Cold Night Chicken Soup

My mother-in-law loves raising poultry.  Come spring, between scouting the chicks for sale at Running’s and setting clucks, it’s nearly an addiction.   Every spring since we’ve been married (going on 38 years) she’s had baby chicks and/or ducks corralled in a paper box someplace in her house.  
One of the nice things about somebody in the family having chickens is fresh eggs and old hens. Nothing makes better chicken soup than an old hen.  Last fall, I stewed four of them with carrots, celery, onions, a couple of bay leaves, some whole allspice and peppercorns and a handful of fresh parsley.  I poured off the broth and canned it.  The meat I diced and froze in pint size bags.  Thaw a bag of chicken, cook some noodles and add a quart of broth and you have nearly instant comfort food on a cold night.  Lord knows we’ve had plenty of them lately.
This cook tires of making the same old all winter long.  The following recipe is spicier than noodle soup, but is still definitely comfort food.  It’s been in my “to try” folder for several years.  I wish I’d kept the source so I could give credit where credit is due because it’s a keeper.  I served it for our Before Bible Study supper at church last Wednesday night.  Everybody enjoyed it except my rancher who dubbed it “Rabbit Turd Soup”.  He has a point about the appearance, but the cumin and cilantro give it a warm taco-y flavor and the heat from the hot peppers and cayenne will take the chill off any cold evening.   I’m definitely feeding it to my hunters next fall, probably laced with a few more hot peppers.
The white chicken/black bean contrast and assorted peppers give it a festive appearance.  You can make it as hot or mild as you like depending on the peppers and amount of cayenne you use.  Lots of South of the Border type foods aren’t particularly healthy, but this recipe is gluten free, high fiber and lo-fat to boot!   Corn chips, cheese and sour cream lessen the healthy factor, but do punch up the flavor. I made it a second time and added rice to make it thicker. Like most soup, it’s even better reheated.  I think it would also be good with beef and beef broth instead of the chicken.  Cut way back on the broth, and it would make a good burrito or enchilada filling.

Chicken & Black Bean Soup
3-4 cooked chicken breasts, cubed
3 cans black beans (drained) or 6 cups cooked beans (1lb dried beans)
8-10 cups chicken broth
4 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bell peppers, diced (I used an assortment of colors)
1 habanero pepper, seeded and diced (I used 2 jalapenos)
1 tsp thyme
1Tbsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne (I used ¼ tsp)
1 tsp oregano
1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 bay leaf
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Saute onion, celery, peppers in olive oil until softened.  Add garlic and hot pepper; cook for 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot, bring just to a boil and reduce heat.  Simmer slowly for 1/2 -1 hour so spices blend.  Stir and check flavor every 10-15 minutes.  Adjust spices to taste—after all, a recipe is just rough guide!
Stay warm—there’s still plenty of winter left!