IF you've been spending a lot of time watching the Weather Channel this winter, it may be time to start your own personal warming trend.
Make chicken soup.
Chicken soup practically defines the term ''comfort food.'' It was mom's answer to a lot of things, the culinary symbol of love and warmth. But chicken soup's virtues go beyond memories of a gleaming yellow liquid that gently steamed your face when you were a kid.
Chicken soup is economical and ecological. Not unlike turkey at Thanksgiving, chicken leftovers can be turned into a broth. As such, the chicken can serve as best-supporting actor for hundreds of different soups and sauces.
It plays a respectable role in cultural history, and, at present, is quite fashionable. Several authors have recently noted the universal adoration of chicken soup, and created entire cookbooks about it. Among them: ''Chicken Soup: 75 World-Class Recipes to Warm Your Heart and Soul,'' by Marcie Ver Ploeg (Doubleday, 149 pp., $15); ''The Chicken Soup Book: Old and New Recipes From Around the World,'' by Janet Hazen (1994, Chronicle Books); and ''The Whole World Loves Chicken Soup: Recipes and Lore to Comfort Body and Soul,'' by Mimi Sheraton (Warner Books, 230 pp., $22.95).
''One of the nice things about chicken soup is it's so versatile,'' says renowned restaurant critic Mimi Sheraton, whose book ''celebrates all the mothers of the world who season their chicken soup with love.'' ''You can go to virtually any country and find a version of chicken soup,'' she says.
Here in the United States, we have chicken soup with matzo balls, creole chicken, okra gumbo. Scotland has cock-a-leekie. France has chicken bouillabaisse. Eastern Europe has chicken and sauerkraut soup. Morocco has spicy chicken noodle soup with lentils or chickpeas. Asia is teeming with variations, from Chinese won ton or hot-and-sour to Thailand's chicken, galangal, and coconut-milk soup, and India's ginger and chili pepper chicken soup.
Globetrotting has never been so tireless, so economical - and so tasty.