By Kris McDowell
Portland’s Jenn Louis released her third cookbook in September, The Chicken Soup Manifesto: Recipes From Around the World. The 240-page book is divided by country, taking readers and cooks to all corners of the globe – Africa to the Americas, Asia to Europe – with recipes that invoke a sense of the place they came from.
Louis grew up east of Los Angeles and came to Portland to attend Western Culinary Institute after learning how to cook by taking a job at North Carolina Outward Bound School.
She had visited Portland between high school and college and recalls, “Oregon was the prettiest place ever.” She stayed in Portland after graduation, owning and operating three restaurants and a catering business.
While on a trip to San Diego a few years ago, Louis found herself “sick, really sick” and wondering how she was going to get through the trip home.
She texted her sister, also a Portlander, and upon arrival home, was welcomed by a pot of chicken soup sitting on her porch her sister had prepared.
She said, “I literally ate three bowls of warm soup.” The soup, based on their family’s Eastern European and Jewish heritage, didn’t cure what was ailing her, but she felt substantially better and she started to think about the prevalence of chicken soup in its vast iterations across cultures.
Besides the curative properties of chicken soup many people have experienced during bouts of sickness, chickens are something most of the world have in common.
They are fairly inexpensive, many people raise their own and according to Louis, they are the most neutral animal protein, even more so than fish. They are also more accessible for people who don’t live on a coast where fish would be common.
Louis has been fortunate to have been able to travel extensively and has tried to meet up with locals wherever she has gone to talk about their version of chicken soup.
She talked to a neighbor who grew up in Iran and reached out to friends to discuss the cultural chicken soup from where they came from. When thinking about organizing the recipes in the book she said, “I really wanted it to be a documentary. To show the similarities that we all have.”
Some of the recipes use a whole chicken while other use specific parts; just the breast or the legs and thighs. She found that prices on chicken can vary widely, so she recommends looking around. As a place to start, she said that Trader Joe’s tends to have good prices on natural and organic chicken.
During the current pandemic, many people have been forced to cook more at home, something Louis feels is “so cool.”
Those who may be new to cooking, or cooking so much, may be looking for inspiration, and the beautifully photographed bowls of soup that accompany the recipes may provide just the boost needed.
It doesn’t hurt that the calendar has turned to fall and a hot bowl of soup fits the cooler weather the shorter days bring.
Home-cooked food is not just nourishment, it can feed the soul as well. “Mealtime is quality time to spend together,” says Louis.
The Multnomah County Library does not currently have the book, but it can be purchased at jennlouis.com or locally at bookstores like Powell’s and Broadway Books.