Lentil Soup: An Antidote to Swine Flu Fever

by Sarah Henry on May 8, 2009 · 5 comments

in comfort food,recipes

I knew trouble was brewing. The ol’ scratchy throat, lethargy, and pounding headache were all clues. So I started sipping lemon-honey-herbal tea, downed Airborne, Emergen-C, and some Chinese immune-boosting pills a pal slipped in my purse, wrapped my neck in a warm scarf, and tried to rest. I was determined to ward off whatever dreaded lurgy was lurking.

Alas, the germs won, despite my best efforts. I came down with every “itis” under the sun — laryngitis, conjunctivitis, cold-itis, fatigue-itis. No fever-itis, though, just a garden-variety virus-itis. Still, for about a week I was sick.

So I did what President Obama advises, and my kid’s school superintendent urges — and, um, common sense would dictate — I canceled all my commitments and stayed home in the hope that I would 1. get better and 2. not spread the misery.

Aside from work (home office), picking up and dropping off my kid (the pink eye, a really wicked case, kept me off school grounds), and caring for my son, I basically quarantined myself. No yoga, dance class, hiking, or sailing (not that I felt like doing anything so active). No in-person work meetings or interviews. No school volunteering. No teaching a parent nutrition class.

Amazingly, I got better, only to reenter the real world and the paranoia over piggy or  H1N1 flu.  (An aside for other immigrants: doesn’t that name bring to mind all those visa classifications we have to wade through?)  The whole hog brouhaha hit home in a major way. Yes, I am a proud parent of a child whose school was closed during the swine flu scare. Where’s my bumper sticker?

Happened to have a house full of ten-year-old boys when the news hit, so I calmly explained what was going on and why, stressing for this somewhat anxious and analytical crew that there was nothing to be alarmed about.  The health officials responsible for the decision were simply being very conservative and cautious in their approach to handling the contagion.

I needn’t have worried.  The four boys did a little dance of glee, started making plans for playdates and sleepovers, and then went back to the serious business of beating each other with boffers (not as bad as it sounds).

Meanwhile, the less-than-impressed parents began shooting off emails in an effort to figure out childcare swaps for the workweek ahead.  Then we started to get a barrage of information in the inbox about whether or not we should, ah, come together. Stuff like: “Students should stay home and away from other people and groups.” One family decided to follow these instructions to the letter and dropped out of the makeshift co-op. Fair enough. I wondered whether we’d be treated like pariahs if we showed up for regularly scheduled programming.

As the week progressed, complications developed. Would we care for a child with a cough and cold? Hmmm. I’m a little tired of sickness setting up shop in my family. A month or so ago my son was felled by the worst flu he’d ever had (I suspect it could have been the oink-oink variety, but I have no proof.) He ran fevers of 103-105 for three days, was delirious one night, begging me to “turn down the microphones.”

By day, my normally busy, active boy lay listless on the couch, in the dark, not even interested in reading, one of his greatest pleasures. When I attempted to read to him he said softly, ” Please stop, Mama. It’s hurting my head.” Unheard of. A big believer in just letting an illness run its course, I was concerned enough to call the pediatrician who suggested we come in to rule out anything truly terrible. He was impressed that a kid who showed up with a fever of 102.5 was still standing and coherent. So was I being overprotective — or simply following routine public health protocols — when I balked at the idea of my kid spending the day in close quarters with a buddy with a minor malady?

Before things got tricky, the district reversed itself. School was now open for business again. Everyone’s childcare crisis averted, kids trundled back to class Wednesday in various stages of good and not-so-good health. My son wasn’t one of them. He woke up that morning complaining of a sore throat.

Here in Northern California we’re having wacky spring weather — a crazy hot beach week followed by rainy, cold, curl-up-with-soup days. I hear the East Coast has been dealing with similar temperature swings. This weekend, we’re back to balmy temps and blue skies.  Sickness always seems to come calling during such wild seasonal shifts. That’s when a bowl of soup can be your best friend.

Lentil Soup

(This recipe is probably adapted from somewhere, just honestly can’t recall where. Update: Works especially well with the addition of a teaspoon or so of caraway seeds for some extra zip.)

It’s easily tweaked to accommodate the ingredients you have on hand (or not). Season to taste; some folks prefer more heat than others. Comfort food for cold days, when you’re under the weather or not. I’ve even dished this up for Thanskgiving dinner.

1013229679_aa04e7f201_b Flickr photo by photobunny used under the Creative Commons license

You Need:

3 cups of red or green lentils or yellow split peas
4 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of kale (stems removed) or spinach, roughly chopped
6-8 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
salt & pepper to taste
cilantro or parsley (minced, for garnish)
non-fat, plain yogurt (optional)


1. Saute onion and garlic for a few minutes in a large soup pot. Add spices.

2. Add celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes or so.

3. Mix in lentils and enough stock or water to cover ingredients. Cover with pot and bring to a boil. Then reduce to a simmer for 20-30 minutes, until all ingredients are tender.

4. Add kale or spinach to soup and mix over low-medium heat until greens are wilted (stir occasionally). Cook for another 20 minutes or so. Lentils should be soft when cooked.

5. Garnish with herbs, add a swirl of yogurt, if desired.

6. Soup should be quite thick in consistency. Serve as is or ladle over brown rice or quinoa for a meal in a bowl.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

mmphil May 11, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Is that Gabe kissing (er, licking) a pig?


Sarah Henry August 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

ah, no


bluecottonmemory November 17, 2009 at 11:22 am

That picture is hilarious! What a mom moment you probably had – a moment blended with pure mortification and disgust with intense hilarity! It made my day!

I will have to try your Lentil Soup – however, my sons are rather hoggish about my Swine Flu Soup – http://bluecottonmemory.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/swine-flu-soup/

This is the only thing I cook that makes all 5 boys happy!

However, it does definitely not produce the humor effect of that picture! Priceless!


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