Vegan Chicken Soup

Vegan Chicken Soup: that’s not actually an oxymoron. I come from Chicken Soup Culture and I can promise you this. Because chicken soup is about the chicken, yes, but it’s also the way it makes you feel when you are ill — hot, steaming, clarifying, herbally, salty, peppery, a broth with kick and comfort.

The New Laurel’s Kitchen was the vegetarian cookbook that I really grew up with, the way many people like me used The Moosewood Cookbook. This was a book with almond butter cookies and wholemeal rolls and lots of salads with shredded carrots and nutritional advice, and you could imagine happy families sitting down together for happy meals. Laurel made “Golden Broth” with yellow split peas, turmeric, onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and she recommended this as a vegetarian substitute, with noodles et al, or plain. Which was close but no cigar.

Fast forward the years –I made a discovery as a fermenter. I like to lacto-ferment cauliflower, with carrots and garlic, ginger, onions, mustard seed, black peppercorns, kalonji, turmeric– the flavours of an English Piccalilly. When the texture gets too soft, and it’s less appealing as a pickle, there’s still the brine rich in healing probiotic bacteria, and the preserved vegetables.

Boil some red lentils. Add more ginger if you like. When soft, add your fermented vegetables. Top off with the brine, cook for as little as possible to preserve its nutrient, or just don’t worry. Puree if you like, and dillute to taste. If you had fresh dill , that would be lovely. Parsley too. Fresh Pepper. A matzoh ball, were you inclined. What you get is not Chicken Soup but it is chicken soup, somehow. The slight sour adds that healing je-ne-sais-quoi and this works for me. (Brine from Lacto-ferments really improves most soups — more recipes to come!) A magic, secret formula that you might not be able to guess.

(The brine from this fermented Piccalilly, rich as it is in anti-inflammatory turmeric, once functioned for me as a miracle pain relief from a terrible tooth problem. I intended after to make this Piccalilly to always have on hand.)

By the way, I’m not vegan.  I’m not even vegetarian.  But I do strive to eat meat rarely, and this is a soup I’d choose on its own merits, not just as a substitute.

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