I try not to worry about little things like the cold and flu season. I tell myself, kids get sick. It’s just a fact of life. It strengthens their immune systems when they’re young so that they are healthier as adults. Little colds here and there I can manage, but this flu season has been rough, and when there are so many teachers out sick at school that the children cannot even go out to recess because there aren’t enough adults to watch them, then I start to worry. I’m a worrier by nature, thanks to my grandmother who worried herself into four heart attacks. The best way, I believe, to stave off worry is by being prepared, and being prepared for the cold and flu season means building a strong immune system. The often overused words of Hippocrates, “Let thy food be thy medicine,” has become almost a cliché these days, even so, I think about these words every time I cook a meal for my family. They are words I try to live by (without worrying or obsessing over them, too much!) by eating a steady diet of immune boosting foods – ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions – and not just when I feel a cold coming on. These are the essentials I cook with all winter long.
I add garlic to nearly everything. Not only do I love the way it tastes (and smells, for that matter) but it’s known to lessen the severity of colds and speed up healing time. When I feel like my family needs a mega-dose of garlic, I make a big pot of garlic soup with a health-boosting dash of turmeric, which has long been known as one of the most powerful medicinal herbs around, findings which science has recently confirmed. There are two entire heads of garlic (about 40 cloves) in the soup, but it’s not overpowering, like you might think. After slowly sautéing the garlic and then simmering it in vegetable broth until very soft, the garlic is sweet and mild and ultra comforting.
If you’re a science geek, like I am, then you might be interested to know that the healing compounds contained in turmeric cannot be released into the body without the presence of piperine, which is what gives black peppercorns their spicy flavour. And if you’re more interested in just cooking, and less in the science behind it, then you already know that turmeric and black pepper are a classic flavour combination. For both reasons, I serve this soup with a big dash of freshly ground black pepper on top.
During the winter months I also swap my afternoon coffee habit for an mid-day ginger tea. Ginger has long been used to fight nausea, but did you know that it’s also a natural antibiotic and is used in Chinese medicine to treat bacterial infections? It speeds the body’s recovery from infection by strengthening circulation and purifying the blood.
This ginger root tea is so simple to make. Just peel and slice a little fresh ginger root and steep it in boiling water for five minutes. Add honey and that’s it! It soothes sore throats and upset tummies like nothing else. Once the ginger has steeped it is no longer spicy, the tea is mild and sweet – kind of like the garlic in the soup! When my kids are sick this is the best way I’ve found to get them to drink enough liquids on those days when they don’t necessarily feel like drinking anything at all. You could add a slice of lemon or mandarine orange if you wish, but I love the taste of just ginger and honey. That’s not to say I haven’t, on occasion, added a shot of whiskey to it (mine, not the kids!) when I’m really not feeling well. It’s a great twist on the hot toddy.
Last week Connor came home from school early with a sore throat and a fever. I knew it was less a matter of “if” and more a matter of “when” the germs from school would strike our family. On the way home he asked, rather weakly, for garlic soup. Of course, he didn’t have to ask because I was thinking the very same thing.
I hope you and your loved ones are all staying well this winter. If not, here are the recipes that I turn to to get back on the mend quickly.
Growing up, my mother would often swirl a beaten egg into our soup during the last minute of cooking. I like to add eggs to this, too, occasionally. They add a bit of protein and make it feel more like a complete meal on those days when you can’t even contemplate eating anything more. This soup, however, is equally as good without the eggs, sipped from a large mug in bed, which is why I’ve left them out of this recipe. If you’d like to add them, simple beat two eggs in a bowl until foamy, then gently swirl them into the soup pot with a fork to create ribbons of egg running through the soup. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute longer and serve.
3 TBSP extra virgin olive oil (+ more to garnish)
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 heads of garlic (approx. 35 – 40 cloves), peeled and roughly chopped
2 tsp dry thyme leaves
2 TBSP flour
8 cups organic vegetable stock, (homemade, or I use Pacific Organic)
1 TBSP white wine vinegar
1 tsp ground turmeric (or more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large soup pot, heat the oil and cook the onions gently until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 2 minutes, being careful that the garlic doesn’t brown and become bitter. Add the thyme and the flour and cook, stirring, for a minute longer. Slowly whisk in the stock to remove any lumps of flour. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook 20 – 30 minutes.
Using an immersion blender, lightly purée the soup. Leave a few lumps for texture. Alternately, the soup can be puréed in a counter-top blender, in batches. Be very careful not to over-fill the blender, also remove the vent from the lid and cover with a kitchen towel. The hot mixture will expand when puréed.
Place the soup back into the pot and stir in the vinegar, turmeric and salt and pepper to taste. Bring back to a simmer. If you’re adding the eggs, now is the time to do so. Otherwise ladle the soup into bowls or mugs, garnish with more black pepper to taste and a drizzle of olive oil.
I prefer to leave the ginger in the tea after it has steeped as the flavour will get stronger as you drink it. However, if you’re making this for a child, or just wish to remove it, simply fish it out with a spoon before serving. The lemon, orange or whiskey are completely optional. I love to drink the tea made simply with ginger and honey. It is beyond comforting!
(makes 1 cup)
5 thin slices of peeled, fresh ginger
1 cup boiling water
1 – 2 tsp local honey
1 lemon or orange slice
1.5 oz (1 jigger) whiskey
Place the sliced ginger in the bottom of a heat-proof mug. Pour over the boiling water and allow to steep for at least 5 minutes. Stir in the honey (and whiskey, if using). Garnish with a lemon or orange slice and serve.