I got tackled by the H1N1 virus head-on and was sick for a week straight. I couldn’t really … move. Worse than all symptoms combined, for me at least, was the solid, unmoving wall of mucus in my sinuses preventing me from tasting anything.
Of course I made a batch of chicken soup; the tasty super-hydrator has been scientifically proven to aid in recovery from colds or flu. I firmly believe its efficacy was reduced, however, by my brain’s inability to process its comfort-inducing fragrance and flavor.
Water and sodium are the two components of chicken soup responsible for hydrating. Soup is a great way to follow the doctor’s orders of “plenty of liquids,” so soup it was. I set out on Day 3 of solitary confinement to fuel my body with something a little more aggressive in the active recovery department, and just as important, something I could taste.
No discredit to the liquid gold “cure” of Eastern Europe, but the soup for the modern flu is found in Korea: Soon dubu.
For the sodium component, soon dubu utilizes soy and fish sauce, as well as an ingredient with one of the highest concentrations of salt I know: the anchovy. While I probably would have been able to taste an anchovy if it were given to me by feeding tube, I can say with confidence that the immense amount of flavor tightly packed in each cured little fish will reach you no matter how your nasal passages protest. Anchovies are also a rich source of omega fatty acids, calcium and vitamins D and E.
Filling in the gaps for anchovies by delivering vitamins A, B and C, is kimchi, or chili-fermented cabbage. Considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, kimchi contains fiber and healthy bacteria that aid in digestion. Plus it’s so tart, spicy and flavorful it could wake your tongue from a coma.
Soon dubu’s chief protein, silken tofu, is mild, sweet, nourishing and gentle on the stomach. Soft and smooth, a spoonful glides down the thoat and soothes any irritation brought on by coughing. The chillis may cause some burn, but long-term they’re providing capcaicin, a chemical known to relieve pain. A raw egg, cracked on top and stirred into the bubbling hot soup at the table, enriches the flavor and adds to the dish’s overall nourishment.
There you have it, the perfect flu food: suitable for vegetarians, no dairy to obstruct the works, a kick of heat to jump-start your sinuses and more vitamins, minerals and other health benefits than you can count on your fingers. Feel better, taste soon.
10-12 dried or cured anchovies
Half a large white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons fish sauce
tablesppon soy sauce
1 container silken tofu, drained and cut into large cubes
4 cloves of garlic, minced
½ cup kimchi
3 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced.
2 tablespoons sesame oil
- Boil 6 cups of water, add the anchovies and boil for 10 minutes. Set aside.
In a medium frying pan on medium heat, saute the garlic and onions in sesame oil for a few minutes until they start to soften.
- Add the kimchi and cook until it stops releasing liquid, about 7-8 minutes, then add chili flakes, soy sauce and fish sauce.
- Once all ingredients are well combined, add tofu cubes and anchovy broth and bring up to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for another 20 minutes.
- Serve steaming hot, sprinkle liberally with sliced scallions and crack an egg on top if you wish. It will cook as you stir it into the soup.
Jess Kapadia is a food writer in New York.
Photo by Jess Kapadia