Two weeks ago, a wayward virus weaved its way in and out of heating ducts, through closed-door offices, around ergonomic chairs and over the high partitions that separate the pods on Level 5 of Publishing House X. Few were spared as the vaporous and all-encompassing virus set in. It rendered its victims helpless, sending aches and pains through their limp bodies and turning them into a ailing choir whose collective song had the rhythm of dry coughs and a chorus of phlegmy throat-clearing, building to a crescendo of sneezing fits.
On the Monday, I sat in my pod, still unscathed, and listen to the sounds of sickness around me. But by my evening yoga class, I knew something was amiss when my upward dog slackened quickly into cobra, and my arms gave way whilst in plank and I landed on my face.
The following morning I was glassy-eyed and fuzzy when I sent the email to Publishing House X, stating that I too had been taken by the virus. I fell back into a deep sleep and dreamt of being a university student in Toulouse, sunbathing on its grassy fields (I have since been told that sitting on the grass in Toulouse is illegal and as I have been there a few times, I know in my right mind that there are no vast, grassy fields there) with my classmates, absorbing Vitamin D aplenty and feeling so very healthy. I am then in a classroom and my French lecturer is teaching me about checking websites (something I have been doing a lot of at Publishing House X lately). I then dreamt about warm, virus-killing soup and that I have called my mother, who happens to have a pot of soup on the stove and has offered to feed and take care of me.
I awoke at midday, wandered into the living room and stared at the wall for about half an hour. Vegetable-itis, it seemed, was also a symptom of this hideous virus. I remembered my dream about soup and called my mother, who was not making soup. She was vacuuming. I found a sad sachet of miso soup and made a cup, then found that the only thing to help vegetable-itis was to watch a period Danish film with just enough violence and raunch to rouse me a little from under the spell of the virus. But still, all I could think of was soup.
I remembered a soup a dear one used to make for me and knew this was exactly what I needed to help lift the brain fog and clear the mucus taking over my body. It was going to take more than chicken soup to blow this sucker. That was so yesterday … good for the soul and all that. I knew that spicy red lentil, carrot and sweet potato soup was where it was at. Like a rabid dog, I made my way to the supermarket and collected the vital ingredients, trying not to scare the other customers. I got home and in mad witchdoctor mode, built the flavours of this soup from the memory of my, somewhat deadened, tastebuds. When there was just enough kick, I took the pot off the stove, served up a bowl and slowly felt the virus dissipate with each spoonful of spicy goodness. It did not cure me, but it certainly did silence my inner Cujo.
1 onion, chopped
1 knob ginger, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ cup red lentils
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
4 cups/1 litre boiling water
400 g can Italian tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil
natural yoghurt, to serve
In a heavy-based pot, gently fry the onion, garlic and ginger in about 2 tablespoons of oil, until the onions are translucent and the mixture is fragrant. Add the chopped carrots, sweet potato and celery and stir until the mixture is well combined and has a little colour. Add the spices and chilli, and season well. Stir for a couple of minutes, or until the vegetables are well coated in the spices.
Add the boiling water, tomatoes and lentils to the vegetables. Bring this the boil and then lower the heat and simmer gently, with the lid on but slightly ajar. Simmer until the lentils are cooked and the vegetables are tender, which should take about 20 minutes. Once cooked, you can either leave the soup chunky or use a potato masher to mash half of the mixture in order to thicken it, but leaving nice chunky veggie pieces in there also. Check for seasoning and spice, and adjust to taste.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and a sprinkling of fresh coriander (with a little extra chilli to really kick any virus to the curb). This should serve four people or one sickly person for a few days.