Soups for the cold, flu, or what ails you October 7, 2013

Soups for the cold, flu, or what ails you

The flu. Cold. Sniffles. Crud. Whatever you call it, the evil that is aching muscles, stuffy sinus, scratchy throat, pounding headache, malaise, and coughing that seems to be going around is taking its toll.

Every culture seems to have a common cure for this ailment. When Americans feel this way, we usually think of chicken soup in one form or another.

When I was growing up in Thailand, it was Tom Kha Gai (chicken, coconut milk, and galangal soup) or Tom Yum (Thai hot-and-sour soup). When I lived in Singapore, my family’s Chinese friends swore by Fish Maw Soup (made from the air bladder of fish). When I was a teenager in Houston, we lived in Sharpstown, a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, and my Jewish neighbor downstairs, Mrs. Stoker, always sent up a bowl of matzo ball soup whenever she heard that any of us had a cold. When I lived in Austin, Texas, a friend would always make me chicken, vegetable, barley, and mushroom soup whenever I was down with the flu, cold, or whatever it was.

Whether there’s any scientific evidence to point to the curative properties of soups like these, I have no idea. But eating them always seemed to make me feel better.

So when our colleagues at work started dropping like flies, my partner, Charles Price, and I decided to make four batches of soup to share with our workmates. I would take Tom Kha Gai and Chicken, Vegetable, Barley, and Mushroom Soup to work. Charles would take Chicken and Matzo Ball soup and the Tom Yum. And then we would ask our colleagues to leave comments on this blog post to let us know which ones they found most satisfying, especially if they weren’t feeling up to snuff.

We invite our blog readers to do the same. If you, a family member, or friend is coming down with something, try one of these recipes and come back to this post to tell us what you think.

— Vic and Charles


Chicken, Vegetable, Barley, and Mushroom Soup


Serves 4-6

  1. 1 cup barley
  2. 4 tablespoons butter
  3. 1 carrot, cut into small pieces
  4. 1 onion, finely diced
  5. ½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms, chopped
  6. ½ pound fresh morel mushrooms, chopped, or 1 oz. dried morels, reconstituted in 1 cup hot water
  7. ½ pound fresh maitake or shiitake mushrooms, chopped
  8. 8 cups chicken broth
  9. Meat from half of a rotisserie chicken, removed from bones and shredded
  10. Salt to taste


  • Cook barley in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Set aside.
  • In a stock pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally until onions begin to turn translucent.
  • Add chopped mushrooms and gently stir until they begin to wilt.
  • Add chicken broth, cooked barley, and chicken and bring to simmer. Add salt to taste and simmer for half an hour and serve.


— Vic


Tom Kha Gai

Serves 5


  1. 3 cans of chicken broth
  2. 1 can of coconut milk
  3. 2 stalks of lemon grass, cut into 2-inch lengths
  4. 10 or 12 slices of galangal root, cut in round discs
  5. Juice of 2 limes
  6. A dozen shiitake or oyster mushrooms, sliced into large chunks
  7. 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  8. 4 or 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into approximately bite-sized pieces
  9. 4 or 5 chili peppers


  • In a pot, bring the chicken broth and coconut milk to a slow boil.
  • In a mortar and pestle, add the stalks of lemongrass and pound until the pieces are thoroughly bruised and starting to come apart, then add to the pot.
  • Lay the galangal on a wooden butcher block and use the pestle to bruise each slice, then add to the pot.
  • Add lime juice, mushrooms, and fish sauce, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Add chicken and simmer another 10-15 minutes until chicken is cooked.
  • If you want the soup to be spicy, work over the peppers with the pestle until the chilis break and the seeds start to come out, then add to the pot. If you don’t want the soup to be as spicy, add the chilis whole without bruising them. Simmer for a minute or two more, and you’re ready to serve.


— Victor


Tom Yum Seafood Soup with Kaffir Lime


Serves 4

  • 8 cups water
  • 8 medium-large shrimp, peeled, de-veined and rinsed (set shells aside)
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 2 kaffir limes (optional), sliced in half
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 4 tablespoons chili paste with soya bean oil (sold in Asian food stores; our favorite brand is Pantai)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 zucchini or yellow squash, sliced into chunks
  • 8-10 white mushrooms, cleaned and quartered
  • 1 large firm white fish fillet (red snapper, basa, etc.), cut into large chunks


  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to boil.
  2. Tie shrimp shells in cheesecloth and add to water and simmer for 20 minutes. Then discard shells.
  3. Add lime juice, kaffir limes, kaffir lime leaves, chili paste, fish sauce, stirring to completely dissolve chili paste, then lower heat to a simmer.
  4. Add zucchini or squash and mushrooms, and simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Add fish and shrimp and simmer for another 3 minutes and serve hot.


— Vic

Chicken Soup with Leek and Chive Matzo Balls

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit


  1. 6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted pareve margarine (pareve = kosher; Fleischmann’s makes a kosher margarine)*
  2. ½ cup packed finely chopped leek (white and pale green parts only)
  3. 1½ cups finely chopped fresh chives
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 2 tablespoons non-alcoholic ginger beer or ginger ale
  6. 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  7. ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
  8. ½ heaping teaspoon freshly grated ginger (I use a zester)
  9. 1 cup unsalted matzo meal
  10. 12 cups chicken broth
  11. Additional chopped fresh chives for garnish

* Kosher law forbids mixing dairy with meat products, hence the margarine.


  • Melt the margarine in a sauté pan and sauté the chopped leek for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and stir in the chives.
  • Beat together the eggs, ginger beer, salt, pepper, and fresh ginger until thoroughly mixed.
  • Fold in the matzo meal, and the leek and chives mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  • Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap or wax paper.
  • Using wet hands, carefully form matzo mixture into 12 golf ball-size spheres. (Don’t press into shape very hard or you’ll end up with sinkers instead of floaters.)
  • Refrigerate again for about 30 minutes.
  • Bring chicken broth to a boil.
  • Drop matzo balls in one at a time so they do not stick together, and boil for about 40 minutes.**
  • Place 1 or 2 matzo balls in soup bowl, ladle soup over, and garnish with reserved chives.

** Beth Rankin, my resident go-to expert on all things Hebrew, cooks her matzo balls in plain boiling water first to avoid any muddying of the chicken broth. I’ll do that with my next batch.

Es gezunterheyt!  עס געזונטערהײט

— Charles



Victor Panichkul is a journalist and writer by training; a cook, wine lover and photographer by passion; and a lover of the outdoors since moving to Oregon more than 10 years ago. He is a native of Bangkok, Thailand.

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