Basic Chicken Soup

Tina Wasserman
Recipe by
Tina Wasserman

Chicken soup has been an icon of the Jewish table since early medieval times. Its presence defined the Shabbat table, and a Jewish wedding feast symbolically started with the soup. As far as the curative powers of chicken soup, studies conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical School identified some properties in chicken soup with vegetables that suggests it has an anti-inflammatory effect on our bodies that helps lessen the symptoms of the common cold. Moses Maimonides, the great scholar and physician of the twelfth century, prescribed chicken soup to the weak and the infirm in one of his medical writings, and this was thought to be based on earlier Greek texts.

This is the way my mother taught me to make chicken soup. She always used fresh dill. My friend Leslie’s mom always used thyme. Neither one was wrong. Each had her own tradition.

For Passover, serve this soup with matzah balls (kneidlach).

One 4- to 5-pound fowl or yearling (soup chicken)—a roaster will do
5 quarts water or water to cover
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into thirds
1 large onion, peeled but left whole
1 turnip, peeled and cut into quarters
2 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
3 or more carrots, peeled and sliced into 1-inch lengths
Fresh dill, 3 or more sprigs to taste
Fresh parsley, 2 sprigs or more if parsnip isn’t being used
Salt and pepper to taste
Kreplach or matzah balls (optional; recipe links below)
  1. Cut the chicken into pieces. Place the pieces in a large soup pot and cover with water.
  2. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming the top of the liquid to remove all of the brown foam. 
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and cook over low heat until the chicken is quite tender and the vegetables are soft, about 2–3 hours. 
  4. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. Discard the dill and parsley. Remove the vegetables to nibble on, and save the carrot for later use in the soup. Strain the soup so that it is nice and clear.
  5. Place the soup in a clean pot, and add the carrots. Cooked kreplach or matzah balls may be added at this point. Heat until nice and hot. Serve.

See also: Tina's recipes for Eastern European Kreplach and light, fluffy Matzah Balls.

Additional Notes
  • Always cut up your chicken before making soup. This will expose more of the interior of the meat to the water and will produce a much richer-flavored soup.
  • Even if you don’t keep kosher, use kosher chickens or organic chickens to make the soup. I once made this recipe in a friend’s home using a well-known nonkosher chicken. The chicken shrank in half because it had been plumped with water, and the soup tasted like the chicken “ran” through it! 
  • An alternative to clear soup is to remove the vegetables and herbs from the broth and recombine the vegetables with the broth in a blender until the mixture is opaque and creamy. 
  • Another traditional way to serve chicken soup is to add the cooked vegetables and shredded chicken meat to the bowl for a hearty meal.