Being a mother to a small child comes with endless opportunities to learn, grow, play, and experience a love that is incredibly unconditional. Over the years, I’ve noticed it also comes with a whole lot of germs.
Of course, germs are everywhere, and regular exposure to them actually has the power to strengthen our immune system. But there does come a point when exposure goes from beneficial to downright disadvantageous, for instance, when you have regular interaction with tiny humans who have the uncanny propensity to sneeze each moment their face is four inches from yours.
I don’t recall getting sick very often before I became a mother. Maybe once a year I would feel under the weather enough that it required more than a day off from my routine. But now, well, I guess there are only so many four-inch face sneezes that one can take before the body finally caves.
And that caving time is now. Tried as I might to ward off the summer cold going around my daughter’s school, it finally got me, and the other morning I woke up feeling depleted and less than my best. Fortunately, the moment my throat began to itch and my sinuses felt strained, I did everything in my power to keep things at bay, and it’s kept me from getting full-blown sick. I’ve upped my supplement intake, I’ve slept whenever possible, I prepared Magic Hippie Tea, and I made a big pot of this hot and sour chicken soup, which is packed with healing nutrients.
Hot and sour concoctions have always been a favorite of mine, and they’re especially welcome when I have a cold. Many regions of Asia put their own spin on hot and sour soup. Some versions are extremely hearty and packed with veggies and protein. Some focus on a simple broth with limited additions. Some are thick and rich. But they all contain a spicy bite and a tart tang.
For this soup I took some cues from various regions, using up what I had on hand. I started with a base containing loads of ginger and garlic and then gave the broth a sweetness with some star anise, a kick with crushed red pepper flakes and a dash of chili paste, and that tang with both fresh lime juice and kaffir lime leaves. I added fish sauce, along with tamari, to provide depth and umami flavor, and I finished the pot off with a big handful of flavorful, vitamin-rich herbs. The result was a harmonious cultural fusion of medicinal goodness that really seemed to put my sickness in its place.
Beyond being a workhorse against the nasties, this soup is comfortingly perfect on a drizzly day, yet it’s also light enough for summertime. You may want to prepare it with extra broth, because the stuff is truly addictive!
Healing Hot and Sour Chicken Soup
For the fish sauce used here, I like Red Boat brand. A tip regarding kaffir lime leaves: buy them fresh and then freeze them, and you’ll always have them on hand for instant access.
Makes about 3 quarts
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30–40 minutes
2 tablespoons peanut oil or coconut oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1½ tablespoons minced ginger
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced on the bias
1 carrot, peeled and sliced on the bias
4 ounces shitake or button mushrooms, sliced
½ bell pepper, sliced
3 Roma tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 star anise
½–1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
2 quarts chicken broth
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1–2 tablespoons chili paste (such as sriracha or chili-garlic sauce), to taste
1–2 tablespoons tamari, to taste
2 kaffir lime leaves, julienned
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper to taste
2–3 cups cooked chicken, diced or shredded
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
4 green onions, sliced
- Heat oil in a large pot. Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute. Add onion, celery, and carrot; sauté 2–3 minutes. Add mushrooms, bell pepper, tomatoes, star anise, and pepper flakes, and then pour in broth. Stir in fish sauce, chili paste, tamari, lime leaves, and lime juice.
- Bring contents of pot to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until veggies are crisp-tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper; then adjust the other seasonings to make a broth to your liking: add additional lime juice for more tartness, additional pepper flakes or chili paste for extra heat, and additional tamari or fish sauce for a richer broth.
- Add chicken to pot and simmer contents until chicken is heated through, about 10 minutes. Stir in cilantro and green onion and serve.
Image from Briana Goodall.