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Un-Chicken Soup with Lokshen

Submitted by Ariel P.

This recipe is dedicated to my mother and "Tontie" Ethel, who filled my belly and my heart with heaps of warmth from chicken soup and love.

There are several "unchicken" (vegetarian) soup stocks and boullion mixes available commercially.  These can be used to render a basic vegetarian "chicken" soup or added to the pure vegetable recipe below.  Some of the powdered mixes contain MSG, coloring, possibly wheat products, and a high overall sodium content.  If this is objectionable or hazardous to anyone, then they should not be used.  They will, however, add flavor that might be missed from the vegetable stock recipe alone.  A few brands are from Israel (Osem) for the powdered or boullion mix; Amy's canned "unchicken" soup is a good starter, but expensive. 
 
Step One:
 
Choose your substitute chicken base for the soup and add water according to directions.  Make the stock.
 
Step Two:
 
For four to six quarts of soup, add:
  • one package of soup greens, or as loose greens,
    • one to three small or medium parsnips, washed
    • one large yellow onion, sliced into quarters or just "speared" to release juices
    • half a bunch, or four to five large stalks of celery, scrubbed (but not peeled)
  • one small bunch of parsley (curley or flat), rinsed
  • one small or medium scrubbed boiling potato, if desired (for "body")
  • Salt and pepper to taste (start with less; you can always add more)
  • One whole bunch of rinsed dill (leave whole to extract then cut for portions later)
 
Step Three:
 
Boil the "unchicken" stock and above greens and vegetables for an hour; taste, and add salt or pepper
 
Step Four:
 
Add four to five large carrots, scrubbed (peeled if desired) to the stock and boil for another 45 minutes. 

Boil separate water for cooking fine egg noodles (lokshen) or a vegan substitute of these to serve in the soup.  There should be about a cup of cooked noodles per portion of soup.  (Alternatively, matzo balls could be made, or made and added with the noodles in the soup.  So could little baked mandels, or soup nuts.)

Step Five:
 
The stock should be rich in color and not too salty; if it is too salty, dilute it with a little water and boil again.  Otherwise, lift out the vegetables and strain the soup with a fine strainer (nylon base with net-sized holes) or cheesecloth.  Save the dill and cut it into smaller bunches to serve with individual portions of the soup.  Cut the cooked carrots in half to go into portions of soup, and cut the parsnips into smaller pieces to include.  Straining the soup gets out sediment from the cooking vegetables and loose particles of black pepper from the cooked stock.  Don't bother saving the onion or celery.  If you want celery in the soup servings, add new celery to cook with the carrots halfway through the previous step (Four) so that the stalks don't cook for longer than 20 minutes.  Any celery in the soup servings should be sliced into small pieces.  The parsley is a matter of taste; dill lends more flavor, but fresher parsley can also be added later on so it's not too soggy.  If it's discarded from the soup green mixture to be plated up and served, it probably won't be missed.  The dill is the secret of making this soup delicious to those who love traditional Jewish chicken soup.
 
Step Six:
 
Rinse the soup stock pot and replace the strained stock into it.  Adding soy chicken substitute in strips (larger pieces can be cut if strips can't be found) authenticates this dish.  Simmer in the soup stock with the vegetables for another 10-15 minutes, until the soy chicken strips are cooked.  They'll be lighter in color and more opaque if they were translucent in the package.  Check after 10 minutes; overcooking will make the soy strips rubbery and the vegetables too mushy.  These will all go into individual plates of soup.
 
Step Seven:
 
If noodles were cooked, they should be drained and added to the soup.  Thin egg noodles can be boiled in 5 to 6 minutes.  If desired, they could be boiled in the strained soup before adding the soy chicken strips and replacing the cooked vegetables.  Add any precooked matzo balls that were made in this step, too.
 
Final step (eight):
 
Prepare bowls of soup with the stock, noodles and/or matzo balls, greens (dill and or snips of parsley), softened parsnips, and carrots.  Large soup platters work best, but bowls will be fine, if they're deep enough.  The plates should be heaping with noodles, "chickn," and greens (within reason).  People should be able to cut their own carrot halves with their spoons.  The dill bunches should be dense enough to lift into a spoon, not just sprinkled throughout the soup.  Anyone can mix and redistribute the greens, soy strips, carrots, and parsnips (or remove these) at will with his or her own spoon.  A flat plate beneath the soup bowl or platter can be used for any discards that the person doesn't want to eat, and to catch splashes or drips.  This is a hearty dish, and most who enjoy it do so with gusto--heartily eating, not daintily!  It can even be a meal instead of a starter.  (Serve smaller portions if it must be a holiday starter.)  Even people with colds or flus will be able to taste this chicken soup substitute, and it will work just as well as the (animal carcass) real thing to cure them.  (Note: those with wheat gluten or soy allergies should do without the fake chicken.)
 

Vegetable-only version
(no MSG or other chicken-stock substitutes)

The vegetable-only version is made the same way, without the commercial "unchicken" or chicken-flavored, vegetarian stock mixes.  The color of the stock will be a deep green to brownish green, if more seasoning (such as black pepper) or dried mushrooms (for flavor) are added.  Whole or frozen soy beans (green) can be added for protein instead of soy chicken substitute.

For every four quarts of water, use one whole bunch of fresh dill (washed).  If no chicken-substitute soup stock is added, use at least two bunches of dill for six to eight quarts of water; double the onions and vegetables for eight quarts.  The soup stock's color and aroma will be a cue to cooking time.  Add new firmer vegetables that you want to include in the soup (carrots, celery) about 20-30 minutes before serving, but do cook enough carrots, celery, parsnips, onion(s), and parsley from the beginning to get their flavor into the broth.  An hour per four quarts of stock is minimal time.  For double that amount, two hours is minimal.

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