A few weeks ago I was invited to teach healthy cooking with a group of Columbian refuge women who are part of the Refugee Trauma Recovery programme here in Wellington.
When I was thinking about what we could cook together, I suppose comfort food was on the top of my mind. This group of Columbian women and their families have been through horrible trauma, torture and the stress of not knowing what happened to their loved ones who have disappeared and are feared dead. It was very humbling to spend time with these ladies and hear about their struggles. These women are the fortunate of the unfortunate who have a new home in New Zealand but still, they are left with a great deal of post traumatic stress and worry for loved ones left behind. Their healing has only just begun and nothing about it is easy.
But what does food have to do with healing from trauma? Food has the power to heal us in so many ways! Familiar tastes can revive old memories and can make us feel safe and warm. We use food to express love and we in turn feel loved when someone cooks us a home made meal. Food nourishes our bodies and helps us recover from illness. Food from our culture or homeland can be especially meaningful and we can feel very homesick when we move far away and can no longer enjoy these familiar tastes.
I think it is very well known that one of the best healing foods is soup. In fact recent studies have confirmed that soup has probably been a part of traditional human diets dating back 20,000 years! And for good reason.
Every culture has a version of healing soup because people have long known that soup made using the joints and bones of animals has a very special nutrient profile: it is a incredibly healing food because of the breakdown of minerals in the bones as well as cartilage, marrow and skin. These highly absorbable nutrients help fight infections, reduce inflammation, reduce joint pain, regulate hormones, and is easy to digest for people with illness and digestive issues. More recently evidence has shown that it “heals and seals” the broken gut lining in people with permeable gut. Soups made with this “bone broth” are packed full of nutrition as well as being very inexpensive to make and highly comforting.
With this in mind, I thought we could recreate a well known Columbian chicken soup called Ajiaco using produce that is locally available, donated or foraged from around our area in the middle of winter.
The good people at Kaibosh food rescue donate several boxes of food to the refugee group each week and along with some foraged bay leaves, rosemary, a lemon and a few leaves of kale from my home garden we had the makings of a simple soup using a whole chicken. Because we only had a short time to work together, we used this quick cooking soup method which makes a light flavored chicken broth. In order to make a true bone broth, you would remove the breast and leg meat after one hour and return the bones to the soup and simmer for longer to extract all the nutrients. I will be sure to post more about bone broth soon.
We had a lovely afternoon making this simple soup together and enjoying learning about seasonal New Zealand produce and herbs and ways to incorporate them into their traditional Colombian recipes.
- 1 small Organic Chicken or several thighs and legs with bone and skin
- 2 carrots peeled and diced
- 2 ribs celery diced
- 4 garlic cloves finely diced
- 1 onion peeled and finely diced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1T chopped rosemary
- 4 medium size potatoes (any variety) peeled and cut into large chunks
- 2 t sea salt plus more to taste
- Fresh black pepper
- 4 cups finely shredded seasonal greens such as kale or silverbeet
- 1 cup loosely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 fresh lemon juiced
- Olive oil for serving
- Add chicken, carrots, celery, garlic, onion, herbs and salt and pepper into a stock pot and cover with filtered water (about 2 litres).
- Bring to a gentle boil and skim any foam that may rise to the surface. After 15 minutes skim off any bits of foam that are on the surface. This makes for a clear broth and the foam can make the soup taste bitter.
- Next, partially cover and gently simmer for 45 min to 1hr on low.
- Carefully remove chicken and set aside, allow to cool down a bit while the soup continues to simmer. Break up large potato chunks with a spoon or potato masher leaving some large pieces.
- When chicken cool enough to work with, remove meat from the bone and cut into bite size pieces. (I sometimes save half the chicken meat for another use). Return chicken meat to stockpot with greens and parsley. Gently simmer for 15 min. Taste for salt and pepper and serve in bowls with a drizzle of fruity olive oil.
- Save any large chicken bones in the freezer for making your next batch of chicken bone broth.