- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Feeling achy and feverish? Have a bowl of Mom’s tom yum soup. Or maybe some warm milk with melted lamb fat.

Chicken soup may be the all-American cold-and-flu panacea, but around the world people turn to all manner of culinary curatives for the chills and sniffles.

Asian cultures, for example, long have used ginger to treat upper respiratory infections. Ginger’s spicy, warming properties are considered helpful in fortifying the body against the discomfort of the flu.

Raghavan Iyer, author of the forthcoming “660 Curries,” remembers that when he was a child in southern India, his mother always made him a creamy and comforting spicy rice and lentil porridge when he was ill.

Mr. Iyer says the dish appealed to his mother because when stir-fried in clarified butter, the peppercorns and ginger gave off a heady aroma that would clear your sinuses and warm your throat.

In Cuba, sopa de ajo, a garlicky soup of tomatoes and chicken broth, is considered home-cooked medicine. In Japan, cold sufferers imbibe a sort of rice wine eggnog made by whisking honey and a beaten egg into piping hot sake.

The science behind many of these remedies isn’t established, but that isn’t necessarily a reason not to try them.

“The majority of these remedies are unlikely to receive the kind of scientific scrutiny that would test their effectiveness, but they typically have strong familial or cultural associations, and people believe they work,” says Jeanne Goldberg, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University near Boston. “So, as long as they do no harm, these comfort foods can’t be beat.”

Research has shown many of the ingredients used in these dishes — such as garlic, chilies and vitamin-rich produce — are healthy, and studies have shown chicken soup really can make you feel better.

So here’s a sampling of home-cooked folk remedies from around the world.

• China: A head-clearing soup is made by steeping crushed fresh ginger with a small amount of sugar in boiling water for 30 minutes. It is recommended to drink this infusion several times a day.

• Iran: Kateh, a simple and comforting dish made by cooking rice with butter and salt.

• Korea: Green tea with lemon is popular, as is the ubiquitous Korean condiment kimchi (a pickled vegetable dish).

• Mexico: A potent tea is made with honey, lemon and plenty of cinnamon. Other popular options include an infusion of garlic, lemon and honey.

• Morocco: In this North African nation where there is much influence from European cuisine, a very garlicky omelet, similar to the Spanish frittata, is made with olive and plenty of black pepper.

• Pakistan: Turmeric is boiled in milk with sugar. It is consumed hot and often taken with a spoonful of ghee (clarified butter).

• Philippines: A chicken soup called tinola made with onion, garlic, fresh ginger, fish sauce, green papaya and chili leaves is believed to have great restorative powers.

• Thailand: Tom yum soup, which is traditionally made with chicken stock, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, garlic and hot chilies, is a popular cold remedy.

• United Arab Emirates: Sliced hot chili peppers, chopped garlic and onions cooked in olive oil.

• Uzbekistan: In this former Soviet nation, a cup of hot milk is mixed with a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of melted lamb fat or butter.

Garlic soup (sopa de ajo)

This recipe is from “Three Guys From Miami Cook Cuban” (Gibbs Smith) by Glenn Lindgren, Raul Musibay and Jorge Castillo. From start to finish, it takes 1 hour, 20 minutes.

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 slices Cuban or French bread, cubed

12 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 teaspoon paprika

1 bay leaf

4 cups chicken broth

1/4 cup sherry

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

6 eggs, separated

Fresh parsley, for garnish

In an 8-quart stockpot, heat the oil over medium. Add the bread and saute until the cubes just begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until the garlic is fragrant, 1 minute.

Using a wooden spoon, mash the garlic and bread together. Add tomatoes, paprika, bay leaf, chicken broth and sherry. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the hot soup to the egg yolks, beating constantly to temper them. Add egg yolks to the soup and whisk rapidly until smooth. Quickly whisk in the unbeaten egg whites until mixed completely.

Return the soup to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Garnish with parsley and serve. Makes 6 servings.

The green lentils in this recipe actually are dried, split mung beans that are quick-cooking and an excellent source of protein. The optional curry leaves have a flavor a bit like mild curry powder with hints of pepper and citrus. Look for them in Indian and Asian food markets.

Rice-lentil porridge with curry leaves and ginger (ven pongal)

This recipe is from Raghavan Iyer’s forthcoming “660 Curries.” From start to finish, it takes 50 minutes.

½ cup skinned split green lentils (moong dal), picked over for stones

1 cup long-grain white rice

3 cups cold water

1½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 tablespoons ghee or butter (preferably unsalted), divided

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/4 cup julienned fresh, peeled ginger

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

12 to 15 medium to large fresh curry leaves (optional)

Place the lentils in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Rub the lentils gently with your fingers to clean, then drain and repeat several times until the water remains clear.

Return the lentils to the pan. Add the rice and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Skim off and discard any foam that forms on the surface.

Stir in the salt and turmeric. Continue to cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated just from the surface of the rice.

Stir once to bring the partially cooked layer from the bottom of the pan to the surface. Cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid and reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting and cook for 10 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the pan stand on the burner, covered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium-high, melt 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add the cumin seeds and peppercorns, and cook until they sizzle, the cumin seeds turn reddish brown, and the spices smell nutty, 20 to 30 seconds.

Transfer the spice and ghee mixture to a mortar. Let the mixture cool 2 to 3 minutes. Use a pestle to pound the cumin-peppercorn mixture until the spices are coarsely cracked. Alternatively, grind the mixture in a spice grinder that can accommodate wet grinding, or in a minifood processor.

In the same small skillet, heat the remaining ghee over medium-high. Add the ginger and cook until it sizzles and is aromatic, 10 to 15 seconds. Carefully add the cilantro and curry leaves. Use caution as the leaves will spatter upon contact and send hot grease up in the air. Set aside.

Once the porridge is ready, remove the lid and stir in the ginger mixture and the pounded spices. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide