Recently I came across a wonderful article about the benefits of soup. Most of us are familiar with the old wives' tale about chicken noodle soup as a "cure" for the common cold. Although chicken noodle soup may be the most popular soup in the Western world, there's an endless variety of soups that help to maintain health or treat illness. Many cultures have their own soups that are said to treat common ailments. Families around the world are in their kitchens cooking up their own recipes and passing them down to their children. Some of us carry our own memories of family members spending time together in the kitchen while a delicious scent wafts through the house, and a familiar sense of comfort and warmth overcomes us.
When I was in graduate school, a few classmates and I spent some time at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in Chengdu, China. Our hotel had a small cafeteria where we ate breakfast every morning before our rotations at the hospital. We began every day eating rice congee, a hard-boiled egg, and a plain steamed bun, or mantou. In China, congee is a traditional breakfast food. It's a porridge most commonly made with rice and water. A variety of vegetables, herbs, and meats can be added to enhance the flavor and emphasize certain medicinal effects. In Chinese medicine, rice congee is said to be nourishing. It strengthens "qi" or energy and blood, and harmonizes the digestion. Congee is cooling in nature despite being warm in temperature, because it strengthens fluids in the body. Naturally, soups are hydrating because of their watery medium.
Rice congee is easily digested and assimilated for two main reasons: 1) Rice is said to strengthen the spleen (the spleen represents digestion in TCM ) and 2) Foods that are served warm are easier to digest. The digestive system, or "middle burner" as we say in Chinese medicine, consists of the spleen and stomach organ systems, which require warmth to digest foods. Since the morning hours are typically cooler in temperature both inside and outside the house, warm congee is a sensible breakfast food. It aids the digestion, and provides the body with energy to face a brand new day. Similarly, in Japan, a traditional breakfast includes steamed rice and miso soup, a soup made with fermented soybean paste. Miso is rich in probiotics or healthy bacteria which we require for smooth digestive function and a strong immune system.
In Paul Pitchford's book, "Healing with Whole Foods," he suggests cooking a handful of rice simmered in 5 to 6 times the amount of water. Cook the rice in a covered pot, rice cooker, or crock pot for 4 to 6 hours on warm, or the lowest setting possible. You might try adding carrots if you have weak digestion, or black pepper and fennel for painful bowels and gas. Add cooling ingredients like celery and mung bean if you have a fever. If you're experiencing nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or a general cold feeling, add some fresh ginger slices or scallion. If you're anemic or experience chronic fatigue, you might consider adding meat.
For the average person considering adding simple congee or miso soup to their breakfast, I would suggest incorporating a good source of protein as well. If you eat meat, include a small amount of chicken, fish, or beef in the soup. Or eat a hard-boiled egg on the side, which provides a little over 6 grams of protein. Beans, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and seeds are also foods one can include to increase protein intake. Starting the day with adequate protein helps to stabilize blood sugar and improve the mood.
I also like Dr. Ben Kim's recipe for Broccoli Potato Soup, which is rich in vitamins and fiber. It is easily digested and may be suitable for weak digestive conditions. He also suggests adding fresh avocado slices as a garnish.
2 onions, chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
6 Yukon gold potatoes, diced
2 large broccoli heads, chopped into florets; broccoli stems skinned and sliced
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
2 and 1/2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
1. Combine onions, vegetable broth, potatoes, and broccoli in a large pot and cook until vegetables are tender.
2. Puree mixture in a blender or a food processor until creamy. Return to pot. (Or use a hand-held blender right in the pot)
3. Add lemon juice, garlic, sea salt, and pepper.
Soups are an excellent way to feed your body the nutrition it needs. Consider incorporating soups into your diet on a regular basis. And the next time you have a cold or suffer from digestive difficulties, get your SOUP on!