Chicken Curry Soup...and the flu

Patient zero: phlegm kid from daycare. Those little suckers are just Petri dishes teeming with bacteria and viruses. This mixed with a fun game they apparently love to play, pacifier swap, means we've been sick since Maya's been born. Now, Maya LOVES this game. Apparently, she not only loves it, but she likes to RUN it. She collects the pacifiers from everyone in the class, mixes them up, and hands them back out.

I wonder if this means she’s going to be a tax collector someday?

When Chad and I went to meet Maya’s new daycare teachers last Thursday, we immediately spotted him. Patient zero (which in reality, is more like patient 19284 this flu season) is a cute little boy with sweet face…with snot all over it. He was grinning ear to ear with pink cheeks and droopy eyes as he wiped his snot with the open palm of his hand. The teacher’s smiled and said, “He and Maya are attached at the hip!” Now, I could see Chad’s eyes widen and his mouth start to open. I knew it was coming. I couldn’t stop him. My husband is a kind man and quite brilliant, but sometimes he likes to blurt things out.

“Yuck! That kid is gross, Maya! Stay away!” (Note: he’s referring to the germs undoubtedly flowing from his nose, not that he believes this child is gross in other terms)

Depending on the case, I sometimes have to reprimand Chad for these little outbursts. This time, however, I agreed with him. I just stared at this kid’s nose and I felt it in my bones. It was coming.

The flu. It had already started making its way through the pharmacy department, the hospitalists Chad works with and the kids at daycare. There were also several other viruses popping up at this point including Metapneumovirus, Coronavirus, and Rhinovirus. Finally, almost every patient recently admitted to the room across from my office at the hospital had been on flu precautions. Let me tell you something, if I had a penny for every time I caught someone without their precautions and then watched them roll their eyes at me when I told them to wear a mask and wash their hands, I’d be able to afford the 2 Whoppers for $6 deal at Burger King. This may not sound like a lot, but do the math. Little FYI, viral shedding can still occur for several days after you are no longer symptomatic, so even if you “feel better,” it does NOT mean that you are not still contagious.

Come Friday, after a full day of swapping spit with adorable phlegm kid the day before, Maya was running a fever. She screamed all weekend until we were able to brave the ice that had hit our town to take her to the pediatrician on Monday. She had an ear infection, likely superimposed with a viral infection (by this time, there were three confirmed cases of the flu at daycare, phlegm kid being one of them). While sick, Maya had been extremely cuddly. This was great from a mommy and daddy getting snuggles standpoint. This was not so great from a baby likes to kiss mommy on the mouth and get snot/drool inside of mommy’s mouth all day standpoint. There was no avoiding it.

Tuesday, at exactly 12PM, my nose clogged. My colleague looked at me and said, “You…sound horrible.” It was all downhill from there. Fever by 5PM, bedtime soon after. Convenient care 10AM the next morning, Tamiflu by 1PM.

This finally brings me to soup. I cannot be sick and not make chicken soup. For years, every time I was sick, my mother or grandmother would make me soup. It is one of the first dishes my grandmother and mother taught me. It’s a tradition ingrained in my life. Because of it, snobby as it may be, I refuse to eat canned chicken soup or most restaurant chicken soups. I will struggle through making it, no matter the cost. I once walked the grocery store, having to rest at the end of each aisle to catch my breath, in order get all the ingredients I needed. I have laid in the middle of the kitchen to rest in between steps because I HAD to have chicken soup.

Like most chicken soups, it’s magical. It’s curative. It’s a hug in a bowl for the unwell. I’ve made it for myself, my child, my husband and several friends. It is a universal sign of “I love you” when someone is sick (or it should be).

The past year or so, I have experienced congestion like nothing I have ever known. Maya is a germ factory and I often lay in bed wondering when I will be able to breathe again and why I take all the times I can breathe for granted. Because of this, I started switching things up. I started making a version with curry. I’ve found this adds a slight bit of heat. I don’t think this is a full mouth heat like chili, but a nose/sinus heat. I have several variations of this soup depending on what is in my pantry, but they all end up similar. I should also note; this soup can be as easy or as hard as you want to make it. You can store-buy several components, shortening the time and effort needed (great for when you’re REALLY sick), or if you are able, you can make each component from scratch.

I am hoping your family stays safe in the cold and healthy this season. If you don’t, here’s a spicy spin on a classic to warm your soul.

I apologize there aren’t pictures of the process, but with a fever of 102F, I was happy just to get it done!

It’s dangerous to go alone: Take this (tips and tricks for the process):

  Disclaimer: I do not own Zelda/Link :-)

Disclaimer: I do not own Zelda/Link :-)

Chicken stock: Normally, I first sauté chicken legs/thighs and chicken breast, bone in (flavor!), with olive oil, onion and garlic. I then add water and aromatics (celery/carrots/thyme) to make my own stock. But since I’m feeling sick, I used a premade vegetable stock made from scraps that I keep bagged in the freezer for such days. You can also use store-bought chicken/vegetable stock if you’d like to shorten the process.

 Vegetable scraps saved in the freezer.

Vegetable scraps saved in the freezer.

 Boil scraps in water for 30 to 45 minutes. I then let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Boil scraps in water for 30 to 45 minutes. I then let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

 Strain and cool out stock. Portion and freeze!

Strain and cool out stock. Portion and freeze!

Curry: Cook the curry powder first in oil and onion for about 10 minutes. This helps the oils release from the curry, enhancing the curry flavor but removing the almost “resinous” bite I believe raw curry powder has.

Coconut milk: I didn’t have this today, so I omitted. I usually use full-fat coconut milk. Today, I did add a little bit of plain coffee creamer I had on hand for a “creamier” texture and a little coconut sugar for sweetness. Keep in mind: regular milk/dairy can exacerbate mucous in some people, so don’t add if this happens to you.

Butternut squash/sweet potato base: I like to add this to “bulk” up the broths or soups. I realize part of the appeal of soup is the broth and I LOVE a great chicken broth. But I’ve come to really love this version as well.

I will sometime use this tip even without curry, often with leftover Thanksgiving turkey to make a turkey soup. I first saw this on a recipe from Michael Chiarello several years back and have been using this tip since.

If I don’t use it to thicken the base, I also like to chop up pieces of sweet potato or fingerling potatoes to add heartiness to a chicken soup. This time, I roasted a butternut squash in the oven, scraped out the insides and blended with stock in my Vitamix. If you want things ultra-silky, I recommend straining.

If you like butternut squash, there are also frozen versions. Have you ever cut a butternut squash? It’s hard!! No lie, I once got a blister on my hand from intense butternut squash chopping.

Noodles: I did not add noodles this time, but often do. For plain chicken noodle soup, I generally use medium shells. For curry soup, I use brown rice or riced cauliflower.

If adding noodles to a plain chicken soup, I sometimes just throw these in near the end and boil for 8 minutes until done. Alternatively, you can cook these separately and combine at the end. If you're using cauliflower rice or regular rice, I recommend cooking these separately and combining or serving over as a finish.

Spices: I mix these up and sometimes add cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, or whatever I feel like that day. Occasionally, ginger… just figure out what works for you, but this is how I made it today.

Chicken/Veggies: Often, I use the chicken from making stock as above. I like to use a combination of dark and light meat for added flavor. Today, however, I chopped up chicken breasts and simply threw this in the pot. I have also used a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from my local grocery deli as a time saver. When you’re not sick, chorizo sausage and goat cheese go great with this a curry/butternut squash base. To omit meat, I like roasted broccoli, brussel sprouts, and/or cauliflower as the best substitutes or add-ins.

Now, on to the recipe! 

4 to 6 teaspoons curry
Drizzle olive oil
1 small-medium yellow onion, diced
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp sea salt (or just salt)
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 stocks of celery, diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced on the bias
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1-1.5 pounds of chicken
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 cup water
2 tablespoons coconut sugar (optional)
1 small/medium butternut squash OR 1 bag frozen
1 can coconut milk (optional)

Sauté curry and onion in olive oil until onion is translucent and curry powder changes color slightly.
Add celery, carrots and potatoes with all spices (including salt and pepper) into pot and let cook out for about 5 to 10 minutes to absorb some flavor.
Add the chicken to the pot and cook lightly. Ensure the chicken is coated in the curry mixture.
Add in garlic last (before liquids) so it doesn’t burn and become bitter.
Add stock, water, coconut sugar and other vegetables (e.g. brussel sprouts or broccoli, if using)
Simmer 30 to 45 minutes or until vegetables (sweet potatoes and carrots take longer) are fork tender.
While this is cooking, cut a butternut squash in half and season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven at 400F until tender (usually 35 to 60 minutes, depending on the size)
After the soup is done simmering, take some stock and put into a blender with the roasted squash, scooped out. Blend until smooth. Spoon back into the soup pot with the rest of the vegetables and stir until well combined.
Add coconut milk to finish (optional)
Garnish as desired. Serve hot and enjoy!