It’s wintertime now, truly and officially — not just on the calendar, but outside my door. Here in New England the mercury has barely cracked double digits the past couple of mornings. Our breath is visible. Our noses hurt when we walk to school in the morning. It’s January, folks, and it means business.

Two things happened this weekend that made me think of posting a chicken soup recipe for you:
1) I roasted 3 chickens, and made a slow cooker stock that I let simmer for 16 hours which made the house smell amazing and made me resent this bitter cold just a little bit less;
2) P. woke up with a bright red ear.

It’s funny how kids have their “tells,” isn’t it? Every kid I know has a distinctive signal that lets his or her parents know without a doubt that something is brewing. For L., it’s a strange cloudiness to his eyes and a change to the color of his face. For P., it’s circles around the eyes…and a bright, scarlet, screaming, flaming red ear. Just one ear, usually. No infection. No logical earthly reason for the redness. But there it will be, and soon after, a cold or virus follows.

So after 2 or 3 days of casual sneezing and the occasional sniffle, both of which could just as easily have been chalked up to weather as anything else, P.’s right ear set itself ablaze, and my Mommy senses started tingling. A day later, he fell asleep in his booster seat when we were dropping L. off at his after-school dance class — which, for this particular child at the age of six-and-three-quarters, is a bad sign. This is a kid who started giving up naps at age 2. A midafternoon spontaneous snoozefest is not a P. thing.

Still, he woke up and insisted he was fine, “just a little tired from getting back to school.” He rested on the couch and played a bit too quietly for the remainder of the afternoon. And then at dinnertime, I served this chicken soup.

“Mom,” he said. “What made you think of making this for dinner?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Lots of reasons. It’s good for us, we just made chicken stock, it’s cold outside….”

He paused to sip his soup, head resting on his hand. “And,” he offered, “because you know I’m coming down with a cold and you know chicken soup is what I need.”

A-ha! A confession. Moms always know.

At any rate, between sniffly P. sipping his soup, and bone-chilled, exercised-out L. who bounded in the door from a 2 hour dance class proclaiming extreme hunger and polished off two full bowls before sighing with contentment, it occurs to me that a good bowl of chicken noodle soup really is the cure for what ails us. Whether it’s the chill in the air, a cold coming on, or just plain old work-and-school-day exhaustion, that simple bowl of broth makes everything better. Or it does as long as it’s a GOOD bowl of broth. And there’s the trick.

See, I often don’t share very basic recipes like chicken soup, because some part of me thinks “Sheesh…everybody’s got a recipe for this. Who wants my boring old chicken soup?” But of course, not everyone has a chicken soup recipe they love, and frankly, that was ME for a long time. I almost never made the stuff because it was boring to me. I didn’t love to eat it.

But now I have a chicken soup that I DO love, and that my family loves, right down to Sherman the dog, who whines and dances on his hind legs when he smells it simmering. The secret, surprisingly enough, is the addition of turmeric.

I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t want my chicken soup to taste like Indian takeout!” And I agree with you (even though I love Indian takeout). But the amount of turmeric in this soup doesn’t make it taste overtly ethnic. What it does is give a vibrant golden color and a deep savoriness. It’s the can’t-put-your-finger-on-it ingredient. The reason it works is because turmeric is a natural flavor enhancer — for lack of a better way to explain it, turmeric is like Nature’s MSG.

If you look at the ingredients label on a can of chicken soup, or worse yet, on the just-add-water pouches and cups that I admit to LOVING in my ill-informed youth, you’ll likely see flavor enhancers. They may not say MSG, but they may list things like hydrolyzed this and that, or yeast extracts or protein isolates. All of them (and many other similar-sounding items) are flavor enhancers that contain free glutamic acid. And by and large, they’re the reason those processed chicken soups taste good to people.

I’m not going to go around putting MSG or any such thing into my good homemade soup. But if I can get the same sort of flavor boost as the food manufacturers do, and get it naturally…? I can’t think of a good reason not to go ahead. And since turmeric also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties (and is, I think, one of the most underrated spices out there), adding it to a cure-all like chicken soup only means that I’m upping the chances my broth will be even more magical Mommy medicine.

Go ahead, give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Oh, but a word to the wise: If you happen to perhaps let a small white dog lick your soup bowl, understand that you’ll probably end up with a small white dog with a lovely golden beard, at least for a day or two. Not that I, uh, know from experience.

Get the Recipe:
Chicken Noodle Soup