We are into the darkest part of the year and there has certainly been a corresponding shift in the weather. It is important at this time of year to conserve our energy, slow down a bit and wrap up warmly. We tend to do this naturally anyway because our bodies are working that bit harder at keeping warm. In this modern age, we can lose touch with listening to what our bodies’ food needs are and allow generalized public health advice and marketing cloud our natural judgment and food desires. For example, in the supermarket fruit and vegetable isle and we still see a big selection summer fruit and veg such as tomatoes, lettuce, cucumbers and even melons. Raw fruit and vegetables are very cooling on the digestive system, which can prevent our bodies working efficiently and in the longer term can weaken digestion, our defenses and leads to a variety of chronic health issues including perennial runny noses, IBS and fatigue. Moreover, these foods are out of season and will have traveled many miles across the globe losing at great deal of vitamins (not to mention the carbon foot print!). So salads and summer fruits are best avoided in the winter.
At this time of year we need warmth and extra nutrients to keep healthy and our immune systems working well. So what can we do help support our health in the winter? Eating warm cooked food is essential. The body’s enzymes involved in digestion need to be at a particular temperature to work efficiently. If we are eating cold foods, our bodies need warm the food up to the optimal temperature – which uses precious energy. In addition to this, the cell membranes of many fruit and vegetables are tougher in their raw form. Cooking helps to break down these membranes so we can get the nutrients out. Soups are perfect winter foods and you can cram loads of nutrients into a soup.
My favourite soup of the moment is Chicken, Leek and Kale soup made with bone broth. Bone broth is a very nutrient dense type of stock and is made by boiling bones as you would a homemade stock but for a really, really long time. This helps to break the bones down and release all the nutrients that are locked away and that can be difficult to get in our natural diets. It contains collagen, glucosamine, calcium and magnesium to name but a few. Collagen and glucosamine are vital for the good functioning of our soft tissues, muscles, tendons and ligaments. They can also help to improve the lining of our guts.
In terms of Chinese dietary therapy, bone broth is wonderful for our Jing which is the core of our being and our foundation. It supports the production of everything else include our blood and bones. The combination of Chicken, Kale and Leeks is warming, good for helping to build the blood and boosts our natural defenses. The leeks also help to keep good circulation of energy and the kale helps to balance bodily fluids. All in all, it is the perfect winter soup, so easy to make and is a great use of the left over roast chicken.
Chicken Bone Broth
Left-over roast chicken carcass
1 tbsp Apple Cider vinegar
2 stalks of celery (optional)
2 bay leaves (optional)
bunch of thyme (optional)
2 cloves of garlic (optional)
1 tsp sea salt
ground black pepper
Strip all the edible meat of the chicken carcass and keep in a tub in the fridge until the stock is ready to make into soup. Put all the rest of the bones, skin and cartilage into a large heavy based pot (with a lid) or a slow cooker. Cover with water and add the other ingredients. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a low heat and cook for a minimum of 3 hours but preferably about 18 hours to allow the bones to get really soft and the cartilage to dissolve. Check the water levels periodically and add more as necessary – it will boil dry on the stove if you don’t. After a few hours of cooking you should be able to easily break the larger bones either with your hands or a potato masher. Breaking the bones up helps them to break down more quickly.
Chicken, Leek and Kale Soup
1 large leek, washed and chopped
Coconut oil or butter
150g Kale washed, thick stalks removed and sliced
left over roast chicken
750ml of Chicken Bone Broth
A glug of white wine if you happen to have a bottle open or a squeeze of lemon at the end.
Salt and pepper to taste
Gently sauté the chopped leek in some melted coconut oil or butter for a few minutes add the chicken, bone broth and wine if using. Bring up to simmering and simmer for about 15 minutes. Add the kale for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Adjust the seasoning as necessary and add a squeeze of lemon if you’ve not used wine.
*Use organic where available and funds allow.
Read more about the benefits of these ingredients here:
Hartwig D & Hartwig M, (2012) It Starts with Food: Discover the WHOLE30 and Change your life in unexpected ways, Victory Belt Publishing Inc. Las Vagas, NA
Leggett D, (2005) Helping Ourselves, A Guide to Traditional Chinese Food Energetics, 2nd Edition, Meridian Press, Totnes, England.
Pitchford P, (2002) Health with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition, North Atlantic Books, Berkley, CA