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Whip up a warming bowl for convenience or colds.

Touted for its abilities to nourish, heal and bring people together, chicken soup is the quintessential feel-good food. Every country, from China to Ghana to Greece, seems to have their own take on this life-giving soup. While the flavors may differ from place to place, this simple soup’s power to restore health and build community is why family recipes get passed from generation to generation.

When it comes to building your base, simmering bones for hours on end—as your grandmother’s recipe may call for—certainly makes for a flavorful start. But let’s be honest, it’s not exactly convenient or practical even if you happen to have a freshly picked chicken carcass at your disposal.

Rest assured, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor for quickness or convenience with this nourishing lemon chicken orzo soup recipe. Adding fresh herbs, a few generous cranks of black pepper and freshly squeezed lemon juice to a hearty boxed or canned chicken broth brings this soup alive in just a matter of minutes—and will certainly do the same for you. Whether you’re wanting to ease cold symptoms or warm up as the temperatures drop, the addition of fresh citrus can help clear congestion, ease a cough and awaken your senses.

The best thing about this soup, besides its flavor, is that it comes together in less than a half-hour. But for those extra busy days, here are five tips that’ll shave a few more minutes off the already quick preparation process:

  1. Purchase pre-chopped mirepoix. You’re probably thinking, “Pre-chopped what?” Mirepoix is simply a fancy name for the diced onions, celery and carrots that serves as the flavor base for so many different soups, sauces, stews and roasted meats. If purchasing pre-chopped, you’ll want about 4 to 5 cups of mirepoix per batch of soup.
  2. Use bottled lemon juice. Fresh is always best, but if it saves you a trip to the store, bottled lemon juice can be substituted instead.
  3. Don’t discount dried herbs. If purchasing or plucking fresh herbs from their stems takes too much time or requires a separate trip to the store, dried will do, too. When substituting dried for fresh, chefs recommend using one-third the amount called for. Here you would use 1 teaspoon each of dried rosemary, thyme and parsley instead of 1 tablespoon of fresh.
  4. Make a double batch. Sure, the extra chopping adds a few extra minutes to the preparation process, but who doesn’t love to cook once and eat twice? Since the freezing and thawing process can cause your pasta to absorb lots of extra broth, consider adding precooked orzo to your soup just before serving rather than cooking it in the broth.
  5. Trust your taste buds. Unlike baked goods, soups don’t require precise measurements and actually come out better if you taste along the way. Don’t waste your time dirtying your measuring utensils. Simply use the amounts below as a guide when preparing your fresh ingredients and taste as you go!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 large ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 12 cups (3, 32-ounce cartons) chicken broth
  • ½ cup lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast and/or thighs, chopped into ½-inch chunks
  • 8-12 ounces orzo pasta (use 8 ounces if you like a little more broth to slurp)
  • 8 ounces fresh baby spinach

DIRECTIONS

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add carrots, celery and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about five to seven minutes. Add garlic, herbs, salt and black pepper; cook about one minute more.

Add chicken broth and lemon juice to the pot and bring to a boil. Cover and cook vegetables for seven to 10 minutes. Add raw chicken and orzo; boil another 10 minutes, or until chicken and orzo are fully cooked. Remove from heat and stir in spinach. Once spinach has wilted, garnish with lemon slices and serve hot.

Photo credit: Elle Penner, MPH RD

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