Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Late Summer: The 5th Season

In Traditional Oriental Medicine (and Macrobiotic theory) there is a fifth season known as "Late Summer" or the "Earth" time of year.  And we are currently right in the middle of this amazing time of year!  Late summer, according to the Five Transformations of Energy, is that incredible time when all of the energy from summer (when the energy of Earth is at its highest) begins its graceful back downwards, beginning to collect and gather and become solid again.  The earth becomes drier but still contains some verdant freshness. This has a profound affect on our mood and emotions, health, and (of course!) the foods we eat.

The Emotions of Late Summer

This time of year most strongly influences the functioning of our spleen-stomach and pancreas. These organs, in addition to their obvious physiological functions, govern aspects of our emotional health as well.  The emotions of worry and jealously and pensive thinking are controlled by the health and energies of these Earth organs.  When our Earth energy is in balance, we feel calm, centered, dare I say Zen?  When out of balance, we feel overcome with anxiety and worried, racing thoughts and jealously of the perceived happiness, health, and calm of others.  

The Foods of Late Summer

To help balance the building Earth energy within ourselves, choosing appropriate foods (and avoiding those less appropriate) help us to thrive at this time of year.  The flavor of the Earth element is sweet.  And by that, I mean a naturally sweet taste.  Foods that have a gentle, natural, unadulterated sweet flavor help to strengthen and balance our Earth energies.  These include:

  • Millet
  • Onions
  • Green Cabbage
  • Parsnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Sweet Potato
  • Carrots
  • Sweet Brown Rice
  • Summer Squash
  • Cantaloupe
  • Chickpeas
 Using more of these foods in your cooking brings a quality into our system that can rebuild and maintain our hearty Earth energy.  In addition, cooking styles that emphasize more stewing, braising, and other moist cooking are more appropriate that the cooking styles of the summer (like raw summer salads, raw fruits, juices, smoothies, and other cooling styles).  Foods that are intensely sweet, or artificially sweet, over stimulate the Earth organs and cause our Late Summer energies to become erratic and racing.  Taking time to chew, and engaging in calming, soothing activities all help to nourish ourselves during this important transition in time.

To help get your body and mind in balance as we transition from summer to fall, try a bowl of my Earth Energy Soup a few times a week to help relax the middle organs of the body, stabilize blood sugar, and vitalize your Earth Energy in the body to have a happy and healthy Late Summer!

Earth Energy Soup
Makes 4-5 servings

Soothes the stomach, alkalizes the blood and fluids, regulates blood sugar, and improves digestion.

1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 cup chopped butternut squash or pumpkin
1 cup chopped sweet potato (do not peel)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped or grated fresh ginger
2-inch piece kombu sea vegetable
4 cups of filtered water
1 tablespoon chickpea or barley miso (depending on your needs/preference)
¼ cup watercress leaves (optional)
Sea Salt

In a  medium-sized pot, add the sesame seed oil and turmeric and place over medium heat.  Once the turmeric becomes fragrant, add the onion with a small pinch of sea salt. Sautee for 1-2 minutes, then add the carrots with another small pinch of salt.  Cook 1-2 minutes, add the squash/pumpkin with another pinch of salt, and cook for 3-5 minutes.  Next, add the sweet potato, garlic, and ginger with another pinch of salt and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the kombu and water, cover, and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15-20 minutes. Transfer soup to a blender, food processor, or use a stick blender and process until smooth and creamy.  Remove soup from heat.  In a small bowl, dissolve the miso with warm water and mix into the soup once all boiling has stopped.  Allow to sit for 1-2 minutes, and transfer to serving bowls.  Garnish with watercress and serve.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Keeping Cool with Kale

If there is one "it" food of the times right now, it has to be kale.  Kale is everywhere!  Morning talk shows are using it in their cooking segments, restaurants have it all over the menu, there are now even entire cookbooks that cover one single food: kale (and yes, other greens as well).  Good news, right?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, because kale is truly one of the healthiest foods a person can eat.  No, because we aren't exactly serving kale is the most natural of ways.

For example, you can now buy raw kale chips. Sounds like it should be fine.  Well, when you look at the package, the kale has been coated in a mixture of ground up nuts, oils, syrups, and enough salt to make your lips go dry.  And all sold to you for about $5 for, in the end, about 2 cups of kale (keeping in mind that an entire bunch of kale is usually less than a buck).  In those restaurants that are serving so much kale?  Yes, the kale is in there, but you have to look underneath the ocean of cream sauce, olive oil, and duck fat to get to the poor little green.  The reason why this gives me some concern is not just because the food is so laden with concentrated sugars, salts, and fats that it completely negates any health properties that the kale would have provided.  More importantly (in my opinion) is that we are being told that we're healthy because look at all the kale and greens we're eating!  So the unsuspecting diner buys the chips, orders the creamed greens, and says to themselves, "Look at how good I'm doing!"  And when they still get heart disease 15 years down the line, we now say to ourselves, "Well, I guess eating lots of greens and veggies isn't that important.  I mean, I did it, and I still got sick." 

So, like most items related to health in our society, we truly believe we're doing well because that is what hte sound bites tell us.  And when we don't get the results we're promised, we are told that what we eat doesn't matter after all.  But what is the true story behind the benefits of eating kale, and preparing it in a more health promoting way?

Let's look at kale (and dark greens in general) from both a Nutritional and Macrobiotic perspective, shall we?

Western Nutrition: Kale is King

Kale is a monumentally powerful food in the view of western nutritional science.  Kale is a rich source of organic calcium salts, as well as a plethora of b-complex vitamins.  Kale is about 26% (or so) protein, and as a matter of fact: practically all dark leafy greens are a great source of protein! Kale is also rich in folate, which is a necessary b-vitamin for reducing homocysteine levels in the blood (which helps reduce the risk of heart disease and damage to nervous tissue).  High in fiber, full of water, easy to prepare, and cheap to buy, kale and other dark greens should definitely find their way onto your plate at least 1-2 times per day.

Macrobiotic and Eastern Nutrition: Kale is King

The energetic qualities of kale are that of the springtime. Kale burst up and out of the soil full of vibrant, strong energy that in turn helps us to expand outward intellectually, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  Kale and other dark greens also help us to be more understanding and flexible in the world.  Kale is strong so it stands tall in the ground, but can bend and sway with the breeze.  Not so stiff it will break, but not so loose it falls down, kale gives us that perfect quality of being confident but flexible all at once.  Powerfully tonifying to the liver and gallbladder, kale and other greens can help us let go of old stagnant feelings of anger and jealously. Kale is also said to help purify and strengthen the blood, allowing for every tissue in the body to be cleansed and rejuvenated.

Kale comes in a variety of different styles.

So, in the end, no matter how you view this humble plant (from the West, East, or both), the answer is still the same: eat more greens!  But what is the best way to prepare them?  As gently as possible, that's how.

The nutrients in kale, collards, and other dark leafy greens are sensitive to cooking.  If you throw a bunch of kale into boiling water and cook for 20 minutes, a lot of the vitamin C, b-vitamins, and other key nutrients have either leached out into the cooking water (which we then tend to throw away) or have been destroyed by the intense heat.  So the trick is to mess with it as little as possible.  Steaming dark greens for as little as 1-2 minutes is pleanty to take away the raw taste and fibrous texture and let the soft, sweetness of greens come out.  This also allows them to be more refreshing and light.  Throw some shredded kale into a pot of soup during the last 30 seconds of cooking, perfect! Or, if you'd really like to cool off with some kale, you can leave it raw.  By shredding the kale finely, you can break up the fibrous strands enough to make it more tender and pleasant.  Try out this refreshing summer salad to get an idea of how refreshing and satisfying greens can be!

Kale and Almond Pressed Salad

2 bunches of kale leaves, finely shredded
1 cup of chopped or slivered almonds, toasted
½ cup finely shredded red cabbage
¼ cup roughly chopped basil leaves
¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large salad bowl. Using your hands, massage the ingredients together until the kale begins to wilt.  Place a plate on top of the bowl (one that is small enough to fit inside) and place a heavy jar or weight on top of the plate. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before serving. Remove the plate, toss well, taste for seasoning and serve.

And as always, be well!