By Mary Ann Ebner
All along the genealogical trail, my ancestors professed their devotion to soup as a home remedy to calm life and any number of ailments. By second nature, it seems instinctive to echo that tradition.
A cup of soup quiets the soul affordably. And when it’s cold and unforgiving outside, as in bitterly cold around the Hudson Valley, a filling of soup may thaw a disposition and whatever else may be ailing. Soup can sustain us without adding excessive calories, while many soups can be tailored for dietary restrictions.
Cold Spring’s Karen Shea concurs that savory soup helps push us on through chilly winter weather and into warmer surroundings despite frigid temperatures. And she continuously tries new recipes to expand her repertoire of soups.
“I make a lot of different soups,” Shea said. “I just made a roasted cauliflower and mushroom soup.” Shea confided that she also added a good amount of garlic to the broth, which most likely boosted its healthfulness.
Her family appreciated roasted vegetables as the soup’s foundation, but the Shea household favors a substantial creation served as a main course. “I make a chicken meatball soup that my family loves,” she said. “Flavoring with leeks is a favorite and soup makes a filling meal.”
As a meal or a dose of folk medicine, a steamy soup not only warms us up but pick us up. According to the National Institutes of Health, brothy soup, particularly chicken soup, boasts healing properties, explaining its place in many home remedies. Since the 12th century, caretakers have served up soups to help fight the common cold and a range of infections.
A few years ago, crutches kept me propped up for weeks. Preparing and cooking, let alone shopping for food, posed a few challenges and taught me a lesson in appreciating wellness. During that stretch of immobility, many hands — though not mine — kept our family’s kitchen in full operation.
Healthy nutrition played a role in promoting healing and family harmony during that recovery chapter. A long list of home-cooked meals helped carry me back to throwing my own weight around in grocery aisles, but the meal most remembered was an egg drop soup that served to nurture the appetite and spirit.
The soup represented a gift of warmth created by my cousin. It didn’t matter that the Texas temperature in Austin that day called more for a cold soup on a sunny afternoon. My cousin, Kathie, decided that the steamy broth and its powerful liquid deserved a place in the meal rotation. She prepared a family-sized pot of egg drop soup, embellished with a host of sources of nutritional properties from eggs and spinach to mushrooms and shrimp.
The ancestors were right. The soup commanded its own sort of restorative power, and healing was off and running (or at least moving at a fairly good clip).
Life eventually leveled out around our home but the egg drop soup remained a preferred choice for a warm, nutritious meal. When a neighbor needed a healthy lift for a wicked virus, she agreed to try the egg drop soup. Chicken soup may have been more appropriate, but a bowl of steaming egg drop served her well. She finished every sip of the broth, slowly, as soup should be eaten to let it work its best.
This egg drop soup stands as one of our primary family meals, not just in winter, but all year through. We eat it as a main course with generous portions. Occasionally, it takes on different qualities and characteristics, deepened in flavor with additional ginger or filled out with cooked, shredded chicken or fish.
For an even lighter version, we eliminate the vegetables and let the egg please on its own. Discover its many possibilities and compose your own. Rustic or refined, soup settles — slurped or sipped.
Egg Drop Soup
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root
3 cups water (reserve ½ cup)
6 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups fresh spinach leaves
6 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cups scallions, chopped
Combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar in large stock pot. Add grated ginger root and cook over medium heat 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add water, vegetable stock, fish sauce, salt and cayenne, and mix. Cook over medium heat 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in spinach. Gradually add egg and gently stir the egg into the soup with a fork 2 to 3 minutes.
Whip cornstarch into the ½ cup of reserved water. Pour cornstarch mixture into soup and stir thoroughly. Reduce heat. Add mushrooms, cover and cook 10 minutes over low heat. Ladle soup into serving bowls. Smother with chopped scallions and serve immediately.
Embellish egg drop soup with your favorite ingredients.
Photos by M.A. Ebner