Keep calm and cook for a health crisis


Ramen - Credit: Archant

After self-isolating following her return from Japan, Kerstin Rodgers advises on store cupboard essentials and recipes for a long confinement

Recipes for a health crisis

Recipes for a health crisis - Credit: Archant

I was going to make some mothers day cakes - something pretty and spring-like.

But as I write, the dark clouds of the Coronavirus are rolling in.

Italy and Spain are locked down and Twitter rumours say it will be us soon.

When I returned from Japan on February 8, I rang 111, as it was one of the proscribed countries, and I had some cold symptoms.

I was told to self-isolate for 14 days. To be entirely frank, as a single freelancer, this wasn’t exactly a stretch. Like all writers, I spend an inordinate amount of time on my own anyway.

My daughter has now left home, so I’m also an empty nester. That’s what concerns me: what if you are alone or in a house entirely populated by ill people, who does the caring and the cooking when you can’t get outside help?

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I am attempting to think of the worst case scenarios. What should you buy? And what, should you have the odd moment of strength, should you lever yourself from your sickbed to cook?

When sick or recovering, you fancy that old-fashioned British staple, nursery food, soft on the palate and on the throat.

If you have pneumonia, fluids such as tea, soup or fruit juice may be the only things you can stomach.

What to buy:

Fresh: Apples, bananas and Citrus:(lemons, mandarins, tangerines) for vitamin C and in hot drinks, likewise fresh ginger; cabbage, chicory, for greens that last; carrots, garlic, chilli and onions to help the immune system. Yoghurt and kefir. Eggs. Butternut squash.

Frozen veg such as peas, spinach, to drop into pasta or soups. Butter, bread (wholemeal pittas) cheese and milk can be frozen. Tortellini.

Tins: soup, beans, tuna, anchovies, tomatoes, olive oil, baked beans, rice pudding, macaroni cheese.

Dried goods: pasta, rice, milk, ramen for quick soups, instant porridge, oatcakes, miso soup, mashed potato, large Israeli couscous, sultanas/raisins to add interest to porridge or rice pudding.

Jars: peanut butter, tahini (both high in protein) marmite, jam, honey for drinks, pesto for an effortless pasta dish.

Preserved: pickles are great for your micro-biome, add interest to foods as you recover your appetite. Kimchi helped the entire Korean nation survive the second world war.

Packets of tofu are high protein, they don’t hurt the throat and can be cubed into soups and ramen.

Hot Jam Tea is a Russian recipe, effective, soothing, warming and high in Vitamin C. Just add 2 or 3 tablespoons of jam to hot water in a mug.

With any luck, the worst will not happen and this column will only be useful for future, milder illnesses. God bless us all.

Starry starry soup:

This is the long version but using any tomato or veg base (tinned or dried), you can add pasta stars, and to make it pretty as well as nutritious, butternut squash stars sold in Tesco.


2 tbsp olive oil

1 carrot, chopped finely

1 stick celery, chopped finely

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced

3 fresh bay leaves

1 glass white wine, or red

1 kilo tomatoes

500 g mushrooms

1 litre vegetable stock

200 g stellete pasta stars

125 g butternut squash stars (optional), from Tesco

salt and pepper to taste


Heat up the olive oil in a heavy deep saucepan.

Add the carrot, celery, onion and cook on medium high for 5 minutes

Add the garlic, bay leaves and wine, cook for 5 to 10 minutes

Add the tomatoes and mushrooms, simmer for 30 minutes.

Strain soup into sieve or chinois. You will end up with a thin and transparent broth.

Season with salt and pepper.

Pour in the pasta stars and the butternut squash stars if using and heat on high for 10 minutes until the pasta is cooked.

Serve hot.

Ramen Hacks

Pimping ramen is a 6 stage process, taking only 10 minutes.

1) Place the ramen in a bowl.

2) Open the sachets that come with it; usually you have a powdered soup, sometimes a packet of oil and rarely a sachet of chilli. I open the powdered soup if it is vegetarian flavour but you could dispense with that and use a stock cube.

3) Boil a kettle and pour it into the bowl of ramen.

4) In the meantime prep the vegetables.

I use tofu cubes, carrot strips, spring onion, red pepper, mushrooms, an egg – anything you find in your fridge.

5) Improve the flavour by adding a grating of ginger or fresh turmeric or garlic. Add some fresh herbs like coriander or lime leaves and a squeeze of lemon or lime.

6) Finally a dash of soy sauce, sesame oil or ponzu, a delicious citrussy soy sauce