There is a 19th century Macedonian poem called “Longing for the South” by Konstantin Miladinov, written while he was studying in Moscow but longing for the sun, the light of his southern European home. I only understood it completely when, having grown up in the Balkans and then the Middle East, I moved to London two decades ago for university, and suddenly, inexplicably, overwhelmingly missed the light of home. This soup is a combination of several other types of soup from across the Balkans. Made and adapted by generations of women in my family, each of them adding their own twist, it was the first thing I cooked by myself, for myself. It is my Balkan Penicillin, my light of home in a bowl, my taste of sunshine. It soothes and cures all ills, but especially a homesick soul.
1-2 chicken carcasses and/or skinless chicken cuts with bones
1 large white onion or leek
1 red Romano pepper
1 large beef tomato or 2 medium tomatoes
3 celery stalks
3 – 4 carrots
2 courgettes (optional)
2-3 bay leaves
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
Fresh parsley, generous handful
Salt + pepper to taste
100g “tarana” (Balkan pasta) or any small pasta shape like vermicelli or orzo
- Wash your chicken thoroughly and add to a large soup pot. Cover with water, bring to a rolling simmer and keep skimming any froth/impurities and topping up with water to keep it simmering gently until it is no longer frothing and you have a clear stock. Then add the peppercorns, bay leaves and some parsley stalks and keep gently simmering.
- Meanwhile, clean and prepare all your vegetables. Peel and quarter the onion. Halve the tomatoes. De-seed and chop the pepper into large chunks. Peel and chop the courgette in quarters. Peel and halve the carrots. Peel and finely dice the potatoes (keep them in water or they will brown). Add all your vegetables except the potatoes to the soup pot. Cook everything for a few hours on a gentle simmer until the chicken is falling off the bones. You may need to top up with water and skim occasionally.
- Strain the broth through a sieve into a clean pot. Reserve the chicken, and carrots, discard the bay leaves, parsley stalks and peppercorns, and pass/puree the remaining vegetables through the sieve into the broth.
Put the broth back onto a gentle simmer, and add your diced potatoes.
Meanwhile, shred the chicken/pick off any chicken from the carcasses and add it to the broth. Finely dice the carrots and add them back to the simmering broth.
- Add your tarana/pasta and continue to simmer until it is cooked (for tarana, about 2 minutes, longer if you are using dry). Add salt and pepper to taste as well as finely chopped fresh parsley.
- Serve with some fresh parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice if desired, and enjoy!