Winter Nutrition with Nishanga Bliss
Author and AIMC Berkeley instructor Nishanga Bliss dishes about cooking and eating for the seasons, and shares some of her go-to winter recipes.
Your book, Real Food All Year, focuses on eating for the seasons. What tips do you have for eating right now?
Nishanga Bliss: Overall, we’re thinking of moving towards cooler weather foods. We want to be moving towards cold-weather cooking styles in general, like stews, soups, roasts, baking more, and reducing the amount of raw food. Also, preserving food right now is fun thing to be doing in winter. But occasionally, we get these funny hot days throughout our state, so we want to be flexible, and think, “Okay if it’s hot, I can still think about eating in more of a warm weather way today.”
What types of spices do you recommend in cooler weather?
Bliss: Pretty much all culinary spices are defined as pungent. What we want to do is avoid eating tons of hot chiles because we don’t want to promote a lot of sweating unless we’re trying to kick out a cold. In terms of cooking, I’ve become more and more aware of the healing power of spices. Spices are really where herbal medicine and food come together. In general, I’ve been trying to increase my use of spice. We can use spicy food: some amount of chiles, also the vegetable spices like garlic and onion—everything in that family, shallots and leeks. Then, we naturally gravitate towards some of the warming, pumpkin pie type of spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg. My favorite spice combo to use is a kind of Moroccan combo of cinnamon, paprika, and cumin. Putting that combo with some lamb, making a tray of roasted veggies and seasoning it with those three spices—or even as a rub—is a really nice flavor combo. The paprika has a lot of the health benefits of the chile family, but it doesn’t have quite as much of a hot flavor. You don’t make yourself sweat if you don’t need to, but you still get a lot of qi circulation effects from it.
You mentioned pumpkin pie, it’s kind of like it already has the herbs for the season built into it.
Bliss: That’s right. A persimmon is a great example of that idea. It already seems like it has cinnamon in it. Leafy green herbs are also still in abundance right now. I’m using cilantro or parsley in everything. They’re a great way to add extra nutrition, color, and flavor. Most culinary traditions use one or the other of those in all their food.
How do you incorporate winter squash into your diet?
Bliss: Looking at my kitchen counter, it’s got six different kinds of squash on it that I get in my CSA box. My favorite for winter squash is to peel it and cube it and roast it; maybe with the spice mix I mentioned, or just some rosemary roasted with olive oil and salt. I’ll serve it as a side for dinner, and then I’ll have it as part of a hash at breakfast. I’ll have it with a couple fried eggs on top, or even chop up some sausage or bacon and sauté it quickly with some of the squash chunks. Maybe throw an egg on top, have some pesto on the side, have a little sour cream on the side, it’s a great breakfast.
It’s also cold and flu season, are there any foods that can help with that?
Bliss: Again, your onions and garlic. What I’ve been teaching in my classes is kimchi all the time. Eating kimchi is a great way to prevent cold and flu because it has so many antiviral things in it. There’s been some research showing that for people who were eating kimchi when the Asian flu epidemics were happening, kimchi was preventative for getting the flu. There’s some other really interesting research on smokers in LA. People who live in LA who smoke have a higher chance of getting lung cancer, a little higher than average. But if they eat chiles regularly, they’re protected and they show a reduced rate of cancer. That’s the idea of circulating the Lung qi. Plus, chiles are high in vitamin A and C. But I think it’s the circulatory effect that’s really important, it actually stimulates the body to detoxify the Lung. That same principle can help us combat colds and flus.
What is your favorite, easy winter food?
Bliss: Bone broth. It’s probably one of the most nourishing things you can do because it strengthens the Kidneys. Also, when you make bone broth, then you have an ingredient in all your other cooking that will get you into the kitchen making soups, and stews, and sauces. If you’re not already in the habit of making bone broth, doing it as a winter practice is a really nice thing to do. You can even put some Chinese herbs in there.
Which herbs do you recommend?
Bliss: One of my favorites is astragalus. Say you’re making a chicken broth; say you made a roasted chicken and you saved the carcass. You simmer that into a stock and you get your herbalist to prescribe some raw astragalus, Huang Qi 黃耆. Cook that in there with the chicken and then it will be more yin strengthening. And it has a mildly pleasant flavor, so you wouldn’t really know the herbs are in there. People are afraid of Chinese herbs tasting bad; a lot of them do. But some of the tonic herbs don’t taste bad. They can easily be incorporated into the diet.
Nishanga’s Poultry Stock
Stock making can be as simple as simmering bones in water with a splash of vinegar. For those who prefer more precision, the following yields a very nourishing, gelatinous stock. This recipe calls for a single duck or chicken carcass, but feel free to save bones in your freezer until you have enough for a larger batch. Meat markets and specialty markets often carry chicken feet by the pound; they are worth seeking out as they will add a great deal of body and flavor to the stock.
Makes 8 to 10 cups, depending on the size of your pot
1 roasted chicken carcass, meat removed, or the bones from preparing a whole duck, as above
Giblets from the bird, if you have them, except the liver (see Note)
8 ounces chicken feet (optional)
1 oz. Astralagus Root /Huang Qi (optional, available at Chinese herb stores and pharmacies)
2 tablespoons apple cider or other mild vinegar
Place the carcass, giblets, and chicken feet in a slow cooker or large soup pot and cover with filtered water. Add the vinegar and let stand for at least 30 minutes. If you are using a slow cooker, turn it to high and allow the stock to come to a simmer. Then turn the heat down to low and let cook 8 to 24 hours. If you are using the stove top, bring the stock to a boil, cover, turn the heat down very low, and simmer 8 to 24 hours. Turn off the heat and allow the stock to cool. Strain the stock and discard or compost the solids. Stock will keep for several days in the fridge and several months if frozen. Freezing some of your stock in ice cube trays, then storing these in a bag (be sure to label it!) in the freezer will give you a handy source of nourishing flavor to add to many dishes.
Note: Poultry liver will add a strong taste to the stock. If you have the liver, sauté it up with onions, chop it finely, and enjoy it on buttered toast for a cook’s vitamin-rich treat.
Nishanga’s Winter Root Salad
As winter begins to yield to spring, we start tiring of yet another tray of roasted root vegetables, delicious as they may be. Take a turn on winter vegetables and grate them into a salad instead, a refreshing bite that hints at the new growth soon to burst forth. If your digestion is strong or your condition hot, enjoy it raw in abundance, but if your digestive fire is a bit weak, try smaller quanitities, and let it ferment lightly before eating as described below. Try a vegetable you’ve never enjoyed before, like my new favorite kohlrabi (you can use the greens, sliced thinly, in this recipe in place of the cabbage) or sweet parsnips or tangled, delicate celery root.
For the salad:
1 cup cabbage, sliced thinly or shredded
1 rutabaga, turnip, celery root, or kohlrabi bulb, grated
3 carrots or parsnips, grated
1 tart apple such as Pink Lady or Granny Smith, grated
For the dressing:
1 tablespoon white or chickpea miso
1 teaspoon prepared mustard such as Dijon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 orange or lemon, juiced
2 tablespoon olive or walnut oil or a combination
1 tablespoon fresh dill or fennel fronds, coarsely chopped
Mix the first four ingredients in a large bowl. Place the dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree, or mix thoroughly by hand with a fork. Pour over salad and serve immediately, or leave out at room temperature up to 2 days to lightly ferment for increased digestability.
Special thanks to Sean Trace for facilitating this interview.
Nishanga has been studying and practicing holistic health care for over twenty years, and practicing and teaching Oriental Medicine since 1999. She graduated with highest honors in English and Peace and Conflict Studies at UC Berkeley, and went on to receive her Master’s in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of TCM in 1999. She is currently at work on her doctorate in Nutrition at Hawthorn University. Nishanga specializes in Internal Medicine with an emphasis on nutrition counseling, women’s health, mental health and HIV. She supervises interns in the student clinic and teaches Oriental Medicine Theory, Diagnosis and Counseling & Psychology classes at AIMC Berkeley. She is the author of the book Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal Whole Foods for Optimal Health and All-Day Energy. Visit her blog at http://gastronicity.blogspot.com/.
Nishanga teaches an ongoing series of seasonal courses in integrative nutrition that are available to the public. The classes draw on the teachings of both Chinese medicine and holistic nutrition, educating practitioners on how to best counsel their patients to cook and eat to support vibrant health throughout the year. The series begins with a focus on food and cooking for supporting the water and wood elements and their associated organs. Click here for details and registration.