Chicken Soup with Root Vegetables and Bulgur (Berlin, Winterfeldtmarkt, October 31, 2011)

Fall has definitely fallen in Berlin. Leaves are coming off the trees in droves and by the time I leave the museum at 5:00, the sun has set.

It’s just as well that the skies are getting cloudier by the day around here, because November is going to be intense. I come back to Chicago on December 6 and I’m determined to not let dissertation-related activities encroach on my holiday time this year. That means I had to sit down yesterday with the old iCal and start doing some serious scheduling. It’s scary how fast those little squares began to fill up with activities like: “Dissertation writing: conclude first chapter.”

By the way, if any of you out there have tips on how to schedule dissertation writing on a calendar, let me know. I suppose I could just devote a certain amount of time per day to it and leave it at that, but I like having some concrete deadlines along the way. I have a feeling the key to doing this successfully is setting realistic goals- that is not my strongest point.

November, at least, provides a good excuse to make some of my favorite types of foods: stews and soups. As produce is starting to become more root-oriented and the nights are getting colder, one craves a good, hot broth. Also, anything that involves a stock means that those Sunday afternoons spent at my desk will at least be punctuated by checking water levels and skimming, and nothing improves my mood more than stirring something around that tastes good.

The following recipe is one that I’m really pleased with. It’s a version of chicken soup, but it’s really more about the root vegetables than the chicken. I only used two chicken legs (drumsticks plus thighs) in comparison to around double the volume of root vegetables. I added bulgar for flavor and texture, and took this soup from something plain to something memorable. I’ll definitely be making this again before November is over.

Notes: you can use any root vegetable combination you want. I had potatoes, kohlrabi and turnips on hand, so that’s what I used. The same goes for the stock. I bought a bundle of old greens and roots sold for the purpose of making stocks. Included were leeks and celery root, which I will be including in my stocks from now on. For the stock, I also used the leaves of a bunch of carrots I bought. In the end, I forgot to add the carrots to the soup, but the leaves worked wonders. Finally, choose the coarsest, darkest bulgar you can find. You need a coarse and flavorful bulgur to stand up to the broth.

Chicken Soup with Root Vegetables and Bulgur


1 large leek

1 large yellow onion

1/2 large celery root, with some stalks and leaves if possible

1-2 carrots, with leaves

4-5 cloves garlic, whole with skins removed

2 tbs olive oil

Several sprigs of thyme

10 pepper corns, or ground pepper to taste

Salt to taste

For the soup:

Two chicken legs (drumsticks and thighs), with bones

1 kohlrabi bulb

3 large golden potatoes

1 white turnip

1 cup coarse, brown bulgur

2.5 quarts of water

Juice of 1/2 lemon


Begin by making the stock. Coarsely chop the onion, celery root, leek and carrots. Trim off any greens that come with these roots and set them aside for later.

Heat the 2 tbs of olive oil in a large stew pot. Sauté the onions, leek celery root and carrots until they begin to brown. Add the two chicken legs and brown them. Then add the garlic, thyme, pepper and any tender leaves from the celery root and carrots and sauté until fragrant. Pour around 10 cups (2.5 quarts) of water to the pot. Bring this to a boil and then turn the heat to low, letting the stock simmer.

After about 45 minutes, remove the chicken pieces. This will prevent the meat from becoming too tough. Let these cool for a while and when cool enough to handle, shred the meat off and set aside for later.

Add the bones back to the stock and let it simmer for another hour or so, for a total of around 2.5 hours total. If the water level has decreased substantially, you can add some more. After 2.5 hours has passed, strain the stock and discard the solids. The liquid should be colorful but doesn’t need to be too dark.

Next, peel the root vegetables for the soup and dice them into chunks (in this case, the kohlrabi, turnip and potatoes).

Bring the strained stock to a lazy boil and add the root vegetables, cooking until fork tender. Add the shredded chicken and bulgur, cooking until the chicken is heated through and the bulgur is just soft, around 10 minutes.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Just before serving, add the lemon juice to the pot and give it a stir. This soup is excellent with dense bread and butter.

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