Spicy, Lemony, Kill-that-Cold Soup

In many cultures, food IS medicine. This is no more true than for Chinese or Indians, I think. It goes beyond our “chicken soup is penicillin” mantra. There are particular foods to eat when ill in a specific way. Yin and Yang out of balance may require additional foods of one variety or another, for example. Aryuveda is an ancient method of achieving optimal health balancing your intake of certain foods, omitting others in alignment with your constitution. Whether you subscribe to these beliefs, or not, almost no one would argue the power of food to comfort and to heal. Our bodies will often tell us what they need, but we’re often too caught up in the fray to listen. It takes work to listen.

For the past few days I’ve been soldiering on with a feeling that a cold was imminent. You know that warm-almost-itchy feeling in the nose and eyes that makes you go, “ruh-roh”? I’ve been battling it with hot water infused with fresh organic ginger slices, lemon and honey. Vitamin C tablets and EmergenC packets.

Today I got a message from a Facebook friend to drink Turmeric tea. Turmeric is a powerful anti inflammatory and something more of us could pay some attention to. It got me thinking of soup.

Bright yellow soup.


On Turmeric

  • a rhizome - turmeric is a member of the ginger family. You may see it in Indian grocers in the root form, looking like mini-ginger.
  • common in Indian (“haldi”) and in Thai, West Indian cuisines.
  • gives the saffron yellow color to curry powders. Will turn red in alkaline environment, yellow in acidic; this property has been exploited by early chemists and to dye fabrics.
  • used in weddings to anoint brides' faces, to dye strings to symbolically join the couple.
  • connotes the sun and divine blessings. Refrain from turmeric during mourning.
  • a poultice of turmeric paste will reduce inflammation (but also turn your skin and clothes yellow!)
  • name derives from French “terre-merité” good earth- it has an earthy quality that gives a base to other spices in curries, in paste form it looks like ochre used by painter
  • in addition to being anti-inflammatory, it’s being studied for anti-aging and memory enhancing properties.

Lucky for us, I’m a huge fan of Indian spices and food and have my own Indian spice box chock full of goodies. A “masala dabba” is a cool tin, usually round with little canisters of the most used spices, dried herbs, powders.

Me? I had an old Priority Mail box, taped up and covered. Recently, in a fit of pantry re-organizing inspiration, I found an old stacking plastic bin that was a little bigger and now we have a very classy masala dabba. (Hey, at least I’m repurposing something in a good way and I can now find my Indian spices and ingredients in one spot!)

I’ve had turmeric on my mind all morning now, with the soup coming together even as I tried to clear my mind through yoga (sniffle, sniffle, grunt, breathe, Puck rolling his head in my upturned palm...) breathe in, notice the slight pause, exhale. “I’ve got some masoor dal...” Inhale, pause, exhale, “maybe some spinach in the freezer, or saute some kale with mustard seeds, oh and leftover rice...”


Spicy, Lemony, Kill-that-Cold Soup

For the goals at hand, I want to have good amounts of warming spices, heat and vitamins. Turmeric will of course, star. Masoor dal and maybe some root veg and greens, lemon.

Notes on ingredients, tools: Masoor dal are salmon colored lentils you can find in Indian grocers and sometimes Indian/Asian sections of larger general grocery stores. They’re easy to digest and break down in soup giving you a protein boost and nice texture, somewhat like potato soup.

I use a stick blender to smooth the whole thing down, it would be fine without this step, too. A thick, warming soup was what I was in the mood for today so blended was my choice.

Vegan/Veg/Neither: This is a flexible template - you may make it dairy free or add some yogurt at the end. The greens are beautiful and health addition. Choose kale or spinach or chard. Frozen is fine but I like wilting the fresh kale then adding it at the end. This soup can be completely vegan if you substitute water or veg stock for the chicken I used and omit dairy (if you’re fighting a cold, you’d want to do that anyway.)



  • 1 C masoor dal
  • 1 large carrot, organic, scrubbed and chopped
  • 1 large parsnip, organic, scrubbed and chopped
  • 1 large onion, organic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small organic apple (I had half a granny smith leftover from baking muffins. It was large so half was fine here.) Scrub, core, chop.
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, mashed (mine were small so I used six)
  • 1 thumb sized knob of ginger, minced
  • 2-3 small green chiles, chopped
  • 1 TBSP turmeric
  • 1 tsp each: coriander seed, fennel, mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, cumin seed
  • 1 C frozen spinach or sauteed fresh green of your choice (kale, chard)
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons (about 3/4 C)
  • about 6-7 C of water, vegetable or chicken stock or a combination
  • salt to taste

Optional garnishes:

  • fresh cilantro chopped to garnish
  • dollop of yogurt or coconut milk (optional, I used some coconut milk plain yogurt)
  • can add leftover cooked rice, or grains


If using fresh greens, you’ll want to wilt them before adding to soup in its final stages. I used to handfuls of curly kale.

In a medium saute pan, toast coriander, fennel and mustard seeds in a couple teaspoons of neutral oil until the mustard seeds begin to pop like tiny popcorn. Add the washed and torn greens cover and remove from heat. After a few minutes, toss with tongs and cover again to evenly wilt.

If using frozen spinach simply place the desired amount in a bowl to let it begin to defrost while you assemble the soup.

Begin the soup.

  1. Wash and chop all vegetables.
  2. Measure the spices
  3. Juice your lemons
  4. Mash and mince garlic, ginger and chiles.
  5. In a few glugs of neutral oil or ghee, toast your spices (coriander, fennel, mustard, cumin), on medium hight heat.
  6. Then add the carrot, parsnip, apple, onion. Saute until they begin to soften, add ginger, garlic, chiles.
  7. After a few minutes add turmeric, black pepper, water/stock, and dal. Place a lid, lower the heat to medium and let simmer.
  8. Give a stir about ten minutes in to ensure things are not sticking on the bottom. Replace lid and let simmer until all veg are soft, dal will have begun breaking down.
  9. You may use a stick blender, or an old fashioned potato masher or blend in a blender or food processor to smooth it out. You could even just mash the veg with a large fork or spoon.
  10. Add chopped greens. Taste. Add Lemon juice.
  11. Taste add salt if needed.


Place a small scoop of leftover rice/grains if using, warmed or brought to room temp. Ladle soup around it.

Optional garnish; add a dollop of yogurt, sprinkle of fresh chopped cilantro, unless you’re one of those.

spicy soup collage