The best cure being prevention, the Critic and I have come up with a dish that has about a 90% effectiveness rate in warding off winter colds. Or maybe we are just healthy people, but this chicken and vegetable stew is so full of nutrition that it's easy to convince yourself that seconds are really the healthy option.
This is a fusion of things that both of us like, starting with a basic dish that my mother in law used to serve. So in her honour, it's Margaret's Chicken and Dumplings.
In my Fanny Farmer cookbook, chicken and dumplings calls for big pieces of chicken on the bone. Here the chicken is (not surprisingly - we are lazy) cut in managable bite-sized pieces. It also has an interesting texture with the mixture of courgette, corn and lentils. It's my step-daughter's favourite dish at our place, and a good way to get a lot of vegetables into her. It takes about an hour from start to finish, and I basically chop the vegetables as I go along.
For the stew:
2 boneless chicken breasts (preferably free range, at least 80 days old and grain fed)
50 grams/2 TBS butter
Fresh or dried sage, Lawrey's salt
3 cloves of garlic
1 medium onion or a handful of shallots
3 carrots, sliced in thin rounds
2 medium potatoes, cubed in bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup brown lentils
1 small tin sweet corn
1 medium zucchini (courgette)
10 medium mushrooms (brown ones are best)
a splash of sherry
1 liter of chicken stock
any other vegetables you may have in stock: peas, beans, snap peas, even cabbage (in moderation) make this even better.
In a large stock pot, melt the butter and add the finely sliced garlic. As it starts to cook, roughly chop the onion or shallots and add to the pot. When the garlic and onion are soft and yellow, turn up the heat a little and add the herbs and the sherry. Wait a minute or two and then add the carrots and potatoes. After a minute or two to let the root vegetables soak up a bit of the sherry/herb/butter, add the chicken stock and lentils and bring to a boil. In the meantime, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and (with another knife) cut the courgette in smal wedges, and slice the mushrooms. Add the chicken gradually to the boiling stock, so that the heat stays high and the pieces start cooking immediately. Add the rest of the vegetables and bring back to a boil. Prepare the dumplings.
2 cups flour
4 Tbs/60 grams butter cut in small pieces
a handful of fresh chopped parsley (or 1/4 cup frozen)
3 teaspoons (or one package in France) of baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Mix everything but the milk well, and then add the milk. The consistency should be gloopy, but wet through.
With a large spoon, drop lumps of dumplings about the size of golf balls on the surface of the soup. Cover the pot and cook on a low heat for 20 minutes.
Serve in deep bowls. It's serious comfort food!
Note: you may need to add more liquid before adding the dumplings, but the dish should be closer to a stew than a soup. When you serve it, the vegetables have a way of hiding under the dumplings, making it look like the whole thing is a lot more soupy than you wanted - be sure to pull them out and give it a bit of a stir once you have removed the first dumpling. It will be very hot!
If, despite your best efforts of making this soup once a week you STILL catch a cold, there is another remedy. It doesn't actually cure the cold, but it will make you feel a lot better:
juice of 1/2 a lemon
a very large shot of whisky
3 tbs honey
The idea is to get equal amounts of each of the ingredients and I think this gets it close. Put them in a mug, put the mug in the microwave on high for one minute, stir and enjoy. The honey will soothe your throat, the lemon will give you vitamin C and the whisky will help you sleep. What more do you need?
Weight Watchers Note: If you limit the butter for sautéeing the onions and garlic to 1 Tbs and then add 2 Tbs sherry when they start to get a bit dry, and poach any raw chicken in the boiling broth, one serving of the stew (minus the dumpling) is only 2.5 WW points. As for the dumplings, the number of points will depend largely on how big you make them. If you use one rounded soup spoon of dough for each one, you should have about 16 at 1.5 points each.