Like many people who have moved to New York from warmer climes, I still find that it takes me some time to adjust – both physically and mentally – to New York winters. When I feel the kitchen floor getting cold in the morning or the drafts coming in through the windows, I know it’s time to start modifying my meals.
Every year, I find myself making the same dishes almost by instinct: broths, soups and teas built from simple ingredients and requiring minimal preparation. I call them restorative because they replenish and nourish me.
I live with a chronic illness, and like many of them, I’m very careful about what I eat and how I eat, especially in the winter when colds, flus and other ailments seem to be everywhere. The adjustments I make to my diet are informed by trial and error and the knowledge my mother passed on to me.
A food scientist and nutritionist, my mother always tried to introduce nutrient-dense items into everything our family ate, and she had an exceptional talent for finding high-quality ingredients. My last trip to Lagos, Nigeria, where I grew up, was in January 2020, and the visits I made to market apothecaries with her have stayed with me. I was struck by his conversations with the ìyá èléwé ọmọ, the apothecaries themselves, who all had such intimate knowledge of spices, herbs, roots and greens for sale, as well as their medicinal qualities. It was a reminder of all that the earth provides and how its bounty can restore and uplift.
These market visits have inspired me to continue perfecting my routine, which is most evident in my winter cooking. My pantry and fridge are full of broths, infusions, tonics and tinctures. But there are several recipes I always rely on and come back to, made from ingredients I can get almost anywhere, any time of year.
In Lagos, lush green lemongrass bushes, grassier sisters to the yellow lemongrass stalks, grow locally. They’re often called “fever grass” for their reputation for helping reduce fevers, and I use the ingredient in a citrus tonic when I can find it. But when I can’t here in Brooklyn, I swap lemongrass stalks to brew a tea of fresh lemons, limes, oranges, and ginger root. I let the tonic cool and store it in the fridge, and when I need it, I mix one part tonic to one part hot water, with a little drizzle of honey for added sweetness.
Then there’s my ginger-turmeric bone broth with greens, which is just as good eaten curled up on the couch as it is on the go. Any broth, homemade or store bought, will do. Even vegetable broth would do. While it simmers, grated ginger and garlic, lemon or lime juice and a pinch of turmeric are added, then they are infused and strained. I often take it with me on leisurely walks in the park with my little girl, or on quicker walks while running errands, to keep me hydrated and warm against the cold. There are times when I reach for this while stuck in a commute and suddenly feel like I’m drinking from the sun. (That said, the garlic and turmeric essences in the broth will often “season” your reusable container, so be careful when choosing a container.)
Soups are especially important to help me get back on my feet. And, as all convalescents know, simple preparations are best. This coconut red curry soup incorporates silken tofu and cherry tomatoes. Tomatoes can be canned or fresh, and left whole: as they soak in broth, they puff up and become little bursts of flavor. A little lime juice, a source of vitamin C, adds a little sparkle.
These three restorative products are also great to share with others and can be easily brought to anyone on the mend – some warmth and light for those gray days.