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Nursing with noodles 

Dec. 31 was an eve of eves. I cooked up a heavenly spread and my darling co-pilot tended bar. Not long after the ball dropped, it became apparent that perhaps my sweetheart had sucked back one too many bourbons, as he was finding greater pleasure in air guitar-playing with the Who than entertaining the remaining guests.

The next day, I would see my dark prediction come true. Bourbon Boy woke up moaning about how life isn't fair, parked his Grinch-flannelled-self on the sofa, and wallowed in his hungover misery for way too long.

That hangover, it seems, was the forerunner of a nasty cold, which turned my over-indulgent guy into a helpless patient. I chucked my disdainful attitude and donned my nurse's apron on a quest to make him feel better.

Broth is the thing I always turn to when a cold or flu drops by for a visit. Its medicinal qualities, however, are exactly why it's also a turnoff to the average sniffler. To succeed as a cold ailment, broth needs noodles. It also needs flavor punch and lots of heat in the form of spices and chile peppers.

I grew up where chicken soup with matzoh balls was considered the answer to one's congested prayers, but I never understood the fascination. I found most versions bland and uninspired.

Instead, I turn to Asian ingredients as a point of reference, starting with an aromatic broth steeped with star anise, ginger, garlic and/or lemongrass. I boil up a bunch of noodles -- udon, soba, buckwheat or rice -- and dress them with a sesame-soy mix. I garnish with plenty of herbs and greens, assemble my parts and slurp.

Below are guidelines for putting together an ad hoc bowl of get-well love. I recommend stocking up on the nonperishables so that when a cold calls, you can avoid taking your swollen head to the Asian grocer.

Noodle soup for a cold

Stock: Although homemade stock is ideal, it's not always feasible, particularly if you're the one who's sick. Commercially prepared stock, particularly if free of MSG and salt, is an acceptable alternative. My personal preference is chicken stock, but veggie stock is fine, too.

Season stock with an inch-long hunk of peeled ginger, a few peeled whole cloves of garlic, a star anise pod or a hunk of lemongrass. Use what you have on hand; the stock will love the extra flavor no matter what it is. Add aromatics to stock and bring up to a simmer. Keep on low heat, allowing aromatics to steep, until ready to serve.

Noodles: For two people, use about 8 ounces of noodles. Asian noodles tend to be wrapped in little bundles; three bundles usually equals 8 ounces. Boil until al dente; they will continue to cook in broth. Drain and rinse under cold water. Place in a mixing bowl and add any or all of the following: 2-3 teaspoons soy sauce and sesame oil, 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce, chopped scallions, 1/2 seeded chopped chile of choice. Stir to combine and coat noodles evenly.

Greens and herbs ideas: Try chopped spinach, bok choy or watercress. Add to broth a minute before serving to wilt. Fresh cilantro, mint leaves and Thai basil can be added on top of noodles.

Assembly: Place a few ounces of noodles in deep soup bowl. Ladle broth (without aromatics) and greens over noodles until desired noodle/broth ratio. Use chopsticks and spoon to slurp and sip.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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