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COOKING FROM HOME

Chapter 5: The freezer is a time capsule

Once the turkey barley soup in my freezer is gone, I don’t know when I’ll taste my mother’s cooking again.

Heather Hopp-Bruce

Today I took out a tub of soup from the freezer. Turkey barley. My mother brought it for me the last time my parents visited from New York. I don’t know when I’ll see them again. (I won’t say if, although I’ll think it.) Once this soup is gone, I don’t know when I’ll taste my mother’s cooking again.

I feel like maybe I should have saved it, like Bobby Baccalieri did with his dead wife’s ziti in “The Sopranos,” until new girlfriend Janice made him reheat it and eat it with her. “Karen’s ziti. That’s the last one she made,” he says, and we watch the emotions play across his face as he chews in silence. It’s an uneasy scene, and a sad one.

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This is a sad time. People are losing their jobs, with the restaurant industry particularly hard hit. The money is running out, or there is no money to run out, and more will go hungry. I'm afraid of what the next few weeks will bring, as the virus spreads, and the medical community fights on, and moments of grace flare bright against a grim backdrop.

That’s why I’m eating the soup. While it’s still good, before freezer burn encroaches. While I can enjoy it. The bottle of wine you’ve been saving, the tinned fish you brought back from a trip and tucked in the cupboard, the fancy chocolate or jam someone gave you as a gift, now is the time to break these things out.

The freezer is a time capsule. It preserves the past. I’m sentimental about mine. It’s filled with things too old to consume, food people brought us after my son was born (he’s 7), slices of cake and trays of brisket and lasagna from family parties. But this week I’m clearing it out. The past is past, and I need the space — for the vegetables I plan to blanch and store, some meat to keep in reserve, and the cooking I’m doing now in bigger batches so we can eat the leftovers down the road. I’ll freeze baggies filled with meatballs in sauce, logs of cookie dough, more kinds of soup than I can count.

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Starting with this one, consomé de pollo, a homey Mexican chicken soup from Enrique Olvera, chef of Pujol in Mexico City. I fell in love with his cookbook “Tu Casa Mi Casa,” and I can’t stop making this dish. It’s reinvigorating when you’re tired or sick, with a sprig of mint subtly brightening the broth and a cavalcade of delightful toppings. (I also like to add chopped radish and crushed tortilla chips; feel free to adjust toppings and/or vegetables included in the soup for what you have available.) The freezer is a time capsule, preserving the present, humming along confident in the fact that we’ll all be hungry again tomorrow.

Araceli Paz (custom credit)/Chicken Soup (Consomé de pollo). Photography: Araceli Paz

Consomé de Pollo

Serves 4

2 pounds chicken pieces (or a whole chicken about 3½-4 pounds)

¾ large white onion, roughly chopped

7 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked for at least 1 hour (or 1 15-ounce can)

1 sprig fresh mint

1 tablespoon salt, or more to taste

3 small carrots, cut into medium dice

3 fingerling potatoes, cut into bite-size pieces

1 chayote squash (optional), peeled and cut into bite-size pieces

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2 small zucchini, cut into bite-size pieces

For serving

¼ large white onion, finely chopped

3 serrano chiles, finely diced

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 avocado, cubed

Lime wedges

1. In a large pot, combine the chicken, onion, garlic, dried chickpeas (if using canned, add in Step 2 with the carrots and potatoes), mint, and salt. Add water to cover by at least 1 inch. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the chicken is fully cooked through, about 45 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let it cool enough to handle. Shred or pull the chicken meat off the bone and return the meat to the pot.

2. Add the carrots, potatoes, and chayote (if using) to the pot and cook until the carrots are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the zucchini and adjust salt to taste. Cook until the zucchini is tender but still bright, 2–3 minutes.

3. Top the soup with onion, chiles, cilantro, and avocado. Serve with lime wedges on the side for squeezing.

Adapted from “Tu Casa Mi Casa: Mexican Recipes for the Home Cook,” by Enrique Olvera with Luis Arellano, Gonzalo Goût, and Daniela Soto-Innes (photo by Araceli Paz)

Other things to try

- These turkey meatballs with quick tomato sauce.

- Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies.

Question of the day: What’s in your freezer?

Thinking of you, good people.

- Devra

Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst or Instagram @devra_first.

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Devra First can be reached at devra.first@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.