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Healing Winter Soups

Bedridden with a blanket drawn up to my chin, whiny and fully of pity for myself, I was never an easy patient as a child. However, there was one thing that could tease a small smile out of me—a steaming bowl of my mother’s chicken congee (rice soup).

Mom would throw chicken bones into a stock pot together with rice, garlic, and ginger. After simmering for hours over a low flame, this concoction would transform into a smooth, creamy white porridge that I would slurp up with relish. No matter how sore my throat was or how congested my sinuses, I was always revitalized.

Modern science has recently discovered that an amino acid in chicken acts as a decongestant, but chicken soup and many other herbal soups have been used as curatives in Asian traditions long before that discovery.

Thais eat a dish called Kao Tom Moo as a cold remedy. It can be made with chicken or pork, but a lot of garlic and ginger is a must. S’ngao Chruok Moan, a Cambodian chicken soup, relies on herbs like sawtooth herb (Mexican coriander), galangal and lemongrass for its sprightly flavor.

A Nepalese soup made with nine different kinds of beans and legumes called Kawatee is common consumption during the harsh winters to warm and protect the body. Also, postpartum and nursing moms harness the benefits of a powerful ingredient—ginger—to stimulate digestion while ridding the body of gas, a common affliction among women who have just given birth.

Whether these soups can indeed cure you of your ailments is not scientifically proven. But when made with love, they can do wonders for making you feel better, if only in your heart and mind—just the way my mom did.

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