Welcome to the Year of the Rat. Perhaps appropriate this new Chinese year should start with global virus panic. Here in the Middle Kingdom there is a definite sense of unease: facemasks in shops have all but sold out and at the time of writing at least five cities are in lockdown mode with all exit and entry denied. And yet this time of year will see mass transit from most of other Chinese cities to all corners of the world.
What are you going to do? Stay at home all the time fearing the apocalypse, barricading yourself in and hoarding supplies?
I think fortifying yourself is the best prevention. That, and some prudence and common sense. Washing hands, general hygiene, that kind of thing.
People with a weak immune system are most susceptible. Good idea then to make sure your diet includes plenty of ingredients that can boost your system, such as these. You can almost feel the body crying out for it sometimes. I’ve got into the habit in the morning of foregoing my usual tea for a cup of hot water with a pinch of turmeric and lemon juice.
I made a simple lunch which featured a few key immunity boosters: garlic, ginger, citrus and spinach. It was to be a lentil-based stew, something I could do in one pot and stir from time to time, an action that in itself has – at least for me – psychological healing properties. So I was to be toughening parts both physical and mental .
Turned out to be really rather good. The initial zingy trill of thyme, lemon and ginger faded to warmer bass notes of chilli, smoked paprika and cinnamon. Texturally it was kept at least fairly interesting with chunks of carrot and sweet potato.
I used (for one person):
- good handful of red lentils, picked through and drained
- squeeze of tomato puree
- big bunch of thyme
- thumb-sized knob of ginger, finely chopped
- one garlic clove, finely sliced
- hefty handful of spinach, rinsed, drained and chopped roughly
- quarter of a large red onion, chopped
- one carrot, cut into biggish dice
- one sweet potato, ditto
- half a vegetable stock cube
- one bay leaf
- quarter a tsp of chilli powder
- half a tsp of smoked paprika
- half a tsp of cinnamon
- half a lemon, to squeeze
- salt and pepper
In a pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil and then add the carrot, sweet potato, onion, garlic, ginger and herbs. Dash in a little salt. Cook everything until all the vegetables have softened, about ten minutes on a medium-low heat. Squeeze in the tomato puree and let cook for a minute. Then the spices and keep cooking for another minute. Now stir through the lentils, crumble in the stock cube and pour in about 400ml of boiling water. Let it bubble away, stirring from time to time, until the liquid has reduced, about fifteen minutes. Add more water if the lentils haven’t quite softened. Remove the herbs from the pan. Now fold in the chopped spinach, a spritz of lemon juice and check for seasoning. I found this was substantial enough to eat without anything else.