Like a lot of people who’ve moved to New York from warmer climates, I always find 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 mornings or the draft seeping in from the windows, I know it’s time to start modifying my meals.
Each year, I find myself making the same dishes almost by instinct: broths, soups and teas built from simple ingredients and requiring minimal prep. I call them restoratives, as they replenish and nourish me.
I live with a chronic illness, and, like many who do, I take special care about what and how I eat, most especially in winter, when colds, flus and other ailments seem all around. The adjustments I make to my diet are informed by trial and error, and by the knowledge my mother has handed down to me.
A food scientist and nutritionist, my mother was always trying to sneak nutrient-rich elements into everything our family ate, and she possessed an exceptional knack for finding great-quality ingredients. My last trip to Lagos, Nigeria, where I grew up, was in January 2020, and the visits I took to market apothecaries with her have stayed with me. I was struck by her conversations with the ìyá èléwé ọmọ, the apothecaries themselves, who all had such intimate knowledge of the spices, herbs, roots and greens for sale, as well as their medicinal qualities. It was a reminder of how much the earth provides, and of how its bounty can restore and uplift.
These market visits inspired me to keep honing my routine, something that’s most evident in my winter kitchen. My pantry and refrigerator are packed with an array 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 nearly anywhere, at any time of year.
In Lagos, lush, green lemongrass bushes, grassier sisters of the yellow lemongrass stalks, grow locally. They’re often referred to as “fever grass” for their reputation as an aid to reducing 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 in lemongrass stalks to infuse a tea of lemons, limes, oranges and fresh 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 honey drizzled in for sweetness.
Then there’s my ginger-turmeric bone broth with greens, which is just as good consumed curled up on the couch as it is sipped on the go. Any broth, homemade or store-bought, will do. Even a vegetable stock would work fine. As it simmers, grated ginger and garlic, lemon or lime juice, and a pinch of turmeric are added, then it’s steeped and strained. I often take this with me on leisurely park walks with my little girl, or on brisker walks running errands, to keep me hydrated and warm against the cold. There are times when I reach for this while I’m stuck in a commute and suddenly feel as though I am drinking sunshine. (That said, the broth’s garlic and turmeric essences will often “season” your reusable container, so be careful when selecting a vessel.)
Soups are especially important for helping me get back on my feet. And, as anyone who is convalescing knows, straightforward preparations are preferable. This coconut red curry soup incorporates silken tofu and cherry tomatoes. The tomatoes can be canned or fresh, and left whole: As they steep in the broth, they plump, becoming little bursts of flavor. A little lime juice, a source of vitamin C, adds some brightness.
These three restoratives are great to share with others as well, and can be easily brought over to anyone who may be on the mend — a little warmth and brightness for the gray days.