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HEALING SOUPS More than just comforting

Castaway Chef Lance Seeto
Sunday, February 09, 2014

Recently in Castaway Island's kitchen, one of my staff asked if they could take back to the village a bottle of leftover ginger juice that we use in our soups and herbal remedies.

"My uncle is not feeling well and I know this will help because it works for me as well as our guests".

The next day I asked about his uncle and he replied "Kerekere chef, can he have some more, he feels much better this morning".

This story reminds me of why the Chinese drink soup throughout the day, sometimes at breakfast and lunch, but nearly always at dinner.

A hearty bowl of soup helps to flush the body of toxins and the medicinal properties of its ingredients provide the gut with essential vitamins and minerals, especially at night.

Chinese doctors believe that soups help to improve blood circulation and strengthen the immune system. Drinking soups every day also helps to push and flush out the unwanted things we eat throughout the day, instead of allowing bacteria to stay inside the body. Better out, than in!

Treating a cold or fever with soup is an ancient and time-honoured tradition in many old cultures because certain soups are believed to have healing powers. Drinking a bowl of healthy soup at every meal is like giving your body medicine every day.

Fiji's extreme weather changes are causing unwanted colds and flu and putting pressure on people's immune systems.

In today's issue, we look at different broths and soups that are easy to make at home and packed full of nutrition. Soups can also be prepared in advance and put back in the fridge or freezer for later use, so if you have the space, make your soups in big batches.

If you are vegan or vegetarian, substitute the chicken or meat stocks in today's recipes with your own vegetable stock.

What is the difference between broth and soup?

In simple terms, a broth is an unthickened liquid of water simmered with meats, bones or vegetables that can be eaten as it is with a little seasoning.

Soups can be based on a broth and later thickened with flour, starch or cream, or they can be pure blended vegetables, or they can be a big bowl of broth of lots of ingredients.

Soups are also a more recent culinary creation, dating back to the early nineteenth century, whereas broths have existed since prehistoric times and provided our ancient ancestors with the nutrients they needed to hunt and gather food.

Chicken broth

While many may not believe the power of chicken broths to help boost the immune system, the Chinese have been treating illnesses with it for centuries.

It is my first line of defence when the weather goes from one extreme to another, or when my resort guests arrive on the island not feeling well.

Any stomach upsets, nausea and running stomach illness can be eased with a good chicken broth. Adding ginger, garlic, ginseng and gingko nuts to a chicken broth also increases the broth's potential to help the body recover faster.

A visit to most Chinese shops will reveal soup packs that contain dried ingredients that turn a boring chicken broth into a powerhouse medicine soup with goji berries, shaved taro and ginseng root.

A good chicken broth is light and clear and needs to be cooked for no more than two hours to extract the flavour from the ingredients and bone-in chicken.

Once you have your base broth, it is just a matter of adding seasoning of salt and white pepper, and as many vegetables, meats and noodles as you desire to create a soup. Adding cabbage to a chicken soup also turns it into a weight-losing soup for people dieting.

Pumpkin soup

I love the colour and sweetness of Fijian-grown pumpkins and they make deep-orange coloured soups.

They also provide several important minerals, including calcium, which helps build strong bones and teeth.

Raw pumpkin seeds provide a rich source of fibre that helps prevents constipation and benefits digestive health.

Go into your local Chinese shop and you'll be guaranteed to see all different types of pumpkin seeds; why? The elderly love to chew and open each seed with their mouths or fingers to reveal its rich kernel.

Today's pumpkin soup recipe is a little bit complex as it involves roasting the vegetable first, then making the pesto, but rest assured the effort is worth it!

The perfect potato soup

You may be surprised to learn that the best tasting potato soup on my menu has bacon and Cajun spices in it that I discovered on my last holiday in Hawaii.

Since potatoes spend their life underground, they provide important minerals absorbed from the soil.

Small supplies of locally grown potatoes are now beginning to appear in the markets but much more work is needed by farmers to learn how to grow more.

Resorts import hundreds of tonnes of potatoes each week from overseas suppliers, creating an opportunity for local farmers to fill.

Today's recipe is a perfect soup for cool nights and I guarantee your family will be asking for another bowl.

Kumala, coconut and ginger soup

This healthy vegetable soup provides major health benefits from the sweet potato and coconut; superfoods. Kumala are a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin A, and healthy carbohydrates.

I love the purple and orange kumala here in Fiji, which add bright colours to any dish.

Adding freshly squeezed coconut milk and ginger to this soup, makes this recipe both comforting and healthy.

Green soups

If you are thinking about detoxing, one of the most effective recipes comes from the ancient Indian Ayuvedic recipes of using kerala, or bitter melon.

Both the Chinese and Indians believe that drinking this ugly looking melon helps to regulate blood sugar levels and it acts as a very effective cleanser.

In the first episode of Taste of Paradise season two, Mrs Singh of Suva revealed that her husband and herself drink kerala every day for cleansing, and after sampling one of her concoctions, I can truthfully say that I was flushing later that night!

With many mainland Chinese visitors descending upon our shores for this month's Chinese New Year celebrations, I have been reminded about the importance of soups and broths in the diet.

In resorts across Fiji, including Castaway Island, our new tourists are expecting soups for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Despite being thousands of miles away from their homeland, there is one thing that does not change for the Chinese; and that is to eat for health every day.

* Lance Seeto is the award-winning chef, author and food writer based on Outrigger Hotels and Resorts' Castaway Island Fiji. Follow his inspiring food safari on Facebook or

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