How to make an immune-boosting chicken soup (plus a vegetarian version)

Our food editor follows a dietitian's expert advice to create recipes for comforting soups that pack a big nutritional punch

30 June 2021 - 11:44 By hilary biller
Immune-boosting chicken soup.
Immune-boosting chicken soup.
Image: 123RF/yuliaff

Several studies have aimed to find out if there’s any truth in the old wives' tale that chicken soup can help cure a cold.

Given that Covid-19 may present with similar symptoms to a case of the sniffles, such as a sore throat, aches and pains, and a fever, some wonder if the dish might aid in the recovery of those infected with the coronavirus.

Whether chicken soup truly has curative effects, there are benefits to eating a big bowlful of it when you’re under the weather.

“When we are sick, we are more prone to underhydration, so consuming adequate fluids and electrolytes is important. Soups are a great meal idea as they can help you meet your body's fluid and nutrition requirements,” says registered dietitian Carly Seager of Intelihealth Dietitians in Joburg.

Of course, not all chicken soups are created equal — that’s why we asked Seager for advice on how to make one that packs a big nutritional punch. We then used her tips to amp up our favourite chicken soup recipe, and create a version of “Jewish penicillin” that's suitable for vegetarians.


  • Consuming sufficient protein is essential to help our bodies fight off infection. Include lean animal- and plant-based proteins such as chickpeas, lentils, butter beans, chicken, eggs, cottage cheese or fish in your soups.
  • Did you know that roughly 70% of our immune system is located within the gut? Eating enough fibre is one way to support the gut and thus your immune system. You can up the fibre content of soups by adding vegetables, wholegrains such as quinoa and barley, and legumes like chickpeas, beans and lentils.
  • Turmeric contains a potent antioxidant known as curcumin, which is anti-inflammatory and immune supportive. Make sure to pair turmeric with black pepper and a “healthy” fat such as olive or avocado oil for better curcumin absorption.
  • Ginger, garlic, onion, celery, carrots, spinach and parsley are loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants which protect the body's cells against the damage caused by free radicals.
  • If you've got a vitamin D deficiency, the chances of having severe Covid-19 symptoms and complications is increased. Not only are mushrooms a natural source of vitamin D, but you can boost their vitamin D content by exposing them to sunlight for an hour before cooking them. 
  • Regular stock cubes tend to be loaded with excess sodium (salt). Ensure the stocks you add to your soups are low in sodium; this is particularly important if you've got difficulty controlling hypertension (high blood pressure).


Serves: 4-6


1 x 1.2kg chicken (preferably free range)

1 large onion studded with 4 cloves

2-3 cloves of garlic

5cm piece of ginger, sliced

2cm piece of fresh turmeric, sliced — or use 5ml (1 tsp) turmeric powder

1 red chilli, seeded and sliced

1 punnet of mushrooms, sliced (see dietitian's tip above)

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

2 stalks of celery with leaves, sliced

1 bunch spinach or kale

1 small bunch of parsley, washed

30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

Water to cover

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Extra chicken stock, as needed (see note from dietitian above)

250ml (1 cup) quinoa, cooked


  1. Rinse the chicken and place it in a large pot. Add all the remaining ingredients, except the extra chicken stock and quinoa. Add enough water to cover the ingredients and season generously with salt and black pepper.
  2. Place the pot on the stove and bring the contents to a boil. Boil for 45 minutes, topping up with extra water if needed.
  3. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside to cool slightly. 
  4. Strain the stock, retaining the vegetables, and return to the pot.
  5. Remove the flesh from the chicken, retaining the bones and skin. Return the chicken skin and bones to the stock and boil for another 15 minutes.
  6. Strain the stock, discarding the chicken skin and bones, and return to the pot.
  7. If necessary, add enough chicken stock to make up 1.2 litres of soup. Add a selection of the vegetables that were cooked in the stock, some of the chicken meat and the cooked quinoa. Heat through until piping hot and serve.

Cook's notes:

  • This soup freezes well.
  • Waste not, want not: use any leftover cooked chicken for sandwich fillings or in a sauce over pasta.


Serves: 4-6


45ml (3 tbsp) nutritional yeast flakes

30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1-2 sticks of celery, chopped

2.5ml (½ tsp) ground turmeric

30ml (2 tbsp) miso paste — or use 15ml (1 tbsp) Marmite and add with the vegetable stock

2 cloves of garlic, grated

4cm piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 punnet of mushrooms, sliced (see tip from dietitian above)

1 bunch of spinach or kale

1 bunch of parsley

1-2 chillies, seeded and sliced (optional)

125ml (½ cup) barley, well rinsed — or use quinoa, buckwheat or millet

1.5 litres vegetable stock, plus extra (see tip from dietitian above)

1 x 400g tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 x 400g tin butter beans or lentils, drained and rinsed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice of 1 small lemon


  1. Soak the yeast flakes in 180ml hot water. Stir well and set aside.
  2. Preheat the olive oil in a large pot and fry the onion, carrot and celery until softened.
  3. Add the turmeric, miso paste, garlic and ginger. Cook until the miso starts to darken and stick to the bottom of the pan, then add the mushrooms, spinach or kale,  parsley, chilli (if using), and barley and stir fry for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add the liquid from the nutritional flakes and the vegetable stock. Bring the soup to a boil, then simmer gently for 30 minutes.
  5. Add the chickpeas and butter beans, plus additional vegetable stock, if needed. Bring the soup back to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the lemon juice and heat though before tasting for seasoning. Serve hot.

Cook's tip: This soup can be frozen, though the pulses (chickpeas and beans) may become mushy on defrosting and reheating. You could make the soup without these ingredients, freeze it and add the pulses when reheating it.