Almost like clockwork, February rolls around and, one by one, my family catches a cold. This year, my husband brought the viral plague into the house, and I was next in line to catch it. Before my first sniffle, though, I got out my stock pot and started on a large batch of chicken stock, because I knew I’d be making plenty of soup in the next few days.
I don’t know why soup seems so comforting when we’re sick. Perhaps it’s because soup is light, especially if it’s broth-based, and it’s generally easy to digest. The fact that it’s warm and soothing on a sore throat probably doesn’t hurt, either. But does your mom’s famous chicken soup contain any special healing properties? I guess that depends on your mom and her soup.
While no one understands how the mysterious properties of chicken soup make someone feel better, there is science behind why certain foods do make a difference when you’ve come down with a case of the common cold.
Of course, we all know that foods rich in vitamin C are a good idea, but drinking a tall glass of OJ might not be too soothing on a sore throat or a tender tummy. Consider other foods that also offer vitamin C, such as dark leafy greens, peppers (both sweet and hot), broccoli, berries, cantaloupes and tomatoes. All of these foods have the added benefit of being generally nutrient-rich. So when you eat them, you’re getting the benefit of a whole host of other vitamins, too.
Orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in beta-carotene. When we eat these foods, our bodies convert the beta-carotene to vitamin A, which is essential for maintaining a strong immune system.
So this year, when faced with the prospect of my whole family being hit with the cold bug, I decided to make a soup that was a cold-fighting powerhouse by including as many of the viral-busting foods that I could reasonably fit into the pot.
Oh, and I also wanted it to be quick, easy and good. Who has the energy for a long, involved recipe when they’re sick? Not me. And no one wants to sip soup that doesn’t taste good, even if you do think it’s going to make you feel better.
After careful consideration, in between a few strategically placed naps, I landed on a Ginger Chicken and Rice Soup. Chicken, carrots and spinach are combined with a ginger-infused chicken broth and poured over rice and fresh ginger slivers. The result is a clean-tasting, comforting soup, with just a hint of spiciness from the ginger.
Because I crave heat when I have a cold, I like to toss some thinly sliced hot chile peppers into my bowl, but because my kids don’t love them, I leave them out of the soup pot.
Have I found a cure for the common cold? Probably not, but I do know a steamy bowl of soup makes everyone in my family feel better. I bet the same would be true for yours, too.
GINGER AND CHICKEN RICE SOUP
Note: Cooking the rice separately and adding it to the serving bowls before pouring in the fragrant, ginger-infused soup helps to avoid mushy, overcooked rice. When buying ginger, look for large pieces with a smooth skin. Slice the ginger just before using it to avoid any bitterness. From Meredith Deeds.
• 1 (4-in.) piece of fresh ginger, peeled, divided
• 5 c. low-sodium chicken stock or broth
• 1/2 tsp. sugar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4 in. slices
• 1 1/2 c. shredded cooked chicken breast
• 3 c. baby spinach
• 1 c. cooked rice, white or brown (see Note)
• 1 thinly sliced serrano chile, optional
Thinly slice 3 inches of the ginger crosswise in 1/4-inch-thick coins. Set remaining ginger aside.
Add the ginger slices, chicken stock, sugar and salt to a large saucepan, and bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove the ginger slices with a slotted spoon and add the carrots. Continue to cook for 5 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Add the chicken and spinach, and cook just until the spinach is wilted, about another 2 minutes.
Slice remaining ginger into thin coins. Stack remaining coins and cut into thin slivers.
Place 1/4 cup cooked rice into each serving bowl. Ladle the hot soup over the rice and garnish each bowl with a few ginger slivers and serrano slice if desired, and serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 210 Fat 4 g Sodium 404 mg
Carbohydrates 20 g Saturated fat 1 g Calcium 58 mg
Protein 24 g Cholesterol 43 mg Dietary fiber 2 g
Diabetic exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1 bread/starch, 3 lean meat.
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.