Soup for the Soul: A Personal Essay

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I remember cooking my mom’s curry for the first time since moving away from home after graduating high school. I was at one of my best friend’s apartments, and I remember feeling an immense sense of satisfaction in that moment. There I was, eating a meal that my mom had made me at least 50 times over the course of my childhood, feeding someone I loved and showing them a part of my childhood through a bowl of steamy soup.

It felt like a collision of my two distinct worlds. This friend was a part of my present — college life in Berkeley, a life hundreds of miles away from my home in Oregon. And yet that evening, the two of us were eating a soup from my childhood, from my mom’s recipe book, a dish that never failed to remind me of home. 

Cooking together in comfortable silence, my friend and I had diced potatoes, carrots and onions. We started the rice cooker; boiled the chicken stock and chicken mixture; and added curry powder and the diced vegetables to the bubbling liquid. After the vegetables became tender, it was finally time to eat. 

I filled our bowls first with rice and then curry, watching as the rice got immersed then submerged by the chicken broth and curry powder, switch created an aromatic combination of spices and colorful vegetables. With just one mouthful of curry soup, a wave of spice and savory flavor filled my mouth and sinuses. That evening, like every other time I had eaten the soup, I was warmed from the inside out, reminded of previous times eating the curry at home and the happy memories of cooking with my mom.

Sentimentality aside, I love the process of cooking the soup itself because chopping food up into tiny pieces brings me great joy. Onions. Green beans. Garlic. Even the odd persimmon. After all, there’s just something so indescribably soothing about taking something seemingly massive, such as a potato or a carrot, and reducing it to a small pile of rubble — cooked within minutes and easily consumed by all. It’s hopeful, methodical and doable. 

That evening, like every other time I had eaten the soup, I was warmed from the inside out, reminded of previous times eating the curry at home and the happy memories of cooking with my mom.

Like completing hill repeats during cross country practice, or doing any repetitive task over and over again, the sameness becomes soothing, reliable and enjoyable. I tend to get overwhelmed relatively easily, but focusing on the small-scale things I can do that ultimately contribute to my larger goals helps to make life feel more manageable and more satisfying. Cooking my mom’s curry, taking things step by step and sharing the triumphs and end products with others, is like that, too.

The whole process — from picking out carrots, potatoes and other ingredients, to chopping them up, to actually eating — is a deeply cathartic experience. I find myself eager to cook even after a long school day, seeking comfort while also satisfying my desire to create. 

While I am living as a college student in Berkeley, I am working on doing a better job of taking care of myself, and cooking foods such as my mom’s curry has become a big part of that. I am starting to realize that I can derive joy and a unique sense of pride from cooking for myself and for my own enjoyment.

For me, there is nothing like the silky, salty, savory taste of my mom’s curry — the slippery crunch between my teeth of the onion pieces softened during their time over the heat; the sweetness of the carrots, cubed with perfection; and the sweet sourness of the Fukujinzuke my grandpa used to make and send back with us after we left his home in Portland, Oregon, for ours. Nothing can beat it. 

I didn’t do a great job of recreating the dish in Berkeley. I didn’t have any Fukujinzuke. I didn’t use the right brand of curry powder. Regardless, it was everything I wanted it to be because eating it put me right back at my chair in my parents’ kitchen, seated next to my mom and my dad, our dog sleeping on the floor near my feet. 

While I am living in Berkeley and my family is in Oregon, it is impossible to eat my mom’s curry with my family, but the closest thing I can do is make it for myself and share her recipe with others so that they too can feel comforted and enjoy this dish. 

Regardless, it was everything I wanted it to be because eating it put me right back at my chair in my parents’ kitchen, seated next to my mom and my dad, our dog sleeping on the floor near my feet. 

I am sharing this recipe for the students and readers who are looking for a comforting, warm soup for the fall or winter but aren’t able to go home and enjoy their family’s cooking in person. Food, like my mom’s curry soup, is a form of comfort, and it is a way to bring a sense of home to college life. Please try this recipe, and I hope it brings you as much joy and comfort as it does for me. 

 

Ingredients

  • 1 leftover Costco rotisserie chicken carcass
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 large potato, cubed
  • A few large carrots, diced
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon or so of curry powder
  • 2 cups of rice, rinsed and cooked
  • Fukujinzuke (optional)

 

Directions

  1. Boil the chicken in water until the water becomes a rich stock (preferably the day before since this process can take a few hours).
  2. Sift through the stock liquid and remove any bones, but salvage and leave in all chicken meat for use in the curry.
  3. Rinse the rice, allow it to soak for a little while, lid it and start the rice cooker.
  4. Add curry powder to the chicken stock and leftover chicken mixture until the chicken stock becomes a rich, gold hue.
  5. Using the chicken stock and leftover chicken meat as a base, add in your potatoes, carrots and onions first.
  6. Add in your peas and turn off the heat, as the residual heat will quickly defrost them.
  7. Serve up the rice in a bowl, add the chicken stock mixture on top and enjoy!

Contact Lia Keener at [email protected].

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