Soup for a Rainy Sunday

When we lived in Maine, we would never have started a fire in the fireplace unless the temperatures plummeted below 30. Here in the Southwest, however, we don't think twice about lighting a fire even if the temperatures are in the 50s.

Today is exactly that kind of day. It is 54 degrees, cloudy and it just might rain. Rain would be a good thing for the desert, although neither Mark nor I ever dreamed we'd admit that! One thing we love about the desert is the expansive blue sky - endless and enveloping, there is nothing like the sensation that I have more fresh air to breathe than ever before in my life.

But today the skies are gray, the mountains directly north of us are shrouded in low clouds, and the fire is toasty and warm. Soup. It was both the question and the answer. And one of our favorites is a recipe we got from the Boston Globe Magazine years ago. Once I converted from saving clippings to transcribing recipes on my computer, endless undocumented revisions became possible. Now, I have no idea if the recipe is original to someone else or tinkered with by me. In almost all cases, I assume the latter. I am pretty sure this is not the original recipe but I wouldn't swear to it. And does it really matter?

This soup - chicken meatballs laced with lemon zest and mint, simmering in a broth delicately flavored with leeks, peas and carrots - is amazing comfort food without being heavy. While it may seem wintry, it is bright - both in color and flavor - and  very springlike.  The lemon zest is actually what brought this particular soup to mind. We lost over 60 lemons in the big frost last month - so sad a loss. Somehow we felt invincible to the cold and didn't pick our lemons. So we ended up with lots of lemon zest and no flesh or juice. Yesterday, we made everything we could think of with our lemon zest/peel: candied peel, preserved zest (a Moroccan inspired preparation, although quite nontraditional), dried lemon zest (to pulverize and use later as a condiment), the beginnings of a new batch of limoncello, and grilled chicken with lemon zest and rosemary.

Today, we will probably preserve more zest (it will make great host/hostess gifts), use some for lemon squares and then a goodly amount will go into the soup. It is best if you can grind your own chicken but many stores now sell it pre-ground. Don't substitute ground turkey as it is much heavier and the delicate nature of the meatballs will be lost.

So, no matter where you live, it is February and the chance of a chilly day is out there - even for our friends below the equator looking to winter. This soup warms you up and yet gives hope for warmer, sunnier days to come.

- David

Chicken Meatball Soup with Lemon and Mint

For the Meatballs
1/4 onion, finely minced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
grated zest of 1 lemon (or 2 lemons, if you prefer)
1/2 pound ground lean chicken (from the breast)
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, stir together the onion, egg, mint and lemon zest. Add the chicken, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. With your hands, work the mixture gently until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the broth.

For the Broth
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 onion, finely chopped
2 leeks, white parts only, washed and chopped
2 carrots, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
8 cups chicken broth

In a large pot, melt butter and add onion, leeks, carrots, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until vegetables are softened. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low so that the mixture is just bubbling around the edges. Let the soup simmer while you shape the meatballs.

To Finish the Soup
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Set a bowl of cold water on the counter. Dip fingertips in the water and pick up 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture and shape it into a 1-inch ball. Set on a plate and continue making meatballs until all the mixture is used up - you should have about 24 meatballs.

Carefully lower the meatballs - one at a time - into the simmering broth. Return to a boil, then reduce again to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes, then add peas and cook 5 minutes longer, or until meatballs are cooked through and peas are tender. Ladle into soup plates and sprinkle with chopped mint.

Serves 6.


  1. Yeah ! Lemons are being used lovingly after all. So clever to save the poor frozen things as zest and peel ! Can't wait for the bars ... ~jmr

  2. Let me know how you like/use the preserved zest. Lemon bars. I don't see ant lemon bars...

  3. Okay, everyone, you can see that I am woefully behind in my posting my thoughts. In the spirit of better late than never....when I read this piece about enjoying Chicken Meatball Soup in front of a fire on a chilly afternoon, I immediately thought of a one of my very favorite recipes: Quenelles de Volaille. This versatile mini dumpling can be used in many dishes, but I love it in an escarole soup. I was introduced to the soup by my husband Towny's father, an American Foreign Service Officer fortunate enough to have served in Paris in the 1950s. It is marvelous and I imagine that it, too, would go well in front of a fire on a gray day, followed by a lemon square! The recipes I have are Craig Claiborne's (from the NYT). I look forward to trying your soup!

    Thanks, as always, for your inspiring pieces!


  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Thanks for reminding me about the quenelles! And also for the link to the recipe in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/1981/06/21/magazine/food-mastering-the-mini-dumpling.html?emc=eta1 I know others will be happy to see it, too! I am so glad you are enjoying the recipes! Bises, David


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