Hello to my lovely readers! If you are on the East coast, I hope you all survived the weekend storm safely. I am really excited to talk about today’s topic. This is the first in a four part series where I am going to discuss the idea of seasonal eating in Chinese medicine. I’m going to do this once a season to give you an idea of how your food intake should change to reflect the seasons. Today we will discuss how to eat in winter, and in a few months I’ll talk about spring, and so on!
I’m also very excited to introduce a recipe from a dear family friend to go along with this discussion. Lisa Keys is an amazing chef, “Chopped” champion, and all-around bad-ass mama with an incredibly beautiful blog about love, loss, and the healing power of food. You should check out her blog Good Grief Cook and then spend some time reading her amazing posts and exploring her delicious recipes. She provided a recipe for us that goes along perfectly with the theme of today’s discussion, which I will share at the end.
Eating seasonally is a very important concept in Chinese medicine. What “eating seasonally” means is that you consume foods that help your body to adapt to and work well within any given season. This means that you eat foods with the proper taste and temperature for the season. Each food is considered to have a “taste” and a “temperature” according to TCM theory. Taste means the property of the food- sweet, salty, sour, bitter, acrid, and bland. Each of these different tastes corresponds with a certain action and effect on the body. For example, sweet foods build qi and help generate body fluids, but they can also damage the digestive system when eaten in excess. Each of the flavors can be beneficial, but it is important to eat them in balance. The same goes for temperature. Temperature doesn’t necessarily correspond to the physical temperature of the food, but rather the nature of the food- hot, warm, neutral, cool, and cold. Again, balance is key here. You can’t eat only foods of one temperature without eventually creating imbalance in the body.
How this all comes into play is that you can eat a little more of certain tastes and temperatures depending on what the outside temperature looks like. If it is cold and dry outside, you should eat foods that are warming and that can nourish fluids. If it is hot and humid outside, you want to eat foods that are cooling and that can help drain some excess moisture.
Eating against the season can create problems, especially with digestion. If you eat a lot of cold raw foods in the winter, you introduce too much coldness and dampness into an a system already plagued by the cold and damp weather in the atmosphere. This can cause digestive difficulties, fatigue, and other unpleasant symptoms. (Side note: this is why the idea of juice cleanses that start after the holidays drives me loco. It’s literally the worst type of food to introduce into your system at this time. And real talk: no one wants to hear a juice cleanser preach the wisdom of the cleanse. It is nonsense, and you will get diarrhea from consuming 32 oz. of green juice in a day.)
So what does this look like in winter? Winter is cold, first and foremost. This means that you should eat foods that are warming in nature. At the time of year, eating cooked food is especially important. Raw fruits, raw vegetables, smoothies, and iced beverages should all be limited. Try and eat mostly cooked, roasted, baked, or sautéed foods as much as possible (this includes your fruits and veggies). You can also incorporate warming foods and spices into your diet- this includes foods like root vegetables, lamb, chicken, ginger, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg, garlic, and cinnamon. If you pay attention to what your body wants, many times it will tell you what you should eat! How often do you come inside from the cold and all you want is a steaming bowl of soup? It’s because soup is warming in physical temperature and in terms of energetics according to TCM theory. Soup often contains cooked meats, veggies, and grains, all of which are ideal for the season!
So that brings us to our lovely recipe! Lisa’s recipe is for a delicious roasted butternut squash soup. Winter squashes like butternut squash, pumpkin, and acorn squash are considered warm and sweet. This means they help build qi, strengthen digestion, and can reduce inflammation. Onions are also very warming and can help ward off the common cold. The curry powder is also very warming. Apples are actually cool and sweet, which is important to include in this recipe because of the concept of balance that I talked about above- you want to make sure you don’t introduce *only* warming foods into your diet. This can create a condition of excess heat, which is just as bad as excess cold. So I think this recipe is a perfect symphony of foods to help you feel your best this season! I’ve included a link to a blog post she recently wrote that featured this recipe (just click on the recipe name)
- 1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch pieces (7 to 8 cups)
- 2 onions, peeled, halved, quartered
- 2 honey crisp apples, cored, diced into 1-inch pieces (don’t peel)
- olive oil
- kosher salt
- ground black pepper
- chicken broth (about 2 cups)
- 1½ teaspoons curry powder
- Toppings: roasted cashews, diced apple, toasted coconut, sliced green onion
Heat oven 400F. Place butternut squash, onions and apples on a large, rimmed sheet pan. Drizzle with just enough olive oil to coat it all. Sprinkle with kosher salt (a good two pinches) and ground black pepper. Give the whole pan a shake so things spread out into an even layer. Roast for 45 minutes, turning mixture every 10 to 15 minutes. The squash will be tender and you will have some caramelized brown areas, but not a lot of that. Put all of the roasted ingredients into a blender with 1 cup of chicken broth and the curry powder. Blend adding additional broth to arrive at desired consistency. If you have a Vitamix, use the soup setting and your soup will be piping hot out of the blender. If using a standard blender gently re-heat the soup on the stove-top. You can also use an immersion blender to blend all the ingredients together in a bowl if you’d like. Serve with your favorite toppings.
What a delicious, warming, and comforting dish to enjoy at this chilly time of year! Feel free to share your favorite winter recipes with me- I love to cook and am always on the lookout for new and delicious foods to try. Hope you all have a wonderful week, and be well!
All information about the tastes/temperatures of the specific foods comes from Bob Flaws’ terrific little book The Tao of Healthy Eating (Blue Poppy Press, 2007), specifically pgs. 72, 78, 93, 97.