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Soup for the soul: Broth is beautiful

By the time you read this column, it may be warm and sunny outside. But on this particular July-specific moment, it's not. In fact, it's so chilly, I'm making soup. Well — to be absolutely accurate, I'm thinking about making soup.

My personal belief is soup (the process of making and supping) alleviates anxiety, lifts a falling spirit and ultimately makes the world a better place.

Soups contain antioxidant-rich vegetables, minerals in a variety of forms and loads of hydrating liquid. Most soups are nutritionally rich and offer minimal strain to a distraught digestive system.

Think about it. Scientists have confirmed chicken soup is helpful in easing cold and flu symptoms. A team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who reportedly used a soup recipe from the wife of one of the researchers, found that chicken soup has "anti-inflammatory properties that soothe sore throats and ease the misery of colds."

A pulmonary specialist at the UCLA School of Medicine suggests that the ingredients that are often added to chicken soup — garlic, cayenne and curry — work like expectorant medications, thinning mucous and making breathing easier. There are even suggestions that good chicken stock containing the broken down materials from cartilage and tendons has a positive effect on joint pain.

Several years ago my nephew was stationed in Iraq as a medic in a combat zone. He tells the family that when his unit was hunkered down for long and difficult days in hard-to-imagine circumstances, their conversations frequently turned to food — often to soup. Perhaps even talking about soup has a soothing influence.

And what does this young man do today? With his tattered copy of the Culinary Institutes of America cookbook as an ever-constant reference, he has become a chef, graduating "soups" only after he mastered the perfect consommé. I just received an email containing his recipe for Greek Lemon Chicken Soup With Orzo. And that is probably what started me down this "broth is beautiful" path I'm on today.

Or maybe it was when I learned Chinese medicine suggests soup is effective for the aging libido (aren't you amazed that I can write a column about chicken soup and find a way to incorporate sexual drive?). I have it on good report that the recipe for the libido-enhancing soup is: one boiled, chopped onion, one chopped leek, three diced chive stalks, 10 slices of fresh ginger root and one teaspoon each of turmeric and cayenne combined into four cups of good chicken stock.

Interesting possibilities there, but I think I'm in the mood for some French lentil soup. Lentils release their carbohydrates slowly, so it's a good choice for diabetics. My favorite recipe has fresh, diced tomatoes and a good dash of cumin. Or when the weather warms up, a cold cucumber soup with lots of dill might be just the thing.

Making soup requires you master the concept of mise en place, which means "getting ready." It requires, before you start, that you make sure you have all of the ingredients gathered and prepped (cut, chopped or measured) and all the required pots, pans and utensils at hand. If you do that, everything goes surprisingly well. It's rather like life.

If you try that libido-enhancing soup idea, let me know. It might make a good column.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, Ext. 210.