Home with the Lost Italian: Continue the post-holiday detox with Warm-Spice Chicken Soup

I’m continuing my post-holiday detox theme this week with a recipe full of nutritious ingredients, packed with warmth and almost certain to inspire some cravings: Warm-Spice Chicken Soup. Low in calories, this soup is the perfect dish to help reset your metabolism and get your body craving healthier foods.

A medley of powerhouse vegetables like asparagus, cabbage, carrots, celery and leeks ensures that that the soup is loaded with important nutrients to help promote good health. Combined, these vegetables provide a terrific amount of vitamins A, C, K and B-6, as well as minerals and nutrients like potassium, iron, copper, calcium, folate and fiber.

But the good news doesn’t end there. This soup gets an added boost of protein and flavor from the addition of chicken breasts, which are poached in the liquid until fully cooked and opaque. Once fully cooked, I use two forks to pull the chicken breast apart into shreds to ensure that nearly every bite includes some chicken.

This soup is incredibly versatile, and you can add other vegetables like broccoli and kale or switch out the protein by using shrimp or scallops instead of chicken. When I’m creating a recipe for a healthy eating regimen, my goal is to make it so flavorful that even people who aren’t too concerned about their health will want to eat it. The dish must be nutritious, yes, but also delicious, aromatic, pleasing to the eye and, ideally, crave-worthy.

To achieve this result in this recipe, I’ve added warm spices like freshly grated ginger and ground turmeric. These ingredients will not only aid in digestion, but will fill the soup, and your kitchen, with a delicate, fragrant warmth that is sure to activate your palate. Garlic, fresh parsley and a sprig of basil are also added to round out the flavors.

Whenever I make a broth-based soup, I like to add a touch of acid, like vinegar or citrus juice, and apple cider vinegar is perfect for this mission. Just a small amount of acid will balance the other ingredients, brighten up the overall flavor and can often make the difference between a good and a great soup.

A healthy dish should be easy to make, and I encourage you to look for ways to economize your time and effort. While I always use whole carrots when making a stock, for this soup I used a bag of baby carrots, which eliminated the task of washing and peeling them.

I love using leeks in broth-based soups, but if you already have a yellow onion in stock, use it. If I’m buying chicken stock from the grocery store, I always try to purchase the low or no-sodium version. Not only is it the healthier option, but this also enables me to control the amount of salt in the soup.

I made this soup recently for myself, but after serving it to Tony and Gio (my husband and teenage son), there was hardly any left for me — exactly the outcome I desire when introducing a new healthy recipe. Enjoy!

“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.

Warm-Spice Chicken (Detox) Soup

Makes: 3 to 3 1/2 quarts

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 leek, green tops removed, washed, quartered and cut into small pieces (about 1 cup)

2 cups celery, chopped 1 1/2 tablespoons

Fresh ginger, grated

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, fat trimmed

3 quarts low-sodium chicken stock, divided

1 quart water

3 cups carrots, sliced into rounds 1/4-inch thick

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 large sprig of fresh basil

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white cabbage, shredded

1/4 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Variation: In lieu of chicken breast, you could add fresh shrimp (peeled and deveined) or scallops just a few minutes before ready to serve. Cook shrimp in the soup until pink in color and cook scallops until just opaque.

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the leeks, celery, fresh ginger and garlic and sauté, stirring often, until the celery softens, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the whole chicken breasts, 2 quarts of chicken stock, the quart of water, carrots, vinegar, crushed red pepper, basil, turmeric and salt; cook over medium-high heat until boiling.

Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken breasts are fully cooked. To check for doneness, remove one breast and slice open in the center — the color should be white and opaque.

Once cooked, use tongs to remove chicken breast from the liquid and transfer to a cutting board to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the basil sprig and add the remaining quart of chicken stock. Continue to let the soup simmer on the lowest heat sitting for 10 minutes.

Once the chicken has cooled, use two forks to shred the breasts into strips, then stir them back into the soup.

For best texture and color, add the chopped asparagus, cabbage and parsley 2 minutes before serving, stirring to incorporate. Taste the soup and add seasoning as desired. Serve hot.

To store:

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Sarah’s Tips:

— This soup is versatile, and the asparagus and cabbage could be replaced with other vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, etc.

— For a heartier version, whole grains (like farro, quinoa or barley) or a delicate pasta like egg noodles or acini di pepe may be added.