The Jew And The Carrot

A Jewish Mother Learns To Cook Chicken Soup

By Carla Naumburg

  • Print
  • Share Share

I almost choked on my coffee when I read the email from my editor asking if I would be interested in reviewing a cookbook. The thing is, I don’t cook. I can prepare a few simple dishes (think fried egg or cheese quesadilla), but any “real” cooking — the sort that might involve following a recipe, mixing more than three ingredients, or using “herbs” and “spices” is definitely not on my skill list.

I was just about to say no when I realized that the book, “Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts” included Jewish folk tales and was written by Jane Yolen (author of the beloved “How Do Dinosaurs” series, along with about 90 other books) and her daughter, Heidi Stemple. I was intrigued, even if it meant cooking.

I can honestly tell you that this is the first cookbook I have ever read in one sitting. It’s a beautiful hard-bound book with lovely illustrations by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin throughout. In a time when all fairy tales seem to be variations of the orphaned-girl-turns-princess variety, I was grateful for the diverse, authentic, and engaging details of Yolen’s retellings of traditional stories. There are rabbis and prophets, wise women and foolish men, yahrzeit candles and chuppahs, and of course, lessons related to justice, tzedakah, and a range of Jewish values I am working to teach my daughters every day.

The girls (ages 4.5 and nearly 3) and I have read several of the stories together, and I was pleasantly surprised by the conversations that ensued. “The Latke Miracle” is the story of a poor widow who has no flour or oil for Hanukkah, but she is willing to welcome a stranger into her home nonetheless. She and her children are rewarded for their generosity with coins and food. My older daughter remembered the gifts she got last year for Hanukkah, and we talked about how she would feel if she got oil and flour as presents (not very good, apparently). But then we discussed what it would be like to get those if she didn’t have enough food to eat, and she agreed that they would be a pretty good present, if she could only to learn to cook.

Which, of course, brings us to the recipes — 18 in all, each one matched to a thematically-relevant story — everything a good Jewish mother who actually enjoys cooking could want: latkes, blintzes, matzo balls, noodle kugel, rugelach and hamantaschen. I was immediately drawn to the Chicken Soup recipe. Despite the fact that I have little interest in learning to cook, it has always bothered me that I am a Jewish mother who has never made chicken soup. (Unless you count opening a can and heating it in the microwave, in which case you are probably my kind of people and we should talk.) I decided I had to make the soup.

The recipe was surprisingly easy to follow. Except the parsnips. I didn’t exactly know what parsnips looked like. Or how they tasted. Ok, fine. I’ll admit it. I had no idea what a parsnip was. I swallowed my pride at my local hippie grocery store and asked for help. I know, I know, a Jewish mother who can’t identify a parsnip — it’s a shande. I am, however, well acquainted with carrots (I even bought the real ones — not the baby ones that come pre-peeled and sliced!), onions, celery, garlic, and lemon. (Thank goodness Stemple thought to suggest the idea of the prepackaged “soup mix” of herbs — I can’t tell dill from rosemary, nor do I have any idea which belongs in chicken soup, so that was a big help.)

I took it all home, I took a deep breath, and I made chicken soup.

As I was peeling and chopping and failing miserably at finding a simmer, I thought about Yolen’s stories and Stemple’s recipes. I thought about the men and women in those tales who didn’t have grocery stores or rotisserie chickens or battery-operated timers or gas stoves as they learned to cook. What they had was the wisdom and experience of their ancestors, their families, and their communities. As I served the chicken soup to my family for Shabbat dinner (predictably, my husband and 2 year old loved it; my 4 year old refused to even look at it), I realized that this beautiful book had given me access to some of that knowledge and wisdom as well. Don’t quote me on this, but I would have to say that it definitely made it all worthwhile.

Now I just have to decide if I’m brave enough to try the mini-cheesecakes in time for Shavuot.

Chicken Soup:

There are lots of soup rules: Don’t let it boil, because it will cloud. Cover the pot. Don’t cover the pot. Skim the fat. Don’t skim the fat. I tend to ignore all these rules, throw everything in, and just cook the soup. No one ever complains, and I think it tastes just fine. Add matzo balls, some fresh dill, and it is perfect. Add noodles, pasta stars, or rice for a different soup. Have fun.

Makes 6-8 servings


Chicken (uncooked—use whatever pieces and parts are available or the least expensive. Grab a couple of leg quarters and some wings or use a whole cut-up bird. You can also use leftover cooked chicken from the night before or a rotisserie chicken that’s already cooked)

1-2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
2 large onions
5 large carrots
2 parsnips
5 celery stalks
3 garlic cloves
½ lemon

large handful of fresh herbs (whatever you have in your fridge, garden, or grocery store—you can even buy a “soup mix” of fresh herbs in the produce section)

fresh dill


  • measuring spoons
  • large pot
  • cutting board
  • knife
  • peeler (optional)
  • slotted spoon
  • tongs
  • strainer and large bowl (optional)

1) Put the chicken into a large pot and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2) Fill the pot with cold water up to the top of the chicken and then another inch or two. Set it on high to boil.

3) Prep the vegetables, herbs, and lemon: Cut the ends off the carrots, parsnips, and celery. Wash them and, if you want, peel the carrots and parsnips (I don’t peel because I like the texture better that way). Cut the ends off the onions but leave the skins on. Wash the lemon and cut it in half. Peel the garlic cloves. Remember, you can use these ingredients or any others in a chicken soup. No ingredient, except the chicken, is vital. Soup is about what you want in it.

4) Toss all the vegetables, half lemon, and the handful of herbs into the pot with the chicken. Bring it to a boil, and lower the heat to simmer.

5) Cook for two or three hours (less if you are using already-cooked chicken). Check every once in a while and stir it around.

6) When the soup is done, let it cool a bit. Now you have to separate what you want in your soup from the stuff you do not. First, either remove everything from the broth with a slotted spoon and tongs, or pour off the broth by placing a strainer (colander) in a large bowl and pouring the entire pot slowly through the strainer. This will capture the broth in the bowl and the rest in the strainer. If you have used the strainer method, pour the broth back into the pot. Next, chop the chicken meat and the vegetables into bite-sized bits, and put them back into the pot with the broth. Discard the rest (the lemon half, the onion skin, the bones).

7) Sprinkle with fresh dill before serving.

8) Serve the soup with matzo balls, rice, noodles, pasta stars, or just as is.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Chicken Soup, Jewish Cooking, Jewish Fairy Tale Feasts

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.