Soups (And Seasoning!) For the Sick
Being sick is the pits. Your nose is stuffy, your limbs are aching for no apparent reason, and there’s that weird ringing sensation in your head that you cannot describe nor get rid of. On top of that, a good amount of your energy seems to disappear, and you start to wonder how in the world you’re going to get your assignments done.
Whenever my immune system is under attack, it always reminds me of when I was a kid and being sick meant being summoned downstairs where a steaming bowl of soup would await me. No matter how much of a beating my immune system was taking, sitting in that bright, warm kitchen, radiating the aromas of stir-fried tofu and hot broth, felt like a veritable oasis. Afterwards, satiated and sedated, I would immediately fall asleep.
I never thought too much about the linkage between soup and sickness as a child, but it turns out that soup is also very helpful when you're trying to get better quickly. According to Penn Medicine, the sodium content can soothe your throat and the heat helps to clear congestion. Meanwhile, stocks and broths, which form the base of many soups, contain vitamins, minerals, and collagen protein from the bones and vegetables used to make it. Of course, drinking soup also inherently helps you achieve proper hydration, which is always important, but even more so when you aren’t feeling well!
Seasonings also deliver serious health benefits to help you recover. For example, a 2015 study published in the Jundishapur Journal of Microbiology found that garlic has antibacterial properties and prevents viral and fungal infections. Similarly, a 2019 article in the Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica discussed ginger’s anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties; ginger is also said to calm the stomach and clear the sinuses. Other seasonings of note include rosemary and thyme, which are said to boost the immune system, in addition to spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
While modern Western medicine is generally regarded as the standard for American healthcare, and the effectiveness of herbal medicines more common in countries like China are not particularly well studied, what were once considered home remedies are becoming more and more intriguing to scientists as cheaper and easier-to-consume alternatives to medicine, fortifying our immune systems the same way some pharmaceutical drugs do. This is especially important in an era when antimicrobial resistance poses a greater threat than ever, making a greater usage of herbal medicine an ever more important line of defense. And even if none of those herbs you toss into your soup will cure your cold on their own, at least they will make your soup taste better.
RECIPE 1: Egg and Tomato Wonton Soup (Vomit Soup)
This is a super easy recipe for when that nasty cold is making you really exhausted, and it’s probably the soup I make the most often. It’s essentially a three ingredient soup, although I would definitely recommend adding ginger, garlic, and scallions. This is also a great recipe if you want to include some frozen wontons—I prefer the pork ones from Trader Joe’s—or noodles; just boil them separately and add them into the finished soup to heat them up before eating. I call it vomit soup mostly because 9 out of 10 times, I stir the soup too soon after adding the egg, and the result looks a little like vomit. Still tasty, though—I promise it will not make you vomit!
1 large tomato
2 cups water
Salt and sugar, to taste
Beat your egg with a little bit of salt and set off to the side.
Chop your scallion finely and your tomato into bite sized pieces
Over medium heat, cook your scallion and tomato until the tomato begins to soften and the skin starts to come off.
Add salt and sugar, to taste, then add dried ginger and garlic. Stir everything together.
Add the water, and let the soup come to a boil again. You can optionally add ketchup now if you want more tomato flavor.
Pour your beaten egg into your soup slowly, wait ten seconds, and stir. Enjoy!
RECIPE 2: Chicken Noodle Soup
This is a very basic recipe for chicken noodle soup, so a lot of the ingredients are really up to you, especially the seasonings. My personal favorites to add in are ginger, garlic, thyme, sage, and rosemary. In addition, you can get creative and increase the nutritional content of your soup by adding in different vegetables—I’ve tried frozen corn, bell peppers, and spinach—although you’ll want to make sure anything you put in is bite sized.
½ package of Trader Joe’s pre-chopped mirepoix (carrot, onion, and celery)
1-2 chicken breast tenders
½ quart chicken broth
Poultry seasoning, or your preferred seasoning of choice, to taste
½ cup dried pasta
salt and pepper, to taste
On high heat, cook your mirepoix for around 5 minutes until softened; the onions should be translucent
Add your seasonings, then stir and cook for another minute
Add in the chicken breast and chicken broth, then turn the heat down to medium low, cover, and let everything simmer for 30 minutes to an hour (take a nap!)
Take your chicken breast out with tongs, and use two forks to shred it up into bite sized pieces. Put it back into the soup. You can add water here if you want/need more broth.
Add in your pasta and cook according to package directions
Season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!
Last November, I found myself bringing a steaming hot tupperware of this chicken noodle soup downtown to give to my friend, who had once again contracted some mystery virus. It had been a busy day for me, it was cold out, and her dorm was so far that I regretted my decision to walk, but showing up on her doorstep when she was sick with hot soup is such a fond memory and a wonderful moment—it cleared her sinuses and warmed her up, and even warmed me up a bit, too. As I was walking back home, it suddenly reminded me of when my mom used to do the same for me, years ago. Even though she was probably busier than I am today, and her soups were often relatively simple and sometimes made from leftovers, they still made a world of difference. Soup is a wonderful way to make someone feel better when they are sick, but what might hold even more healing power is the person carrying the steaming hot bowl to your front door.