Chicken Soup Cure for Sino Black Lung

This was originally going to be my ode to caldo xochitl, the soup I first had in a tiny little cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas about 3 years ago. I should note that thereafter, I had it again in a few dozen more cafes in Mexico and then again in Nicaragua. It revolutionized the concept of chicken noodle soup for me.

Some versions of it had vermicelli in them, others had pieces of leftover boiled potato. Some were spicier, with wrinkly chipotle peppers to be found floating lopsidedly in the broth. Some were very delicately flavoured. Some had shredded chicken while others sliced it. Some were vegetarian, focusing on starchy squares of orange and yellow gourds. The thing that remained constant was that you added fresh, raw ingredients at the end: minced chilies, pieces of avocado, freshly squeezed lime juice, salsa fresca, vinegared onion, cilantro. It made for a wonderful contrast.

We have been making this at home here in Shanghai since we arrived- it’s super fast to throw together after a long day in the educational salt mines and it’s great for using up leftovers: a bit of spud here, some chicken there, a quarter of an onion, a fistful of cilantro, etc.

Unfortunately, that’s not what this post turned into.

You see, I’m kind of sick. I’ve been kind of sick since last Friday when I spent the day, shall we say, unable to hold onto my cookies. I lost those cookies repeatedly. In a metaphorical kind of way. Since then, whatever ails me has moved up into my lungs and now I’m coughing so much, so often, that I fear I’ll be losing those too.  My bark, you see, is far more pronounced than my bite.

On Monday, I was busy being half delirious from fever and wracked with coughing and didn’t have the energy to run out and buy the groceries needed for the Sino-caldo xochitl. Instead, I made that rice cooker apple cake and plain old chicken noodle soup.

If you want to make the caldo xochitl, here‘s a reasonable recipe that I found online, though I haven’t actually tried it yet. It just looked about right.

  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup vermicelli (fideo) or fine egg noodles
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 whole chicken breast, cooked and julienned
  • 2 chopped green chilies
  • 1 tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 green onions, sliced finely on a diagonal
  • salt and white pepper

Garnish: chopped cilantro, toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds, and 1 avocado, sliced thin

What I have for you today is something far more, um, medicinal and autumnal. This is a chicken soup that’ll keep the bogeyman at bay. And vampires, though I make no promises about other mythical creatures. If you have the black lung as I do, or maybe just a bad cold or a general sense of November malaise, this is the soup for you. It will cure what ails you.

How do I know this? Well. Let me tell you a secret. The broth is dangerous. Not to you or to your loved ones, no. Fear not. I’m not out to kill you or to alienate you from society. I’m here to help. Yes!

Look at this. This is the secret weapon.

Two whole heads. Not cloves. Heads.

Now, you’re probably going to start shouting at me that I’m insane, that using two heads of garlic in the broth would lead to inevitable social ostracism and the eventual banishment from one’s community. However, this would not be the case here.

This is a slow-cooker soup, you see, and after about 5 hours of burbling away, the garlic is reduced to a very mild and pleasant flavour note. It does not seep through your pores or haunt your loved ones’ dreams. I’ve checked. Trust me here.

The recipe for this is intentionally vague, as I tend to just use whatever is in the fridge at the time.

This time I had the following items:


  • 3 small chicken bosoms, skinless
  • a carrot
  • fresh limes
  • celery
  • an onion
  • a bag of very hot red bullet chillies
  • a half dozen heads of garlic
  • a little jar of chicken Better Than Bouillon (brought from Canada- but any chicken or vegetable bouillon would do)


I marinated the chicken in the juice of half a lime for about an hour while I prepped the veggies. It adds a nice texture to the chicken and some citrusy flavours to the broth. I just threw them in the clay crock pot insert for this part to make life easier.

Here are the non-garlicky ingredients. The chicken is inside the clay pot here. Nothing too complex.

I ended up using 3 stalks of celery, sliced into half moons. The chillies are quite hot so I deseeded two of them and left the seeds in for the other two. They were minced finely, as was about 1/4 of the onion.

Oh, and the garlic.

To cure what ails ya.
I just crushed them with the side of the knife then roughly sliced them. No need for finess here as they just melt away.
The sum of its parts
Sautee the garlic (and onion and chilies) first to take away the edge a little.
Chicken and lime on the bottom, veggies above. The garlic and onion and chili on top.

Everything just gets thrown in the crock pot and covered in water up to the maximum line. For us, this makes enough soup for two people for two meals, plus one more lunch. Put it on low, cover it and let it go all afternoon. Add a little salt and a tablespoon of bouillon after a few hours. There’s no rush. The chicken will just fall apart when you serve it so there’s no need to cut it up.

For the noodles, you could always use Chinese store-bought ones. The vermicelli is fine. Anything noodly is fine. I made my usual Lady-noodles for ours as they are awesome: 3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons of salt. Knead. Rest. Use.

I use the pinch and press approach to noodle making
After boiling in water (not in the soup- it'll make it too starchy!) for 2 minutes, drain the little noodles and pour into your bowl(s)
Crappy, fogged-up phone photo-- sorry. My regular camera's batteries died here. This is the soup after 5 hours on low.
Add a squeeze of lime and maybe a little cilantro, if you fancy. They both work wonders.
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  1. Is it possible to catch other peoples sicknesses over the internet? I’ve got that tickle in the back of my throat that tells me I’m on the cusp of an unpleasant week. If things go as I anticipate, chicken soup will be a must. thanks for sharing. 🙂
    Nicola @ unhip squirrel recently posted..sugar and spice cookiesMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      Oh dear- I hope I didn’t pass my black lung on to you- I’ve been coughing so much since Friday that my rib cage is exhausted and my abs are fabulous. However, after two days of intensive soup-frenzy I think it’s easing up…sloooowly. I recommend alternating soup with cake for happiest results 🙂

  2. TracyAnn0312 says:

    Soup is an important food to eat when you are totally sick. It can not only lowers your fever. That is why it is highly recommended by the Doctor’s to eat it!
    TracyAnn0312 recently posted..פוריםMy Profile

  3. I should make a veggie version of this– wonder if my rice cooker on the porridge cycle would be crockpot-ish enough? Two heads of garlic and a couple of hot chilis sound like a good start for whatever ails you. recently posted..Sweet Potato Vegetable Soup with Ginger, Cilantro, Coconut & LimeMy Profile

    1. MaryAnne says:

      The veggie version does work, as I’ve made it before (I was borderline vegan for 15 years and and now pretty moderate in my animal intake). A bit of sauteed onion or shallot also helps, especially if you also sautee a few chilis too. Basically, it’s the long simmer that works miracles for developing flavours.

      1. TracyAnn0312 says:

        I think that it would give us so much ideas after you have reply in our comment Mary Anne. Thank you so much!

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