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Native Cooking

Many of you may be suffering the throes of a flu or cold right now, as I am. I hope not, but it should be addressed anyway to get the right foods and liquids in so they can do their work to get rid of this demon.

Everyone who tells you to have lots of fluids and vitamin C is right. The other classic home cure recommended is chicken soup. It turns out to be more effective than ever thought. A study conducted a few years ago in Florida concluded that chicken soup works to break up mucus and congestion better than other liquids. Moms have known this for eons, of course, but unless it's been on the front pages of newspapers it isn't quite ''legit.'' Well, trust your mom. Other research suggests that chicken soup may contain a mild antibiotic that could help fight infection.

When I had a cold as a child, I had to sit over a bowl of steaming tea, soup or hot water with eucalyptus and a towel over my head to keep the steam from going anywhere but up my nose. Then, I was sent to bed with a ''hot toddy.'' That was just a cup of tea with some kind of alcohol; for flavoring, they said. Actually, it was their way of shutting me up from the moans, complaints and nose-blowing. That was then; now I am armed with tea with honey, lozenges, vitamin C and my trusty box of tissues with a big glass of water on the side.

Native traditional cures for the common cold are as varied as we are. A hot cranberry juice in the East, as well as honeysuckle, elm, spearmint, purslane and sarsaparilla, just to name a few, was also used as relief in the form of teas. Further west, sage, wild buckwheat, balsam, horsemint, yarrow, elderberry, even creosote bush leaves, were used. The Aztecs had atochizti, technically pennyroyal mint, which in their language is known as ''cold-in-the-head-plant.'' Apparently, the one thing used by most people was the common onion. Onion poultices mixed with warm ash helped many with chest congestion. Since most modern medicines are derived from organic sources, many of these plants were, and still are, effective in relieving the symptoms of rhinitis.

Smoking was also an accepted treatment for head colds. Juniper leaves, sage, chokecherry bark and regular old tobacco were all shaved and rolled for smoking. Alternately, ground tobacco leaves were mixed with some animal fat, placed on the chest and covered with a small sheet of wool.

I saved the best for last. The best thing I've found in researching cold and flu remedies was the almighty chili pepper. They are proven to alleviate symptoms of the common cold by breaking up congestion and clearing the airways. If you've ever had to get out a tissue or two when eating them, both you and your sinuses know that works.


Chili Fried Fish with Pineapple Salsa

2 pounds mild white fish fillets

3 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons minced garlic (or 1 tablespoon powdered)

2 cups cornmeal

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs

Oil for frying (corn or vegetable)

Combine the chili powder, garlic, cornmeal, cumin and salt in a shallow dish and set aside. Wash and pat dry the fish. Take two tablespoons of the chili and cornmeal mixture and rub it over the fillets lightly. Cover the fish and refrigerate for at least an hour.

In another shallow dish, beat the eggs. When ready to fry, dip the fish fillets one at a time into the egg mixture, then into the remaining chili/cornmeal mixture. Making sure the oil in the frying pan is hot enough, saute the fish about 4 minutes per side until golden. Drain on paper towels. Only fry a few fillets at a time so they aren't crowded.

When all the fish are fried and drained, put them on a rack on the baking sheet and cover loosely with foil. Keep in the oven on warm until ready to serve. (You may want to make the salsa first and keep in the fridge, so that it will be at the best temperature to go with the fish.)

Pineapple Salsa

2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped

2 tablespoons extra-light olive oil

2 - 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon jalapeno-flavored vinegar

1 pickled jalapeno, seeded and minced

Salt to taste

Coat the chopped pineapple with the olive oil. Saute this mixture quickly in a small cast-iron fry pan over high heat for just a minute or two. Put on paper towels and let cool. When cool, put in a blender or processor and add the lime juice, vinegar and jalapeno. Pulse a couple of times to let flavors blend, then put in a glass or nonmetal bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.


Notes and Tips

-- Dairy products promote mucus production, so try to avoid them when you have a cold.