When I was growing up I never looked forward to Thanksgiving dinner quite so much as I looked forward to the days after the holiday. That’s when my mom would take the leftover turkey and turn it into the best soup on the planet. It was magical, and I’ve spent most of my adult life begging her to freeze some for me so that when I finally make it home I get a bowl or two. It wasn’t until just a couple of years ago I realized just how simple it is to make soup from scratch myself. Since my one real cold generally hits me around the same time as my spring fever, around mid to late February, this year I’m going to let you all know how to take a leftover bird and make your own delicious chicken and dumpling soup.

Good for what ails ya

Chicken soup has always been the one food everyone associates with getting over a cold, and for a very good reason. While it is by no means a cure, it actually does relieve symptoms and make you feel better. First, the steam alone helps unclog your chest and nose to make breathing easier. Additionally, the broth has anti-inflammatory properties that both soothe your throat and stop white blood cells from causing mucus to build up in your lungs. On top of both of those, it’s also a fluid that will help the all-important hydration process when you’re sick. The bottom line is that even if it doesn’t cure you, you will feel better.

Here’s my foolproof recipe

First you’ll need a chicken carcass. Put it in a pot and cover it with water. Add one quartered onion, skin and all. Add two chopped carrots, two chopped celery stalks, two chopped potatoes, eight whole peppercorns, roughly a teaspoon each of dried basil and parsley, and one bouillon cube. Put a lid on it, with room for some steam to escape, and bring it to boil. Then forget about it for a couple of hours—well, maybe don’t forget to make sure the water doesn’t boil away. By the time you come back, the house should smell fabulous.

The next step is to strain out the liquid into another pot. Once you’ve done that, throw the liquid in the fridge or, if it’s cold enough, the garage, and let it cool. While it cools, put the carcass into a colander and run cold water over it until you can handle it without burning your fingers. Pick the meat from carcass and discard the bones. Most recipes I’ve read tell you to toss out the veggies from the broth, but I usually keep them—the more the merrier, and I’ve always figured that while the flavor may have boiled out of them they’ve still been stewing in a lot of flavor and it can’t hurt to keep ‘em.

Now, you bring back in your broth. Skim the fat from the top and discard it. Add your meat and heat it back up on a medium high heat. Add three or four more carrots, two or three more celery ribs, and any other veggies you like. Don’t overdo it though—it doesn’t take many to overpower the soup and change it to stew. I also add a half-cup of uncooked rice for texture. After this has heated, give it a taste and see if you need to add any salt. My guess is you won’t.

Now it’s time to make dumplings. For this you’ll need some old bread. Put it in a bowl, cover it with water and let it soak for a minute or two. Wring out and crumble the bread, and transfer it to a good-sized mixing bowl. Add two eggs, a quart of an onion minced, two heads of garlic minced, and around a teaspoon each of salt, black pepper, oregano, and basil. Now comes the tricky part. Add about 1/4 cup of flour and start mixing. Keep adding additional flour until your mix has the consistency of play dough. Not too thin, but not too thick. This step took me a while to perfect and I’ve never figured out exactly how much flour I need from batch to batch.

Once you’ve got your batter ready, bring a pot of water to a boil—don’t make your dumplings in the soup (that’s the one step my mom was adamant about). Using a tablespoon or medium-sized serving spoon, drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling water. They’ll sink to the bottom after a bit. When they do turn them over let them sink again. Boil them for about 10 minutes—be patient, otherwise they’ll just fall apart in your soup. To make sure they’re done, cut one in half-it should be doughy, but still cooked through. Once you’re finished, add them to your soup and you’re ready to eat.

I’ve tried more complicated versions of this recipe where you’re told to remove the meat before boiling and to roast the bones. It’s supposed to make the flavor richer and the texture smoother. I don’t think it’s worth the trouble. I can say that if you prefer a vegetable broth to meat, it’ll work just fine. What you need to do then is to provide a little more flavor by adding some strong root vegetables like a turnip or even a sweet potato to the initial broth. Adding a little fat in the form of a tablespoon of butter or butter substitute also helps with the soothing effect the soup has on your throat. Just as important is to remember that spring doesn’t actually arrive in Madison until sometime after Memorial Day.

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