Just like April showers bring May flowers, springtime always seems to deliver a nasty head cold that makes the rounds through my entire family, and this year has been no different. When this inevitably happens, rather than reach for some over-the-counter medicine, I tend to reach for my soup pot.
It’s funny how your body seems to know exactly what it needs when you’re sick, and how often soup plays into the equation. The instinct to linger over a steaming bowl of nourishing liquid when you’re suffering from a cold or the flu seems almost primeval. I can envision cave men and women throwing bones and root vegetables into a vessel of simmering water at the first sign of sniffles in their little cave kids.
Of course, chicken soup has been considered the iconic cure-all for generations. It’s been referred to as “liquid penicillin” since, well, the invention of penicillin. In the U.S., when we think about chicken soup, we tend to conjure an image of a fairly straightforward bowl, filled with chunks of chicken swimming around a clear broth with a little carrot, celery and egg noodles thrown in for good measure.
As a small child, that was my favorite thing when I was under the weather. My mom would make her own noodles, which were thick and slightly chewy, and simmer them with chunks of carrot and melt-in-your-mouth chicken. I’d begin to feel better just knowing it was on the stove.
Now that I’m older, I realize that at the same time my mom was stirring the pot, mothers all over the world were doing the same thing with their own versions of this magic elixir. In Italy, tortellini might replace our egg noodles. In China, a thicker style made with rice and studded with sliced green onions might be just what the doctor ordered. In Mexico, chipotle chiles, tomatoes and cilantro might be added for good measure.
In the past few years, whenever I have a sore throat and a stuffy nose, I crave a slightly spicy Thai version I adapted from the famous Tom Kha Gai (chicken coconut soup). To make this brightly flavored soup, I start by infusing chicken broth with slices of ginger and strips of lemongrass. Once I strain out the aromatics, I add a can of light coconut milk, chile paste, chicken, carrots, spinach, a dash of fresh lime juice and just enough brown sugar to balance the flavors. The hot soup is ladled over cooked rice noodles. Awwww, I can feel my will to live returning with the first spoonful.
Although it tastes good sitting at a dinner table, its curative effects are even more powerful if you slurp it, while sitting on the couch, in your robe, binge watching your favorite TV show. I can’t explain why this works. I just know it does.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of “Everyday to Entertaining” and “The Big Book of Appetizers.” Reach her at meredith@ meredithdeeds.com. Follow her on Twitter: