Convalescence Soup

My North American answer to the kitchari of India and the congee of China is this soup.  I turn to it as a nourishing short-term mono-diet when I’m sick in body or upset in mind.  The ingredients are warming and grounding and the mixture easy to digest leaving more time and energy for healing.

While the roots are optional, they do add a medicinal quality that isn’t to be neglected: astragalus feeds the deep immune system while burdock is a demulcent and tonic/alterative (yes both).   But either way, this soup is comfort food when you’re sick or a sunny lunch for a rainy day.

Final note, while the sweet potato or squash taste great, when severely ill I leave them out and just use celery and carrot.  I also forego the usual sweet version I love in favour of one of the savory versions (see variations).

Yield: 2 large or 3 small servings (if you’re on a mono-diet, you’ll want the large serving or you’ll be starving by the next meal)

What you need:

  • 1/3 cup pearl barley
  • 2 tablespoons Arborio rice (or white basmati)
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced carrot
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled, halved and sliced (or an equivalent amount kabocha or red kuri squash)
  • 2 tablespoons dulse, chopped up
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 1 slice astragalus root (optional)
  • 1 slice (or 1 tsp cut and sifted) burdock root (optional)
  • maple syrup to serve (optional)
  • avocado to serve (optional)

What you do:

  1. If you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, this is the time to use it.  If you don’t – no worries – you can still make it using a stovetop range or slow cooker.
  2. Place all ingredients except for the maple syrup and avocado together in the cooking pot of your choice.
  3. If using a pressure cooker, then cover, bring to pressure and cook at pressure for 30 minutes allowing a natural pressure release after that.  If using an Instant Pot, then fit the lid and run the long porridge cycle, 30 minutes, allowing a natural pressure release.  If stovetop cooking, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook at a slow simmer until thick and porridge-like, 60-75 minutes.  If slow cooking, let it all work its magic for 4-6 hours depending on the heat setting.
  4. To serve, ladle a bowl out, add 1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or less) and half a chopped avocado (or more).

Savory Variations:

  • Omit the maple syrup and avocado to serve, instead let cool to room temperature and then add 1-1/2 tsp tamari and drizzle with 1 tablespoon flax oil;
  • Omit the maple syrup and avocado to serve, instead add 1-1/2 tsp tamari and 2 finely sliced scallions;
  • Omit the maple syrup and avocado to serve, instead add 1-1/2 tsp tamari and top with 1 finely sliced onion that’s been pan-fried in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil.


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