (okra, prohibitively priced out of season, best when plucked from your own plants)
Olive Oil
Sea Salt
Onion Powder
Garlic Powder
Any other spice you want

Scrub the potatoes clean and half or quarter. Leave the skin on. Wash the okra and peel the plantains then half or quarter. Husk the corn and half. Rinse the chicken pieces clean. Toss all the ingredients into the pot(s) of water. Add the olive oil, sea salt and spices. Bring to a roaring boil and let it roar till the chicken is cooked, potatoes are soft, and the quimbobo (okra) has frayed. Once cooked, remove the chicken and let the pieces cool. With (washed) hands, remove the chicken from the bones, throw away the skin and toss the pieces back into the soup. Let the mixture sit. Serve hot enough to sip, but not enough to burn.

The Magic:
Temperamental as I was as a child under two digits old, the slightest disagreement would send me packing. The cliché kerchief tied to the end of a stick and filled with stones to mimic my belongings, a favorite doll, and a secret hiding place within my mom's eye-view and earshot, was all I needed in my life as an escapee. To me, it was more than a revolt; it was a statement... a declaration of independence touted prophetically by mom as "She was born with a suitcase in her hand." In the later years as an adult, just as in my childhood years, two things always lured me home: a serving of white rice topped with a fried egg and her amazing chicken soup poured into a blender (minus the corn) and puréed to a smooth, creamy potage:

UPDATE: Since this posting on Saturday, I traveled down memory lane with my family who took me back even deeper into our Cuban kitchen and our mom making the soup. The vivid details of their memories are now included in the "Thought(s)" below. It all came back to me and, I swear, I was there if only for a precious moment.


From Beyond My Kitchen Window said...

Oh, such wonderful recipes and photography. I really love the idea of the soup all pureed up and creamy.

The Country Cardinal said...

It appears that I am not the only one who has felt the power and magic of my mother's chicken soup. My family came back with some thoughts that transformed reflections into a rush of memories. To enhance and enrich the recipe...

From my little sister:
"If I may correct your chicken soup recipe... I believe Mama would first slightly brown the chicken in olive oil, onions and garlic (the smell alone brings back memories) then add the water and all the vegetables, and for me she would add the "fideos" (noodles). Correct me if I am wrong, but that is how I have been making it."

She continues...

"It is amazing the power of chicken soup. It has gotten me through many teenage girls' angst. As soon as they smell it cooking or when they get off the school immediately calms them down!! When I send it in for lunch, their friends ask for some, too. Mine is nowhere as good as Mama's becaus I never had her recipe, but memory has somewhat served me well."

From my big sister:
"I think of Mama every time I make it. You're right about it with the kids. I always saute the vegetables also before I add the broth."

From my cousin, Lucia:
This is great! It is more of an "ajiaco".

To "From Beyond My Kitchen Window":
Thank you for the compliment and likewise! A window would be nice to add to my reflections of a Cuban kitchen.


nancy at good food matters said...

what a marvelous looking soup--such a unique meld of ingredients. Food is a powerful tool for conjuring memories. How nice that your family filled in with some of theirs. lovely post.