You spent much of December munching rich sufganiyot, sipping creamy bourbon nogs, and devouring fatty meats. But after greeting the New Year with a full-body hangover, you may find it comforting to reflect upon the idea that others before you have felt like crap after the winter holiday season.
That's why detox foods—things to jump-start your vital organs or otherwise restore balance—are common around the world. In China, for instance, it's about recalibrating yin and yang; in France, it's a cure for la crise de foie, a liver (or other organs) in peril. Wherever there's a name or a concept for organ detox, there's a food that, according to folk wisdom, does the job.
Traditional Chinese medicine classifies people and foods as yang (hot) or yin (cold). Too much yang, and you're supposed to eat cold foods, and vice versa. And since winter is a cold season, even if you're not suffering from any particular imbalance, it's a good idea to eat foods classified as hot (ginseng, green onions, ginger, lamb, beef) to help your body retain heat, improve your metabolism, and generally keep your immune system in shape. One yin-yang equilibrium restorer is this Ginger and Chicken Clay Pot.
France: Mineral Water
It's not just holiday overindulgence that can provoke la crise de foie, literally a liver crisis. The French invoke the complaint for pretty much any internal malady, from dyspepsia to full-on spleen failure. Pharmacies stock specific remedies for more serious ailments, but "taking the waters"—drinking or bathing in spring water high in calcium, magnesium, sodium, and other elements—is essential for dealing with most crises de foie. Try naturally carbonated Badoit, which until the 1950s was available only from French pharmacies.
The Philippines: Mung Beans
Ayurvedic practitioners have been hip to these tiny green legumes for millennia. Mung beans are cheap, tasty, and they're actually good for digestion, absorbing toxic residues from the lining of the intestines. In the Philippines, cooks make monggo guisado, stewed mung beans with shrimp and greens. Filipino American food blogger Jun Belen has an easy recipe for monggo guisado, which he likes to serve with dried salted fish.
Vietnam: Beef Broth
Cold sufferers everywhere go for chicken noodle soup, but in Vietnam, bowls of pho (beef noodle soup) contain a more targeted remedy. The beef bones used to make the stock for most versions contain marrow, which is said to improve kidney function. Another winter tonic that finds its way into pho is ginger, as in this pho bo recipe from Andrea Nguyen, author of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.
Leeks are popular in many parts of Europe for their broad health-giving properties (as a post-flu tonic, for instance), and leek soup is framed as a weight-loss strategy in Mireille Guiliano's French Women Don't Get Fat. Leeks are also an important diuretic, good for driving out toxins from the kidneys. They're delicious, too, as Tuscan zuppa di porri (leek soup), adapted here from Giuliano Bugialli's The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, shows. To make it, melt 5 washed and sliced leeks in butter till soft, sprinkle in 2 tablespoons of flour, add 4 cups of chicken broth, and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve.
The bright orange spice in both fresh and dried form is generally believed to soothe the respiratory system, including sneezing and mild congestion. In India, turmeric often pairs with potatoes, which readily absorb its color and warm, spicy flavor. Check out this recipe for Indian New Potatoes with Turmeric—you can use powdered dried turmeric or fresh turmeric, peeled and pounded in a mortar to yield a smooth paste.
A compound in sesame seeds helps protect liver cells from both alcohol and toxic chemicals all too common in cleaning fluids and other household hazards. Sesame seeds show up often in Japanese dishes, both whole and ground with salt to make gomasio, a condiment. Try this vegan seaweed and cucumber salad, which contains sesame oil and a healthy sprinkling of either toasted seeds or coarse-textured gomasio.
If there's one thing Russians know, it's how to survive icy winters. One reason borscht has been popular for centuries on the steppes is that the beets it contains can—like Russians themselves—easily withstand the cold. As well as being tasty and nutritious, beets are a superb liver tonic (Chinese medicine agrees, by the way), a traditional cure for Russians who've consumed too much vodka over too many long, cold nights. For maximum sustenance, try borscht made with beef broth.
Image source: Hangover image from Shutterstock