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A cure for the common cold

27 July 2005

I have invented a cure for the common cold, hurrah. Alas that it won't make me rich, tho' the world will undoubtedly beat a path to my (virtual) door. It is, of course, a recipe.

I was back to feeling lousy, through Sunday and Monday: as soon as the excitements of the week were over. This is not uncommon. I'd say it was psychosomatic, if the symptoms weren't so physical. But my head filled with cold wet rags, I coughed and shivered and wheezed and ran all the fires in the house and still couldn't get warm.

I had no appetite, but I have somewhere picked up one of those adhesive homilies, "feed a cold and starve a fever". Didn't think I was feverish, so I considered what I had in the fridge, in the pantry, in the garden; I considered what I like (soup and heat, largely: a big bowl of scorchio that I can eat with spoon and chopsticks) and I came up with something that I choose to call Thai Beef Curry Noodle Soup, for the sake of clarity. It goes like this:

Cover a brisket of beef with stock or water, in a casserole dish. Add a couple of chunked-up carrots, a couple of halved onions and a halved chicory head (and/or whatever other stock vegetables you have or like: celery, leeks, these sorts of thing), and simmer on top of the stove or in the oven for at least two hours, up to four. You want to end up with the meat stewed to a shreddable softness while still retaining some flavour & interest of its own, and a sumptuous rich liquor. Shred the meat and discard the vegetables.

Assuming a litre of the liquor (adjust seasonings up or down accordingly, or else to taste: this is just how I did it):

Heat a couple of glugs of groundnut oil in a big pan, and when it's sizzling add half a dozen tablespoons of Thai red curry paste. You can make this yourself - basically it's a combination of red chillies, fresh or dried depending on your recipe, with garlic, shallots, lemon grass, galangal, coriander, kaffir lime leaves and shrimp paste, all pulped together in a mortar or a machine - or you can buy preprepared versions with an authenticity that varies from little-old-lady version (in your local supermarket) to this-will-make-your-head-explode (in oriental supermarkets). Your choice, but whichever you go for, to cure your cold add a couple of teaspoonfuls of hot curry powder at this point.

Sizzle the paste, the powder and the oil together till the oil separates again and it all looks a bit brown in there. Add your stock, and simmer for twenty minutes. Then stir in a teaspoonful of tamarind concentrate (a dark and sticky gloop that looks like Marmite but tastes oddly lemony), a teaspoonful of sugar - to help the medicine go down, obviously - and a tin of coconut milk. Add the shredded meat and simmer, add fish sauce to taste.

Meanwhile, cook your favourite kind of noodle - wheatflour or rice or bean, ribbon or thread, just whatever you like. Fetch a big bowl and line it with mustard leaves or spinach or anything of that sort; or try mizuna, chicory leaves, sorrel...

Add the noodles to the bowl, then ladle boiling soup over the top. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and fresh chilli, and eat. With second helpings very much in mind.

That's what I did, and my cold retreated almost instantly, abandoned the field overnight and has not been glimpsed since. Only its detritus remains, a generic chestiness and more asthma than I can shake a stick at. But I am potent, I can shake sticks now. I shall continue with the soupy treatment till the pot is empty; I donít know if it's a consequence of living alone and cooking for myself, or simply a happy accident, but I actually like eating the same thing several days in a row. So long as I can play with the flavours, obviously. A little more chilli, next time...

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© Chaz Brenchley 2005
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.