Sunday, January 7, 2007

Winter eating

When I was an acupuncture student, I had a patient come to me complaining of feeling very cold. Even in the summertime, she couldn't get warm. She went to bed wearing socks, a hat, long underwear and a down vest. She slept under a down comforter. Her husband tried to keep a window open on those hot August nights so that he could get some air, but it made her too cold. She complained that her hair had begun to fall out.

In the course of my intake, I asked her what her diet consisted of. She told me that about 8 years prior she had learned that when you cook food, you kill all the vitamins. So her diet consisted entirely of raw foods. She hadn't eaten anything cooked in 8 years!

I told her that according to the principles of Oriental medicine, raw foods are very cooling, while cooked foods can warm. In the summertime, raw foods will help you cool down, while in the winter time, it's important to eat more cooked foods to help you stay warm. In eating nothing but raw foods winter and summer, she had managed to cool her digestive system down sufficiently so that it was no longer able to supply her body with the energy to keep her warm. As I spoke with her, her eyes got wider and she said "That makes sense!"

Even though her first visit was in early September, I told her I thought it would benefit her to start eating cooked foods. I treated her with acupuncture needles and moxibustion (a heat therapy) and told her I wanted to see her the following week. When she returned the following week, she had a big smile on her face. She had begun to feel warmer! She needed no further acupuncture treatments once she learned how to eat in harmony with the seasons.

Here's a simple winter stew recipe. I'm never exact about my amounts because....well, because I never really think about it when I cook. But I'll give you the basics. If you have any leftovers, this is a wonderful way to use them. Don't feel you have to use the veggies I list here. Start with what you have in the refrigerator. It will taste just fine! The recipe will serve 2-3 people easily. If you wind up with leftovers - Great! Don't throw them away. You'll have the beginning of a great soup!!

Winter Stew:

3/4 onion - yellow or red, chopped
2-3 tsp. garlic to taste, chopped*
large handful of peeled baby carrots
1/2 head of broccoli, or a large handful of green beans
2 red potatoes (yes, it's OK to eat carbs!), cut into cubes. The size of the cubes isn't important, but know that the bigger they are, the longer they'll take to cook.
1 Tbs. tomato paste. (you may freeze the rest of the can and slice chunks of it as needed in the future.)
1 1/2 Tbs. Hungarian paprika. If you're like me, you'll want to also add
1 Tbs. red chili powder (optional)
pinch of salt, preferably Kosher
dash of pepper.
Broth - low salt chicken or beef or vegetable. Enough to cover with about an inch more.

Meat. This can either be cut up boneless chicken breast, beef or pork. Meat should be cut into cubes or strips, whatever works. How much meat? If you're starting from scratch, use about 1/2 chicken, or the equivalent amount of other meat. If you're using leftovers, use what you've got, and that's the right amount. You can combine different meats if you have a little pork and a little chicken left over.

If you are vegetarian, you may substitute lentils for meat. Use about 3/4 cup. Lentils are preferable to tofu, as tofu is made with gypsum, one of the coldest substances in the Chinese Materia Medica. If you're using lentils, you can add a little more garlic, and some cut up tomatoes added at the end. Makes for great color!

Place potatoes on a plate, cover with paper towels (Never use plastic wrap!) microwave for about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of your cubes. You may peel them or leave the skins on.

Meanwhile, in a large pan sautee the onions and garlic in a little olive or canola oil over medium heat. Add the chicken when the onions are cooked to a light carmel color - about 3 minutes. Sautee using a spatula to turn the chicken often. Add the potatoes and continue to cook, stirring often, about 3 mintes. Add carrots and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the broccoli or green beans, salt and pepper. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Add broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat, put the lid on the pot, set the table, light the candles and turn on some soothing music. By the time you get done doing that, the stew is ready to eat.

Note: If you are using lentils, you will want to cook them in a separate pot. You may use some broth, or a combo of broth and water to cook them. When the lentils are done, add the vegetables to them, stir and serve.

* I use chopped garlic out of a jar. It saves time and tastes great!

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