The grim weather of what seems like the worst winter in living memory is really driving me nuts. So for the last few days I have been turning my attention to soup. They may not seem like the most glamorous of dishes, but when well made with great ingredients, soups are almost unbeatable for nourishing both body and soul. And no soup is better for raising the spirits than the “cure-all” that is chicken soup.
While it is all too easy to dismiss these benefits as a load of old wives’ nonsense, recent scientific experiments have provided evidence that chicken broth really does in fact contain significant healing properties. The broth can lessen inflammation during a cold, reduce mucus, increase levels of calcium, and, with added ingredients like noodles and vegetables, deliver powerful doses of vitamin C and other important body-supporting minerals.
No wonder that, in Jewish culture, the restorative properties of chicken soup are seen as a cure for just about everything. In fact, if you go back into the history books, you can find multiple references to the restorative properties of chicken broth, including Persian philosopher-physician Avicenna in his Kitab Al-Shifa (The Book of Healing) and theologian Moses Maimonides, who is recorded as recommending chicken soup both as “an excellent food and a medication.”
I have tried many versions of chicken soup from around the world. But to date, the one version that has really caught my attention comes from my new favorite cuisine — Korean — and it is one I discovered on a recent trip to Seoul. “Samgyetang” is a slow-cooked dish of Cornish game hen stuffed with ginseng, garlic, Korean dates, and sticky rice.
I am told that Koreans traditionally like to eat Samgyetang on the hottest day of the year.
However, if the grim weather is also making you miserable, then this truly delicious recipe will provide a power-packed meal to fight off the winter blues.
Samgyetang (Korean ginseng chicken soup)
Ingredients (serves two):
1 Cornish game hen
10 jujubes (Chinese red dates — available at any Asian grocery store)
5 cloves of garlic (peeled)
1 root of fresh ginseng (use dried root — insam — if you cannot find fresh)
1 cup of uncooked “sticky” or glutinous rice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rice wine (dry sherry can be used if you can’t find rice wine)
1. Clean the game hen (including the cavity) and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Roughly chop half the dates and garlic and mix with the rice.
3. Clean the ginseng and cut into two pieces.
4. Place one piece of ginseng into the cavity of the game hen and then stuff with the rice mixture.
5. Sew the cavity opening or seal with toothpicks to prevent the contents from coming out during cooking.
6. Place the game hen in a close-fitting casserole dish or saucepan.
7. Add the rest of the dates, ginseng and the remaining whole garlic cloves to the pot, and add the salt, rice wine and cold water until the game hen is just covered.
8. Bring the pot to a gentle simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, regularly skimming the surface of any scum that may form. When the chicken can be easily broken with a fork, the dish is ready.
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