10 dishes to get you back in shape after illness, from ramen noodles to spicy tom yum soup


When you’re not feeling well, eating good, nutritious foods can make all the difference. Simple, comforting dishes like soup are favorites with convalescents, as are hearty casseroles, while some swear by spicy meals when they’re feeling stuck. Fluids are important, as are foods that will give you energy and provide you with essential vitamins and minerals.

Unfortunately, there is no miracle dish to provide a quick fix when you are sick. But, with Covid cases on the rise again and seasonal surgeries still doing the rounds, we asked chefs what meals they turn to when they’re not feeling well.

Roast chicken with lentils and kale
Tamal Ray, doctor, TV presenter and 2015 Great British Bake Off finalist

When I’m sick, I eat simple things: my mother made me mashed potatoes with basmati rice. I also have a chicken dish that I make after I’ve been sick, to get me back on track. I roast a chicken in a large tray, with onions and garlic in a separate tray. Once the chicken is cooked, I take it out and pour boiling water into the pan to make a broth in which to cook the lentils. Then I steam the kale, the cooked lentil mixture with the onions and garlic, and serve with the chicken on the side and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

corn fish curry
Nokx Majozi, Head Pastry Chef at Holborn Dining Room, London

When I’m not feeling well, I like to make a hearty corn fish curry. There are some great health benefits: fish is high in protein, corn (you can also use polenta) provides fiber, and ginger and garlic are known for their antioxidants. This meal also has great sentimental value – it reminds me of being a kid in the kitchen with my late father, who cooked it for us. I come from Durban in South Africa, and he worked in the port, next to the fishmonger. He often came home with fresh fish for dinner, so it’s a good memory.

ramen noodles
Stuart Gillies, chef and co-owner of Number Eight, Sevenoaks

When I’m not feeling well, I usually have broth and ramen – you get so much goodness in there. I use dashi stock and bonito flakes as a base – then you can add whatever you like: herbs (freshly picked and coarsely chopped), boiled eggs, salmon or cod, chicken or beef, soybeans, peas, broccoli – anything goes. Then we cook and add udon noodles, and garnish with togarashi (seven spice blend) or chili oil. You feel like you are getting healthier while you eat it. It’s really delicious. We are a family of six, so I do this for all of us when we are in bad weather.

Ginseng Chicken Soup
Judy Joo, Chief Patron and Co-Founder of Seoul Bird, London

I’m a big fan of hearty soups and stews when I’m not feeling well, and I’ve perfected my ginseng chicken soup recipe. You simply stuff a corn-fed whole chick with dried ginseng, sweet rice, jujube fruits, garlic and other oriental herbs, then boil in a large pot with water for two to three hours until the meat is tender. Serve with freshly chopped spring onions. It warms you from within and hugs your soul. I also do a lot of bone broth and get back in shape. To drink, I’ll usually have a cup of hot water with fresh lemon, ginger slices, and manuka honey.

Roast chicken is a good choice when you need to replenish after illness, and you can also make broth for soup with the bones. Photography: iStock

Canned tomatoes on toast with grated cheese
Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Executive Chef of The Gamebird at The Stafford, London

When I’m sick, I want something hearty. I often turn to homemade soups and broths, but my guilty pleasure is canned tomatoes on toast with grated cheese. You want tiger bread or sourdough bread, well toasted and buttered. Heat the tinned tomatoes until piping hot, then place them on the toast and top with grated cheese – I would recommend a Lancashire cheese – and a little salt. It’s simple, quick and not too heavy. If you don’t feel 100% you can omit the cheese and butter and it will still get you something to eat. I would take it with a cup of green tea.

Nikhil Mahale, head chef at Farzi Café, London

I can’t remember the last time I was sick – but when I am, I really like to eat an Indian soup made from lamb’s feet, called paya. You boil the feet for six to eight hours, then add onion, turmeric, roasted cumin, lots of fresh black pepper, and you can also add red chili powder and tomatoes. It is a yellowish soup, flavored by the bone marrow of the feet. It’s spicy, but it’s really good and takes all the cold out of your body. We serve it with cobbled bread, baked in a wood oven. I also like to eat ghee roast chicken with whole wheat rotis and chapatis.

Thai tom yum soup
Luke French, Chef-Owner of Jöro, Sheffield

Whenever I’m down, I make Thai sweet and sour tom yum soup. I start by making a very spicy and aromatic Thai red curry paste, which I cook in coconut oil, then add chicken broth and a splash of coconut milk. Then I add fresh lime juice and rice wine vinegar to make it sour, and a little palm and castor sugar. To that I’ll add shredded chicken or shrimp and loads of fresh veggies: broccoli, bok choi, snap peas, broccoli, sweet corn – anything. I add the vegetables for 30-40 seconds at the end, so it’s nice and crunchy and full of nutrients. At this time of year, I also add handfuls of wild garlic.

Beans on toast with pesto and parmesan
Shaun Rankin, chef patron of Grantley Hall, Ripon

When I’m sick, a quick and easy meal is baked beans on toast with pesto and parmesan cheese. Cook the beans (I use Heinz), then add a dollop of pesto, grated parmesan and butter, mix well, then place on lovely crispy sourdough toast. It’s food that feels good. I’m a tea drinker, but if I’m sick it’s Lemsip and Berocca. I had Covid in January last year and lost my sense of taste and smell so fed my body hot porridge and batches of homemade leek and potato soup. I had to add a lot of seasoning and garlic to get the full flavor.

Tanya Gohil, Chef-Owner of Silk Road Deli, Glasgow

My favorite dish is kadhi, which is basically a spicy sour yoghurt soup. My family is from Gujarat, where we have it with sautéed okra. You start by heating whole spices: mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, a cinnamon stick and whole black peppercorns. You also add freshly grated ginger and turmeric for that healthy vibe. Separately, mix the plain yogurt with the chickpea flour, then add to the spices with a few cups of water. It becomes thick and velvety, with lots of warmth and depth. Add sautéed okra 10 minutes before serving and garnish with fresh cilantro, a drizzle of chili oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Sautéed greens
Daniel Watkins, co-founder of Acme Fire Cult, London

Outside of work, the food I cook is mostly plant-based and if I’m not feeling well, I want lots of green vegetables: broccoli, kale and spinach are my favourites. Don’t blanch them – just cook them with a little oil and a splash or water in a hot pot with a lid to lock in all the goodness. I topped with nuts and seeds and a TMT dressing (tahini, miso, turmeric) which really packs a punch. When you’re sick you need to drink lots of water to flush your system – but I’m a coffee lover so I would always have coffee. – Guardian.

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