Julia Turshen, whose fourth solo cookbook Simply Julia: 110 Easy Recipes for Healthy Comfort Food was recently released, doesn’t wait until Passover or Rosh Hashanah to make chicken soup. It’s her go-to comfort food all year, and she proudly makes a batch once a week. In a recent phone conversation she joked, “My body is made of one-third chicken soup.”
Turshen’s secret to the perfect chicken soup isn’t so much a secret, it’s just time and patience. Letting it cook over a very low temperature, just a simmer, for a long time is all that it takes. And this past year has been a great time to embrace cooking chicken soup more often. “Especially now that so many of us are home, it’s much easier to allow the chicken soup to cook all day,” she told me.
Turshen’s unfussy yet thoughtful approach to cooking may be the secret to her success and the many, many cookbooks she has under her belt (including one she coauthored with Gwyneth Paltrow). That, and her family food memories that guide so much of what she does professionally.
Simply Julia features several different entertaining menus, as well as really helpful lists about pantry staples and kitchen items to have on-hand. But what struck me about Turshen’s most recent book was that instead of featuring a Rosh Hashanah dinner or Yom Kippur break-fast menu, she includes, instead, a Passover brunch menu.
She explained, “I don’t want to wait until holidays to have food that’s really meaningful to me. We can enjoy these dishes whenever we want, we don’t have to wait until the holidays to connect to those memories. When I make chicken soup, I get to take care of myself, and when I make it for someone else, I get to offer that care. I don’t need to wait for Passover to do that. I can do it anytime.”
And it’s true, so many of us wait until the holidays to make our favorite foods, the dishes that inspire a closeness to our family and history. But this past year has thrown us all into a unique phase when our usual rituals and timeframes are out of whack; we’ve been home, looking for comfort and connection in different ways. We can and should cook the dishes that make us feel closer to our loved ones, even when we can’t physically be together.
“Some of these foods don’t hit the same heart strings for everyone, but it’s a good reminder that whatever that is for you, whatever dish your grandmother made or you have enjoyed with friends, you can do that anytime. One of the most incredible things about food is the access to memories.”
Which takes us back to that Passover brunch, and one of Turshen and her wife’s favorite dishes: matzah brei, which she explained was the only thing her mom ever cooked. “It was the one thing she reliably made every week on Saturday or Sunday morning, so it always felt even more special. She always served it with sugar on the side, and we would sprinkle more on top.”
But Turshen takes this sweet recipe one step further: She sprinkles sugar on the matzah brei while it is cooking, so it gets a little caramelized on each side. A subtle but important technique that adds great flavor. Her wife loves matzah brei more on the savory side, serving it with whatever is leftover in the fridge: cheddar, turkey bacon, and even some ketchup. After all, food is all about taking those memories, and creating new ones.
Try Turshen’s recipe for golden chicken soup with real egg noodles from Simply Julia.