Colds, coughs, and hangovers: Folk remedies in the college kitchen
Getting sick at college sucks. Not only can illness mess up your academic plans or screw up your social calendar, but when you’re miles or even continents away from your family, the prospect of weathering it alone can make it even worse. That being said, you don’t have to suffer unaided; you can supply a comforting dose of chicken soup and other home remedies with some low-effort recipes that you can whip up even when under the weather.
Across the world, warm broths and soups are the favored home remedy for whatever ails you. Even if their actually efficacy is questionable, you can’t deny the comfort found in a warm bowl of soup. Soup is especially popular in treating coughs, colds, and sore throats, as it’s gentle on the throat and easy on digestion. Simple meat or vegetable-based broths without dairy or other potentially inflammatory components are popular across the world from the United States to China. To make them yourself, all you need is a few aromatic vegetables and a big pot. From there all it takes is time, perfect when you just want to lay down and not babysit the stove.
To make a simple stock, fill a large pot with salted water and add your choice of aromatics. If you’re sticking to the traditional American soup stock, go with the mirepoix: celery, onion, and carrot, diced finely. If you’re feeling up to a bit of pot-watching, you can sautee them in a little oil first; the smell may be enough to unstuff your sinuses. If you hail from a Mediterranean or Hispanic culture, you could instead make a sofrito (pepper, tomato, onion, and garlic), or if you’re more accustomed to Chinese superior stock (the base of egg drop and wonton soups), try cabbage, ginger, and scallions.
From here the paths diverge depending on your dietary preferences. For a vegan/vegetarian option, you need only bring the pot to a boil and allow to simmer for several hours before straining out your aromatics. If you’re looking for chicken noodle soup or one of the superior stock derivatives, you’ll need to add meat; the best meat to use is chewy stew-quality meat which lends substantial body to the broth; if you bought a rotisserie chicken, you should save the carcass and bones for this moment; otherwise Kenji Lopez-Alt recommends buying chicken backs. From here on out, we’re sticking with chicken soup, but if you’re looking to make a comforting wonton or egg-drop soup, check out Mr. Lopez-Alt’s excellent articles [ 1, 2 ]. Add whatever bits of chicken you have before you boil and simmer.
After you’ve created your chicken or vegetable stock and strained out the remnants of your aromatics and/or chicken, you’ve got the basis for a whole flu season’s worth of soups. On the vegetarian side, your stock just needs some extra vegetable goodness (corn, peppers, tomatoes), and if you like a thicker soup, also consider the starch from potatoes, rice, or noodles. Just add the vegetables and starches to the stock and simmer again until they soften up. You’ll know the starches are done when the stock turns cloudy; the longer you let them simmer the more they’ll soften and the thicker the broth will be. For good-ole chicken soup, all you need is a chicken breast, your choice of starches, and maybe some extra vegetables. Alice Waters of Berkeley’s Chez Panisse recommends poaching the chicken in the stock with extra mirepoix, and then removing when it’s cooked. She also suggests boiling the pasta in a separate pot to keep the stock clear and light. If you’re not up to managing (or don’t own) more than one pot, you can keep the whole thing together; just remember to remove the chicken early so you can shred it. For the full instructions on her technique, check this out.
If you’ve got a sore throat or hoarse voice that defies even the mysterious power of a good homemade soup, you might consider some other easy remedies which use things found in the kitchen. Vinegar and citrus juice can help kill bacteria; if you’re not planning on being around company you might even consider sucking on garlic, which has natural antimicrobial compounds. If you want to soothe the burn, turn to salt or tea; a slightly salty solution will calm irritation, while herbal teas and other non-caffineated hot liquids (particularly ginger tea) have been shown to reduce irritation of the mucus membranes of the throat.
While your mother probably never made you a hangover cure, you can be sure that there are plenty of folk remedies for a night of drinking that can be found in your own kitchen. While scientists aren’t quite sure what causes you to be hung over, the general concensus is that it’s a combination of dehydration, the persistence of toxins, and the presence of other chemicals in the alcohol as a result of the fermentation process (such as tannins in wine or methanol in wood-aged spirits).
Beyond drinking plenty of water to supply the detoxification processes of the liver and stave off dehydration, what you eat can help or hinder your recovery. Replenish your electrolytes with potassium and sodium-rich foods. Turn to traditional hangover fare like eggs but contrary to popular belief, lay off the greasier preparations which can cause inflammation; choose something like avocado, fruit, or smoked salmon instead. If you’re able to stomach more significant fare, simple carbohydrates can help stave off acid. As long as you keep it relatively clean, a breakfast sandwich or potato hash can provide a good balance of amino acids (which help promote liver function), electrolytes, and vitamins. The good people at Serious Eats have a few recipes which can make even the harshest morning-after feel special.
If you’re looking to avoid hangovers, what you’re drinking matters. Clear spirits such as vodka and gin are already popular among college students, and without the tannins and other products of fermentation that produce the distinct color of wine, whisky, and the like, they carry fewer hangover-worsening compounds. That being said, quality counts—more expensive spirits are often distilled multiple times, which reduces the concentration of these compounds even further. Furthermore, the more expensive stuff is less likely to be adulturated with “industrial spirits” and what are called congeners, both of which carry the risk of higher levels of chemicals like methanol (also known as wood alcohol, and responsible for blurred vision and potential blindness). The nasty reputation of tequila has more to do with the adulturation of “tequila mixto” than any special qualities of the drink itself; if you’re looking for a more enjoyable experience you need to read the label and prepare to pay a bit more for the real “100% Puro de Agave.”
When you’re feeling better, check TastyTufts for other recipes, articles, and food ideas perfect for the college student.