Tasty soups make for evening of fun


The weather was perfect: slightly cloudy and cold with just a hint of winter for B’nai El Congregation’s first Annual Chicken Soup Cook-off to benefit the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.

Participants purchased tickets which allowed them to sample the chicken soup of the seven competitors. Then they voted on which soup they liked the best. That soup was awarded the People’s Choice Award. Three guest judges: Louis Alpert, executive director of Jewish Family & Children’s Service; Daniel Plotkin, rabbi at B’nai El and Andrew Polin, chief executive officer of the St. Louis Jewish Light also did taste testing and awarded a Judge’s Favorite Award.

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Rabbi Plotkin brought the idea to the congregation as a way to raise funds for a worthwhile cause and have fun. Joyce Johnson at Plotkin’s old congregation, Temple Beth Tikvah in Houston, had come up with the program. There were some serious competitors and some not so serious at his old congregation, he said.

The idea really resounded with B’nai El’s Social Action Committee.

“It was our first significant monetary fundraiser to make money for another agency,” event chair Zeke Leventhal-Arnold said. “What better organization to benefit from a food activity than the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry.”

Families of all ages enjoyed the event. Linda MacRunnel developed and ran the children’s activities. There were arts and crafts and games to play. There were also many delicious desserts to choose from at the bake sale coordinated by B’nai El Social Action Committee chair person Louise Levine.

Carla and Jerry Rosen found out about the event because they are friends of one of the contestants…actually several of the contestants. Jerry was grateful “the balloting is anonymous.”

“It made me realize how many kinds of chicken soup there can be,” Carla said. “No two were alike.”

Alpert agreed.

“It points out that everyone has their own way of preparing chicken soup,” Alpert said.

Each of the seven competitors had a different story to tell about the history of their chicken soup.

Colleen Isele discovered her recipe when she was trying to find something her son Derek would like to eat.

“We know we got it right because he asks for it,” Isele said.

Rich Compass and his good friend Fran Wilner learned about the competition when they attended Rosh Hashanah services at the synagogue and read about it in the bulletin. They thought it was a great cause and would be a great way to give back to the congregation and the community since Compass’s passion is cooking, said Wilner. His signature style is combining different recipes.

“I got my recipe from the fun features of other recipes,” Compass said. “It includes peasant-type vegetables like sweet potatoes, rutabaga and other vegetables you find harvested in the fall and winter.”

The secret addition in Susan Rundblad’s soup is peppercorns. Rundblad, coordinator for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry, got her recipe from her bubbie.

“I like using recipes as they are given to me,” Rundblad said. “You can’t improve on perfection.”

Making soups is second nature for Nancy Goodman. She makes a big stock pot twice a year and freezes it so her family can always have delicious soup available.

“I wanted to do something a little different for the competition,” Goodman said. “I made the soup a little heartier.”

Barb and Bob Rosenfield’s special recipe was actually the happy result of an afterthought. They had adapted a spice rub using Spike seasoning and jalape ño pepper jelly to make a very tasty chicken, said Barb. Bob decided to use the leftover carcass to make soup.

“It was a eureka moment,” Bob said.

Linda Levin’s friend Fran Kravitz brought soup to her house for Passover one year and the family “was hooked.” Kravitz, who had received the recipe from her grandmother, gladly shared it with her friend.

“Now I make the soup,” Levin said.

Janet Singer based her recipe on one from Dorothy Firestone’s new cookbook TableTalk. She received the book as a Hanukkah present from her mother Betty Kraner.

“Dorothy is such a wonderful cook so I knew the recipe would be wonderful,” Singer said. “And it is.”

The event raised over $300 for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry. Both the Judges’ Favorite and People’s Choice Awards were given to Linda Levin. She received certificates and gift certificates for her recipe.

“Chicken soup is alive and well in St. Louis,” Polin said. “Everyone did a great job.”

Linda Levin’s Award-Winning Chicken Soup Recipe

3 pounds of chicken leg quarters or any chicken part

12 cups water

6 Telma Cubes (Use 1 Telma cube for every 2 cups of water)

1 peeled quartered parsnip

2 peeled quartered carrots

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 – 2 onions quartered

3 celery stalks, shredded

Boil water with chicken, skin on, trim fat.

Remove chicken and dump the first pot of boiled water with all the unwanted residue.

Rinse out the pot and then re-fill it with water and bring to boil again.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover and simmer for at least 3 hours

Remove the chicken and strain the soup several times to get the richness and clarity of the broth.

You can add chicken meat back to soup or leave it out. You could also add matzah balls.