The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Organic Chicken Soup on the Cheap

Here is one of my favorite recipes: All of the ingredients are organic and it yields a week's worth of lunches for a hungry, hungry man (or a small family) for the jaw-dropping price below:

$8.00 3 lb chicken, bought at the local farmers market. It comes frozen, with gizzards and all.
$1.19 1 lb carrots
$1.69 1 package celery (about 10 stalks, probably a little over a pound)
$0.65 1/2 lb dry beans
$0.50 1 large onion
$0.20 bay leaf, clove of garlic, salt, pepper and other spices
$1.69 10 oz frozen package of peas or corn
$1.29 1 lb dry, whole grain rice

Folks, this is at least 8 quarts. In fact, Its overflowing. I'd recommend cooking the rice separately (in some of the chicken broth), and probably having a second pan for excess. In fact, it could be 12 quarts easy depending on the liquidity you're comfortable with (mine is pretty thick). The chicken itself takes up much of the 8 quart pan. I find myself having to de-bone it just to add the vegetables (I continue cooking the bones separately in another pan, and at the end pour the liquid back into the main pot).

Assuming that an average bowl = 1 pint: There are 2 pints/quart, so this is 16 bowls not counting the rice. That translates into about 8 meals for me, since I eat a hearty lunch.

This soup covers a lot of ground nutritionally:
  • Naturally raised, free range chicken--that includes meat, some organs, bones for the broth
  • Whole grain
  • Legume (beans)
  • At least 1 green and 1 non-green vegetable (at least 4 vegetables total)
  • Spices, herbs, garlic

This is virtually complete nutrition. I would normally cook it with a large parsley root and tops, but I couldn't find prices on my investigative shopping trip tonight (we grow it in the garden), so I excluded it. You could easily substitute bread in place of the rice (bread machine!) or other vegetables, potatoes, without affecting the price much.

No MSG, no corn syrup derivatives, no fake sugar, no artificial nitrites, no aluminum-based baking powder. Its full of meat, hearty & satisfying in all ways, 100% ORGANIC and ridiculously cheap.

Its a myth that organic equals expensive. The same amount of meals at Chipotle or Subway would run you $45-65, and mine is $15.20.

A way to reduce the size of this recipe: Boil the chicken in some water to develop the broth, like normal. Then when you de-bone the chicken, put a lot of the meat away to use for other recipies and only return some of it back to the soup.


  1. wow Frank, I had no idea about your cooking expertise. I remember hearing stories how Padraic survived on nothing but ramen noodels on a fixed budget in grad school. But you make cooking on a budget seem fun. It looks like I have a lot to learn from you in this area as well. We are heavily dependant on frozen pizzas and fast food. Have you always been this health contious or is this a new development since your medical problems began?

  2. Hey, Mark,

    I've always been interested in nutrition. I remember studying the 4 food groups and such when I was very young. But there is something about cancer that serves as a wake-up call. Instances of the cancer I've had are rising, which suggests that there is something more than genetics at play here--diet, stress or lifestyle are probably involved.

    It wasn't a conscious decisions to be healthy as a result of any of that. Its not like I sat down one day and said, "I need to change my diet to prevent further cancer." There is a connection, it just happened much more naturally than trying to impose a system on myself. I think I've become aware that there are consequences to our lifestyle.

    I used to believe that it didn't matter if you ate junk food as long as you ate healthy food along with it. I don't believe that anymore. The 3-4 bag/week Dorito habit is long gone. Never touch the stuff anymore. Kettle Brand Salt & Vinegar is how I get my fix nowadays, but even then chips are much more rare. Besides, I'm not sure I ate enough healthy food in the old days. I used to feel that "making sure you include some veggies in your meal" is what you have to do... but there's much more to eating healthy than that. There is fruit, whole grains, avoiding additives, balancing raw/cooked foods, etc.

    Its really easy to whip up a batch of healthy & tasty food at home in a few minutes time. Its a myth that restaurants and packaged foods save us time or money. You just gotta get comfortable in the kitchen and have some basic ingredients lying around.

    I started learning to cook from using packaged foods. What if I add some corn to these Ramen noodles... what if I opened up a can of some salmon and dumped it in... well, that was kinda soupy, I wonder if I can make soup without using the Ramen flavor packet... can of broth helps, maybe I can avoid the canned broth, too. Heck, just boil a chicken and you're there! Now, I wouldn't even think of eating Ramen noodles or Lipton noodles in a bag, but that is where I started to cook.

    I think there's a stigma about organic foods. Yes, they can be very expensive if you compare(literally) apples to apples. But when compared to fast food and packaged foods, making an organic meal at home can be shockingly cheap. And you can always substitutde non-organic foods in my recipes and they'll be even cheaper. I tend to prefer organics because not only am I eating better for my own health, but I'm also making a purchase toward the environment, as well.

    Erin's turned me on to the concept of "once-a-month" cooking. We never actually do it, but in theory you can whip up a large batch or something, keep a week's worth in the fridge then freeze the rest. One day of cooking could keep you fed for a month, in theory. I like cooking so I don't mind spending more time in the kitchen. But if you use the freezer well, you can really do a lot with a little bit of cooking.