South-Indian chicken soup

This is my great-grandmother’s recipe. I think it was passed down to her from her mother or grandmother, but this is how far back I’ve been able to trace it. When a recipe dates back almost 120 years, you know it’s special. The sense of nostalgia and comfort that this aromatic hot bowl of soup induces is soul satisfying in every sense of the term.

I very fondly remember spending my holidays at my great-grandmother’s colossal 12,000 sq ft single storey home which comprised of vast open spaces and courtyards, that during the summer months doubled as a drying pad for spices, chillies, and onions and as a playground of sorts for me and my cousins.

About the recipe..this is not like any chicken soup you’ve had. There are no carrots, leeks, or celery to form its base (I don’t think they even formed a part of India’s agricultural produce back then!) That was a time when everything they ate was grown in their own farms, or foraged in the surrounding fields. An era when families that owned land would sow their own paddy, harvest and mill it, before storing it until the next harvest season. Those that had a more bountiful crop would even gratuitously donate the excess to the farmers who tended their farmlands.  Some – including my ancestors – even bred their own cows for the milk, and chickens and goats for their meat. A lot has changed since then, some good, some bad, but I get the sense that we may have missed out on the charm of a simpler life.

The spices in this soup – garlic, cumin, curry leaves, and peppercorns are fiery, but as with all recipes, you can add as much or little as you’d prefer. The soup itself is made with chicken pieces, but you could alternatively use only the bones which would still give you a rich stock. I can attest that this is just as delicious! I managed to save a bowlful which I eked out by adding rice into and making it a meal in itself. So good!

The recipes that were passed down through my great-grandmother have always been special to us, even more so after her passing. The curries that we make today still have the same blend of spices, the laddus the same proportion of ghee and sugar, and it’s obvious that our love for cooking hasn’t skipped any generation in between. I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as I did growing up, and still do with my own family.

INGREDIENTS : (Serves 3 – 4)

¾ kg chicken (cut into medium-sized pieces)

1 onion, coarsely chopped

2 tsps cumin seeds

2 tsps peppercorns

5 cloves of garlic, bruised

2 sprigs of curry leaves

¼ tsp turmeric powder

1 tbsp ghee

METHOD :

Using a pestle and mortar or a blender, grind the cumin seeds and peppercorns until they’ve just broken up and still coarse. Set aside.

Melt the ghee in a big pot, and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic, curry leaves, and turmeric powder and sauté for another minute, before tipping in the ground cumin seeds and peppercorns. Add salt.

Pour 4 cups of cold water and bring it to the boil, then clamp on a lid and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste and adjust seasoning; you may need to add more water to get the right consistency and flavour.

Run the soup through a sieve and squeeze out the chicken pieces and seasonings with a ladle. Retain the chicken pieces; pull out the meat with your fingers and add to the soup.

Reheat if necessary in a clean pot and serve hot.

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