Saturday, October 17, 2009


So for about the 18th time since I've been in this God-forsaken, pestilential country, I'm sick. Stuffy nose, hacking cough, sinus headaches, sore throat, the whole works. I think I slept like three hours last night. Now as everyone knows, when you're sick, all you really want is for your mummy to come and take care of you, but my mummy is 6000 km away and I don't have the money to fly home for the weekend. Not to mention sinus headaches combined with cabin pressure changes = head explosions (aka the worst pain I've ever experienced). My parents aren't particularly sympathetic, either. It's all "You aren't washing your hands enough!" and "You're going to get swine flu and die!".  So I'm more or less on my own on this one.

So, two things make me feel better when I'm sick. The first one, for sore throats and stuffy noses is as simple as honey, lemon juice, ginger (dried or fresh, but I only have dried), and hot water. And stirring. So I did that a couple dozen times yesterday.

And the second one, I guess, is mainly due to my dad. Now, my dad isn't a superstitious person. In fact, he's probably one of the most rational people I know, but he insists, with evangelical fervor, that the only thing for a cold is chicken soup. I've never been particularly impressed by the fluids argument of colds (you know the one, flush it out by drinking 13 litres of fluids a day), and I'm a little skeptical of most cold remedies. I'm usually of the opinion that there's pretty much nothing you can do to help you cope with a cold other than just wait it out. In fact, my mum has always said that it takes three days to catch a cold, three days to have it and three days to get rid of it, and I've found this to be true no matter how many glasses of OJ or bottles of Robitussen I down. But, I think that good nutrition is important to keep your immune system in the fight and so that you don't get struck down with bronchitis (the horrors!) for the rest of the school year.

However, having said that, I must admit that I have approximately zero money right now and as such my cupboards are filled with rice, pasta, lentils a single onion and very little else. My fridge contains 2 very sad looking carrots and most of a packet of butter. So not a whole lot there on the vitamin C front.

However! I might have just lied a little because I do (actually did, because all this went down yesterday) have two chicken stock cubes and all my spices and an enigmatic package that I picked up in Sainsbury's labelled "Soup mix" which is actually a mixture of lentils, split peas, barley, oats and macaronis. So I had the makings for soup and, even though I usually roll my eyes whenever my dad mentions the words "cold" and "soup" within a minute and a half of each other, I decided to go for it.

My dad makes soup with a stock that he makes by boiling the carcass of a chicken we've previously roasted and eaten. He's old school like that. Elizabeth and I have done it with two frozen chicken thighs. But, as I mentioned, I don't have money and was in no mood to venture in to the wide world in search of meat, so I stuck with the stock cubes. Hey, lentils are protein too, right?

Soup is one of these amazing dishes that literally cannot and should not be made the same way twice. So I'm going to tell you how I did it, how I might do it again, how you could do it, etc. but you should really just follow your instinct (and your cupboards) when you do it yourself. So here goes:

Soup (this time)
One or two onions, chopped
A couple cloves of garlic, chopped
Some vegetable oil, or butter
Stock cubes of your choice (2-3)
A couple of carrots, chopped
Soup mix (see above), or else any combination of the following: lentils, split peas, pearl barley, regular barley (? not sure what the difference is), rolled oats, (pasta). (I usually really hate putting pasta in soup because it inevitably gets really soggy and disgusting, but if you really REALLY have to then I guess it's ok. I'll just pick it out.)
About a cup full of rice (oh yeah, I don't have any measuring utensils here, so a "cup full" literally means find a cup or mug and fill it with rice. Ditto "big spoon" and "little spoon" for future reference).
Some frozen corn
Some frozen peas
Any other frozen vegetables you would like/have in your freezer
Various herbs spices, optional (I used garam masala, cumin powder, whole cumin seeds, mustard seeds, kalonji (black onion seeds), dried ginger, paprika, turmeric, oregano, "mixed mediterranean herbs" and fresh thyme)

Now I'm not really going to do a blow-by-blow style recipe, but more of a story, because it's so changeable that things don't always have to happen in the same order. So be warned.

Usually I would fry the onion(s) and garlic in a little oil before adding the stock to that, but I forgot this time, mostly because I was foggy-cold-brained. So I filled my pot up with water and added the "soup mix" (you would add the lentils and split peas now if that's what you're using). I won't tell you the whole long story, but suffice it to say that in general I don't really like mushy foods, so I would save the rice for a bit later, and if you're using pasta, put it in right at the very end.

Notice how you (slash I) added the lentils to water, not to stock. This is because I think that when you add the stock too soon, the water boils off and leaves it too stock-y and then it's really hard to get the balance right again. So I boil the lentils and things in water and add the stock and spices closer to the end. Some people would argue that if you do this then the lentils don't soak up the flavour of the stock, but I've never noticed a difference doing it this way and I DO notice a difference when the end result is either too stock-y (because too much water boiled off and wasn't replenished) or too watery (because too much water was put back in).

So back to the story. Boil that soup mix until the lentils are starting to get soft, or you get impatient, which ever comes first (it was definitely the latter for me, resulting in a somewhat crunchy, but still edible soup). Add your stock now, or later, whatever. I think I did it at this point, but can't really remember. Anyways, I also added the onion and garlic which I had forgotten to fry, along with the carrots. And then I added the rice. Although, with hindsight, I probably should have put the rice in first and let it cook a bit before adding the vegetables (I ended up with slightly crunchy rice and slightly soggy carrots, but, again, it was still delicious). Also from now until the end, keep adjusting the spice/stock/water levels, until you are happy with the result. I just put about a shake or two of each kind of spice/herb and added more of whatever I felt was missing. I put some pepper in too, which I forgot to mention in the ingredients. And if you do add more water to top up the stock, you'll probably want to add a bit of salt too (I don't care about the evils of sodium, soup needs to be salty).

So! Now you've got a pot full of stock, pulses, rice, vegetables and spices. Keep it boiling until everything is the desired tenderness. When everything is juuuuuuuuust right, add your frozen vegetables. Bring the soup back to the boil and when that's done, the soup is ready.

My dad will leave his pot of soup on the back burner of the stove (or occasionally in the fridge if there's room) for days and bring it up to a boil everyday for about 10 minutes, thereby killing off any germs. I prefer just to portion mine out and freeze it, but different strokes for different folks. Here are my (ginormous) portions (I only had two clean tupperwares, ok?) ready to go in the freezer (with lids). Oh, I should mention that if you're freezing or even refrigerating this (or anything, really), you should let it cool down to room temperature first, because if you put hot things in the fridge or freezer, 1) it will heat up everything in there already, encouraging things to go off sooner and 2) it will heat up the air in the fridge/freezer, making the cooling device turn on and your electricity bill skyrocket. So I hope you don't get sick any time soon, but if you do, at least you'll be prepared now!


  1. Sorry to hear you are sick! I remember when I got the flu in Montreal and you came over and made some soup like this. And it was delicious. I hope you get better soon!

    Also I think this soup might be worth making soon even though I am perfectly well.

  2. It's pretty good soup. Although I just realized that it doesn't look anything like soup in the pictures, it just kind of looks like watery rice. I swear it's soup though!