No matter how many times I tell myself that I am a competent home cook, it takes only a well-intentioned, but misplaced comment from one of my girls to make me roll my eyes in disbelief and grind my teeth in an effort not to speak up and ruin the moment. One of those occasions involved an incarnation of a simple creamy chicken soup and my oldest daughter.
We were visiting my cousin who is married to a priest with a parish in one of the suburbs of Belgrade. For years, Mira and I have been pen-pals; we spent many summers together, playing badminton, sewing clothes for a couple of precious Barbies, and climbing hills above their house in Novi Pazar. We try to get together at least once a year if I am in Serbia, in hopes that our children will bond and friend each other on Facebook, and maybe get involved in a virtual game of badminton, if nothing else.
The two of us managed to corral the six kids and deposit them around the dining-room table; I helped her carry the food from the kitchen, keeping a watchful eye on the group of unpredictable energetic girls and a token boy, the youngest of all. The first dish was a Serbian staple, a creamy chicken soup thickened with farina, eggs, milk, and a bit of flour, something we looked forward when we were growing up.
Sure, there was a picky eater in the bunch who pulled the tiny cubes of carrots to the rim of the bowl, but most of them stopped talking for a minute and surrendered to the comforting flavors of the dish and we were rewarded by a few moments of silence. I raised my girls to be respectful and kind, but I almost fell out of my chair when my oldest, Nina, who was ten at the time exuberantly chimed, “Aunt Mira, this is the best soup I have ever tasted! How did you make it?”
Mira beamed, hiding her chuckle behind her hand, while I stared at my daughter with disbelief. She looked at us both utterly perplexed with childish innocence. I made that soup for her many times. So had Mother. But to her it tasted so different and so much better slurped in utmost disharmony with five other children who kept kicking one another under the table and competing in stupid jokes. The peasant fare became exotic not necessarily because Mira’s culinary achievements surpass mine (although she is a really good cook), but because she shared it with cousins she rarely sees in that welcoming kitchen with windows opening to the view of the green meadow and the parish church in those wonderfully lazy days of summer that bring promise with each sweltering moment.
- 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 small or ½ big yellow onion, diced
- a few carrots, diced
- 2-3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 small bell pepper, diced (optional, but I really like the color and the sweetness it adds)
- 1 cup of roasted chicken, cut into small pieces
- 1 quart of chicken stock
- 2 Tbsp farina (cream of wheat)
- 2 Tbsp flour
- ¾ cups milk
- 1 egg
- ½ cup plain yogurt
- salt, pepper to taste
- chopped parsley for garnish
Heat the oil in a heavy soup pan on medium heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper (if used), and sautee until softened, 8-10 minutes. Add chicken and stock and simmer for another 30 minutes.
Stir in farina. In a small bowl combine flour and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour into the soup and stir vigorously to break up the small bumps of flour. Cook for a couple of minutes and turn the heat off.
Mix together egg and yogurt in a small bowl. Pour a ladle of soup to temper it and stir to combine. Pour the warm mixture slowly into the soup, whisking, to avoid curdling.
Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley.