The weather may be dark, cold and damp so that you feel like staying in
bed with a book or playing with your cat.
Cold/flu season starts in late fall and, depending upon your immunity,
can last until spring rains. We need nourishing, easily digested foods
for prevention of illness and depression.
You may be waiting on line in a store or pharmacy hoping to pay and
escape as quickly as possible. Do people cough or sneeze in your face?
Does the subway crush seem more hazardous this winter? A severe
cold/flu has been predicted this year. Colds are prolonged by congestion
(phlegm) and poor digestion resulting from rich eating. In January, we
have just finished the holidays where at parties we ate, drank, hugged
friends and greeted strangers who may have been infected. However, if
you have a baseline of health supported by strong digestion, you are safer
to fight off illness and blue moods.
Support your digestion: It supports you. Each season offers the
chance of optimum wellness. In spring and summer we enjoy more fresh
foods that cleanse the senses and enliven our expansive activities. The
liver needs to process excess fats and proteins that were needed
to keep the body warm in winter. Lighter, pungent cooking helps to relieve
liver congestion and excess phlegm after rich holiday eating. Barley, wheat
and rye nourish the liver and the gall bladder.
Sour flavors such as seasoned vinegars and omeboshi plum are a
tasty, digestive condiment. If you happen to be in Japan in June you can
enjoy the ume plum harvest. During the rest of the summer the plums will
be soaked, salted, fermented in a wooden container, dyed with red shiso
leaf and finally dried laid out on bamboo sheets after rainy season.
Otherwise, we make our own delightful pickles at home. They can be
enjoyed any season and while traveling to an exotic climate and diet
because natural fermentation supports healthy gut bacteria. That same
healthy bacteria can build immunity against colds and flu.
In colder weather, the blood needs to be thickened for winter. In
autumn, a more sober, reflective attitude stabilizes and supports the lungs
and large intestines. Root vegetables, reflecting autumn’s dominant
descending force, strengthen and tone the large intestine, while the smaller,
hardy leafy greens and pungent tastes like ginger help cleanse the lungs from
any excess yin taken in summer. That reduces mucous.
Cold weather root vegetables include: Carrot, parsnip, turnip, onion,
leeks, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, pumpkin, burdock, daikon, and red
radishes, rutabaga, celeriac, cauliflower, red and white cabbage, and
mustard greens. They can be pickled, adding salt, garlic and powerful
spices that up our antioxidants. Chief among them are clove and cumin.
Blanch and chop the pickling vegetables you prefer into small strips. Add
the spices, salt and tightly pack the vegetables in layers into sterile jars.
Leave a little room at the top of the jar for expansion. Some people add
vinegar to speed the pickling, but it is not necessary if you add chopped
cabbage which naturally turns sour to make sauerkraut. Keep the pickle in
a dark, cool dry place out of the refrigerator. Within a week you can add
some pickled (soured) vegetables to dishes or snacks.
Here is a strongly fortifying soup adapted from The Longevity Diet.
It readies our taste buds and stomach for strong digestion. Using flavors to
enhance appetite and reduce impurities protect vitality.
Umami Miso Soup
The umami flavor, often described as rich and meaty, builds vitality from
inside-out, from the sea to the land. The deeply satisfying comfort food
flavor comes from digitata kelp, shiitake, mirin, ginger, miso and naturally
fermented soy sauce.
1 strip digitata kelp or kombu
3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
Thyme fresh or dried
2 garlic cloves
1 small celery root
1 daikon radish to taste
4 -5 shiitake mushrooms
1 butternut or Hubbard squash
Nori seaweed (optional)
Feel free to substitute vegetables that are available; build up the taste with
seaweed, mushrooms, root vegetables, winter squash, green leafy
vegetables and taste adjusting condiments. The combination offers the
energy potential Qi we have from ocean and land.
Our Maine laminaria digitata kelp is similar to Asian kombu. Dried digitata
expands when wet. It is a strong source of potassium and iodine, which
means that people with hypertension taking ACE inhibitor drugs or thyroid
medicine should avoid it or use it with caution. Pregnant women should
limit its use. According to www.theseaweedman.com “It is deep growing,
it prefers turbulent water, and it preserves its own nature in a world of
pests. This plant dries strong and dark, and it has a natural sweet smell.”
It’s stimulating nature is good for winter cooking.
Miso paste, in use in Japan since 1200AD, has a great health benefit as it is
rich in essential minerals and a good source of various B vitamins,
vitamins E, K and folic acid. Miso is fermented, full of probiotic, good-
for-you food, which provides the gut with beneficial bacteria that help us
to stay healthy.
In a soup pot warm approx. 2 quarts water
Soften a 3- 6 inch piece of dried digitata, then cut into half inch pieces and
add it to the pot. Add sliced ginger and peeled garlic cloves. Add 3 – 4
dried shiitake. When hydrated, remove the shiitake and slice into thinstrips and add them back to the pot. Add fresh thyme and shoyu to taste.
Some prefer using Oshawa Shoyu for its mild flavor. It is made with
Japanese spring water from a Japanese mountain village called Kamiizumi
While the stock is simmering, cut up the root vegetables. For phlegmy
conditions add more daikon and ginger to warm digestion and circulation.
For weakness with diarrhea or shortness of breath, peel and slice a lotus
root. Add the hardest roots to the stock to cook longer. Then add pieces of
the winter squash for a sweet rich flavor that supports Stomach and Spleen
Qi. If you want to add fresh shiitake sauté them in coconut oil and a little
mirin, a sweet Japanese wine. Do not overcook the soup.
When the root vegetables are ready to eat, turn off the heat and steam
chopped greens such as kale, chard or spinach in the soup.
Dissolve miso paste in a little cool stock and add it after the heat is turned
off. Never cook miso because it is a live ferment that provides probiotics.
As it warms in the soup stock the ferment enhances flavor and digestion.
Choose the miso according to your personal needs and the season. Milder
white or yellow miso, aged up to a year, are more often used in hot
weather and heavy red miso suits cold temperatures. White miso, (shiro
miso) made from fermented soybeans and rice, is the mildest and is
fermented for the shortest time. That makes it versatile enough for use in
salad dressings, soups and light marinades. Yellow miso, (shinsu miso)
made with fermented soybeans and barley is stronger than the white, but
not as strong tasting as red miso. Yellow miso has a light brown color and
is useful for soups, dressings and glazes. Red miso (aka miso) has a strong
salty flavor and stimulating effect. It is made with fermented soybeans and
barley or another grain. Use a small amount at first to test the taste. Cover
the soup after adding miso allowing it to further ferment for 15 minutes.
You can garnish the soup with lemon zest or chopped scallions. It goes
nicely with brown rice or soba noodles for a hearty winter meal.
Five Minute Miso Soba
Are you in a hurry? Enjoy miso’s satisfying taste and health benefits. Cook
soba noodles to al-dente. Set aside enough soba cooking water to make the
sauce. When the cooking water is cool enough, add miso for flavor. Toss
the soba noodles (or whole grain pasta) with the miso sauce and sautéed
shallots. Serve with freshly ground black pepper and fresh herbs.
Stay safe in cold/flu season by wearing a hat, neck scarf and sensible
shoes. To protect against germs wear gloves when using public
transportation, wash hands with a mild protective cleanser. Add two drops
of anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal tea tree oil when hand washing.
Keep your lungs more moist to loosen thick phlegm by using a humidifier.
If you have it add a few drops of food grade hydrogen peroxide to the
steam water. Or on the stove simmer in water and inhale pungent herbs
that have antibiotic properties such as marjoram, oregano and thyme.
Protect your deep line of defense with fermented foods: Our healthy
bacteria live in the gut and help us to thrive.