Finding Harmony In Seasonal Eating
by Ellasara Kling
In times past, and until fairly recently in human history, eating with the seasons was normal as it was not generally possible to eat any other way. Food was obtained from farms that were pretty much local, and although in the 19th and early 20th centuries transportation access and refrigeration made it possible to obtain some foods “out of the local season” and not grown in your local area, most easily available foods were seasonal. Following the seasons in eating was the way of life for most people. Things change. Since the 1940’s technological advances in refrigeration and transportation, changes in farming methods, and the modernization of food have made it possible for many people to have access to a wider variety of foods in any season than at any previous time in human history. Now, we have an abundance of food from countries that have summer when we have winter and vice versa. So strawberries from South American countries are available in North America throughout the winter. How does this fit in with seasonal eating, if at all.
What is seasonal eating? On the surface that question is self-answering. After all, Seasonal Eating must mean eating only foods that are within the season you are in. Makes sense, easy, simple, right? Well, almost so. That point of view leaves out a couple of important pieces: the needs of the person doing the eating and how one season flows from the previous season and into the next.
Chinese medical theory takes into account the unique individuality of each person and how that person is changing, i.e., moving from where they are to their next phase and guiding them into ever increasing harmony and balance until they, as a self-regulating system, can maintain that balance and harmony without medical intervention. Applying this concept to food and seasonal eating would mean taking into account your multi-level state, your environment, your health goals, your life situation (for example, levels of stress, physical activity, and so on).
Consequently, your food choices are always best guided by your true needs and your intuitive understanding of what you need. The following is an example of how your choices might be guided individually and seasonally. Eggplant is primarily grown as a summer vegetable that is also seasonally available in the Fall. It’s flesh has a sweet flavor, the skin a slightly bitter flavor, and its nature is cooling. It is excellent for removing heat from the digestive system and clearing food stagnation; supporting healthy skin including removing heat rash and reducing the effects of aging; and can relieve dampness among many other healing/balancing uses.
If you are experiencing too much internal heat, eggplant would be a good food choice. If, however, you are internally cold, you would want to add ginger to your diet. So, it is important to know what in yourself you want to nourish and what is natural to your area in your environment (season) that can help you achieve your desired result so as to strengthen yourself and maintain/create balance. For example, in the Fall, pungent flavored foods are warming and move your internal energy outward. So as the weather becomes cooler, it would seem that this flavor would have a positive effect. However, it is a good idea to eat foods with a sour/tart flavor in Fall as this flavor helps to retain moisture (important in Fall because it is a “dry” season) and because it has a contracting effect, it assists in protecting against wind. Even on this simple level, understanding the dynamic of the season is important.
Some Foods That Harmonize With AutumnAlmonds, Apples, Apricot, Bamboo Shoots, Banana, Barley, Basil, Bai Mu Er – aka White Fungus or Snow Fungus, Bay leaves, Broccoli, Cardamom, Cauliflower, Chicken Egg, Chickweed, Cilantro, Coriander, Cumin, Cow’s Milk, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Figs, Garlic, Ginger, Job’s Tears (Chinese Barley), Kohlrabi, Kumquat, Lily Bulb, Lotus Root, Lotus seeds, Mustard – leaf and seeds, Onions – Green, Yellow, Red, Rosemary, Safflower oil, Shallots, Parsnip, Peanuts, Pears, Peppermint, Persimmon, Pumpkin, Radish, Rice, Sesame Seeds, Spinach, Squashes, Strawberry, Tofu, Walnut, Water Chestnut, White beans (including navy beans, chickpeas, soy beans, cannellini beans, and so on) Yam
Adding lily root or snow fungus to congees or soups is beneficial in the Fall as they act to retain moisture.
The organ system for the Autumn season is the Lung/Large Intestine. The Lungs are in charge of the flow of air in and out of our bodies. They connect our “insides” with our “outside” through the nose, its sense organ. The Lung is literally the highest organ in the torso and directs the qi it receives downward to the other organs. It is the administrator. The Lung is known as a “delicate” organ and is, indeed, very sensitive to changes in hot, cold, dryness, dampness, and wind. The Lung is responsible for providing proper moisture to the skin and similarly through its paired partner, the Large Intestine, dry hair is a sign of a tired Lung. Grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the Lung and crying is its “sound”. On those crisp, clear Fall days, be sure to get lots of fresh air and fill and empty the Lungs completely.
Fennel, Carrot Mushroom Soup with Lemon Grass
6 cups of water/stock
1 stalk lemongrass
1 birds eye chili
1 clove garlic – sliced thin lengthwise
1 cup broccoli florets
2 medium carrots sliced on the diagonal
1 Fennel bulb sliced in lengthwise strips
8 mushrooms sliced (preferably shitake)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 can of coconut milk
2 TB lime juice
2 TB Cilantro leaves (garnish) finely chopped
Bring your water/stock to a boil and add the lemongrass and allow to simmer for 2-3 minutes.
Add the broccoli and carrots, garlic, and simmer for 2-3 more minutes and then add the fennel and mushrooms and simmer for 3-4 minutes more. Add the coconut milk lime juice, fish sauce. And stir.
It is important to test the flavor of this soup and adjust the taste to your own preference adding sugar, or more fish sauce (for saltier taste), and so on. Garnish with the Cilantro leaves.
This soup is balanced for the season with cooling vegetables, a hint of pungent, and a hint of tart.
Spicy Sesame Sauce
2 TB scallion whites finely minced
5 TB chopped cilantro leaves only
4 TB Tahini (a/k/a ground to a “paste” sesame seeds)
2 TB Asian chili sauce with garlic
2 TB soy sauce
5 TB Sesame oil (not the toasted)
2 TB rice wine vinegar
2 TB juice of fresh lemon
3 TB water
Dash of salt
¼ – ½ tsp. ground peppercorns
Mix all the ingredients together and let sit for one hour (at least) at room temperature before adjusting seasonings to taste.
Lotus Seed Congee w/ Soy Milk
1 cup of lotus seeds
¾ cup sweet rice
1 TB dried finely diced tangerine peel
2 cups of soy milk
Place 9 cups of cold water and the lotus seeds in a pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the seeds simmer for a few minutes and then add the sweet rice. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and let the rice and seeds simmer. Cover the pan leaving a space for steam to escape. When the rice is about ½ done add the tangerine peel and stir once. Continue simmering until the congee is almost complete. Add the soy milk and stir in lightly. Bring back to almost boiling. Remove from the heat and let it sit for about 1 hour.
Optional: serve with fresh fruit such as diced pears and/or chopped, toasted walnuts or almonds.
This simple congee nourishes the Lung energy and is relaxing in nature. Cooked Lotus Seeds are said to have a sedative value.
Corn Silk Tea
As Late Summer changes into Early Autumn a nice transition tea while the days are still hot is Corn silk tea. Those fine silky strands on your ears of corn can be used as a tea that according to TCM and naturopathic medicine is good for: stomach energy (calming); is a mild diuretic; people have used it for losing weight as it wicks away dampness; it’s very refreshing on a humid day and it is a demulcent (coats) and an anti-inflammatory (cooling essence). Save the corn silk from your corn and dry it (see below) or collect it from your grocery store corn stripping box next to the corn bin where you can easily get lots!) Dry the silk by laying it out on a table in the house for a few days. Drying is not necessary unless you want to store it. It stores for quite some time dried, carefully packaged and kept in a dry place. Generally, one would not drink this tea for a prolonged period of time (more than a week) and it has been recommended that people with serious liver or kidney conditions not drink it at all.
How to make: If you are using dried corn silk, use about 1/2TB for every cup of water and if using fresh silks, about a 1/3 cup to a cup of boiling water. Steep for 5-10 minutes. This tea is already sweet and has a unique, bright freshness. .
Be certain to use silk from plants that have not been sprayed with pesticides.
Ellasara Kling Having been a chef and a food consultant for those with “health conditions” and the elderly, Ellasara, a long-time student of Master Nan Lu,( Wu Ming Qigong) weaves her life around the exploration and sharing of self-healing through a variety of modalities, primarily focusing on food, common herbal plants, Qigong Meridian Therapy and Qigong for Women’s Health. For comments, questions, consultations, firstname.lastname@example.org.