Cooking chicken soup for the Shabbat soul
Updated September 15, 2023 at 5:27 AM ET
TEL AVIV, Israel — It's Friday morning, and Jewish culinary guru Adeena Sussman is wheeling home a cart of vegetables from the Carmel Market for a weekend cooking ritual she recommends to everyone.
Shabbat is when the hectic week comes to a standstill, and Jews mark the sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. It's a time to reboot, reflect and eat.
"You need excuses now to slow down in the world that we live in," Sussman says.
The bestselling author of more than a dozen cookbooks, Sussman has a new recipe collection out called Shabbat: Recipes and Rituals from My Table to Yours. It features 130 diverse recipes from Shabbat tables around the world.
There are foods she discovered through the friends she's made since moving to Tel Aviv. Her finds include a recipe for Ethiopian Shabbat bread called Dabo, and a Levantine fall-off-the-bone spiced lamb and rice medley. The latter recipe came courtesy of a fangirl who flagged down Sussman in the market, and brought her to cook the dish with her grandmother, who grew up in Lebanon.
The book also includes classics rooted in Sussman's own Ashkenazi Eastern European heritage. They're based on homestyle dishes her mother would cook for a traditional Shabbat dinner in Palo Alto, CA, accompanied by blessings and songs.
"I don't observe a lot of the religious rituals of Shabbat anymore," Sussman says. "But I took away from it the idea of carving out a weekly time that is distinguished from the week."
For one final Shabbat before flying to the U.S. for a book tour, she zipped through the market to buy ingredients for her twist on a Shabbat mainstay: Dilly Chicken & Rice Soup. It's an approachable recipe that needs just about an hour of prep (not including the chicken broth you hopefully already have stored in the freezer).
"I wanted to make this on purpose," Sussman told me, "So you could see the love that can go into something that's considered fast, but also just has, like, a real old-world and delicious flavor."
While the soup simmered in her bright kitchen, Sussman sang along with Carole King's Chicken Soup With Rice and hummed a verse of Eshet Chayil, a traditional Sabbath song of praise to, in her words, the "domestic goddess" responsible for the meal.
For people with roots in eastern Europe, the smell alone of the dill and the browning of chicken is a time machine. For everyone, it's a comforting meal to usher in a restful weekend.
DILLY CHICKEN & RICE SOUP
Serves 6Active time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
The goal here was a soup that achieves maximum chicken flavor without extended cooking time, and this one meets the mark. Searing skinless, boneless chicken breasts right in the pot saves time and adds flavor; when you add aromatics and liquid and then scrape up those delicious brown bits, you're reinvesting the soup with even more depth. Starting with the best chicken broth you have access to goes a long way here, so if you have some stashed away in the freezer, pull it out. The kickers here are the dill and jalapeño peppers for flavor, and of course, that rice, which, over time, thickens the soup in the most pleasing way. If the soup becomes too thick (though is there ever such a thing?), just stir in a little water or broth to loosen it.
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 medium)
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large leek, pale green and white parts only, thinly sliced*
2 large carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded if desired, chopped
8 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish
1. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the black pepper. In a large (at least 5-quart) pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Place the chicken in the pot, cover, and brown, flipping once, until deeply golden and just barely cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pot, then add the leeks and cook, stirring, until translucent, 6 to 7 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, jalapeño, and another 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chicken broth, rice, and the remaining 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the rice softens and releases its starch and the soup turns cloudy and thickens, 25 to 30 minutes, adding additional broth by the 1/2 cup if the soup is too thick. During the last 5 minutes of cooking, shred the chicken into bite-sized chunks. Return the chicken and any juices to the soup, stir in the dill, season with more salt and black pepper to taste, and divide among bowls. Garnish with dill.
*To clean the sliced leeks, place in a bowl and cover with ice water. Swirl for a few seconds, then lift the leeks out of the water, leaving any sand and grit behind.
From Shabbat by Adeena Sussman, published by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2023 by Adeena Sussman
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