Achooo! Is that you? Yes, despite the last few days' balmy temperatures, the winter sniffles, sneezes, and sore throats are here, and with them come the homemade remedies to cure them. First up, of course, is a daily shot of Fire Cider, if you took my advice and made a batch back in October just for this very moment. I must say, having taking my first dose last week during my own star turns as Sneezey and Dopey, that it's is not for the faint of palate. (Whiskey chaser: a very good idea.)
What you need next is something hot and steamy to warm you up, inside and out. Got a backyard Meyer lemon hookup? Then hot lemonade will soothe you. Squeeze the juice of a couple of lemons into a mug. Stir in a couple tablespoons of honey and add a cinnamon stick. Slice up another lemon and drop the slices into the mug. Top with hot water, stir, and sip, adding more honey if needed. (Plus, perhaps, a tot of rum to help you sleep.)
And then, bring out the big guns. Steph's Spicy Soup, as it's known around these parts, is inspired by tom yum goong, the clear, spicy-sour soup found on every Thai menu (no, not tom kai gai, the coconutty one everyone but me loves, but the other one). It started out based on the tom yum goong recipe in The Original Thai Cookbook by Jennifer Brennan, but has since evolved into a freewheeling kind of broth whose only constant characteristic is that it's very spicy and very sour, and will absolutely clear your sinuses and make you feel magically better.
Thai red chile paste, available in little glass jars in the Asian section of most supermarkets, is a fabulous condiment that lasts forever and zings up just about anything. I use it for this soup more than anything, but it's an excellent thing to have on hand.
As Laurie Colwin writes in More Home Cooking, "I do not recommend this to anyone who does not like things hot. This stuff is fire. It is also delicious and a surefire cure for colds, flu, and general weakness." She then goes on to say she only uses it one way, adding a tablespoonful to a quart of chicken stock, the juice of 2 lemons, some jasmine rice and scallions. As she writes, "You need to drink large quantities of water with this, but it is good for you, I swear."
Also, even if you're feeling rotten, it's worth tracking down the lemongrass here. It adds a certain herbaceous lemon-limeyness that can't be achieved by mere lime zest alone. Oh, and any kind of lime will do--regular Persian limes, our local Bearss limes, even small key (or Mexican) limes.
Adjust the hotness and sourness to your taste, but definitely make it as spicy and tart as you can. And don't forget the tissue box. If it doesn't make your nose run, it's not doing its job.
Thai-Inspired Soup for Sniffles
This soup can be changed to suit your taste in many ways. Love coconut milk? Add 1/2 cup of coconut milk at the end for creaminess. Adding shrimp, tofu, light or dark-meat chicken makes it more of a meal. I like a big spoonful of cooked rice in my soup, but you could also add some thin rice noodles or bean-thread noodles.
4 cups vegetable stock or chicken broth
1 stalk of lemongrass, trimmed and roughly chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tbsp Thai red chile paste, or to taste
2 tsp Thai fish sauce, or to taste (optional)
1/2 lb shrimp OR tofu OR skinless chicken breast OR chicken thigh
1 cup thinly sliced bok choy
1 cup spinach leaves
2 fresh green or red serrano chiles, sliced
6 scallions, trimmed and chopped
handful of cilantro, stems removed
2 cups cooked jasmine rice or cooked rice noodles
1. In a large pot, combine broth, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, chile paste, and peel of 1 lime (in large strips). Bring to a simmer, cover, and let simmer gently over medium-low heat.
2. If using chicken, chop into bite-sized pieces. Add to soup and poach, stirring frequently, until cooked through and opaque, about 5 minutes.
3. Add bok choy, spinach, and shrimp or tofu, if using. Cook, stirring, until shrimp is opaque and bok choy is tender (2-3 minutes).
4. Add 4 chopped scallions, sliced peppers, and juice of 2 limes. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add cooked noodles to pot, if using.
5. Ladle into bowls. Add a scoop of jasmine rice to each bowl, if using. Top each bowl with scallions and a shower of cilantro leaves.