Eating seasonally- balance is key. The thermal energetic nature of foods are taken into consideration in Chinese Medicine. Balancing yin and yang in the diet is key to facilitate seasonal transitions and promote health. Eating cooked foods during cooler months is important to keep our digestive fire strong. Winter is the season of yin and during winter we also need to incorporate yin-building foods into our diet. Yin foods are very grounding and nourishing, giving us strength and energy during the colder months. Miso, a fermented soybean paste traditionally used in Japanese cooking, is a wonderful bridge to help the body attune to the growing yin during fall and into winter. Miso is salty in nature and helps to build the yin in the body by drawing the energy down and inwards- mirroring the seasonal shift from yang to yin.
Health Benefits of Miso- One of the fundamental health promoting aspects of miso is that it is a fermented food full of live cultures. Miso contains lactobacillus, which is also found in yogurt, but offers a great dairy-free option for getting more health promoting live cultures into your diet. Foods rich in live cultures promote the balance of healthy gut bacteria to keep the immune system strong and promote good digestion. Since live cultures can’t survive at high temperature, it is important to use unpasteurized miso and to never bring miso to a boil. Miso is also rich in amino acids with 13-20% protein composition, contains trace amounts of vitamin B12, and is alkaline in nature to help the body counter heavy acid-based foods to maintain a healthy internal pH.
Getting familiar with Miso- Miso has a hearty flavor which can be used when making soups, sauces, and dressings. While miso is traditionally made out of fermented soybeans there are now soybean alternative miso available. Miso ranges from white to yellow to red in color, with the lighter colored miso offering a more mild taste and the darker miso having a more full bodied and rich flavor. The lighter colored miso is best for milder climates or earlier in the fall, while the darker miso is a great option for colder climates and during the peak winter months. Miso can be found at health food stores and Asian food markets.
Miso soup- This Miso Chowder recipe differs from traditional Japanese miso soup, which has fewer ingredients and serves as side dish. I like this Miso Chowder recipe because it’s hearty enough to be a full meal and can be easily adapted to incorporate alternative ingredients. The spicy and yang nature of ginger adds a nice addition to the flavor and helps balance the yin nature of miso. Scallions are also yang in nature and are used often in Chinese Medicine to fight off a cold.
- 1 Tbs minced ginger
- 1 onion chopped
- 1 medium sweet potato cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 medium carrot cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 medium parsnip cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 small napa cabbage cut into thin slices
- 6-8 shiitake mushrooms- stems removed and cut into thin slices
- 1 can chickpeas- drained or 1 block firm tofu cut into cubes
- 2-3 Tbs miso to taste
- 3-5 Scallions cut into small rounds
- Heat 1 Tbs of olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, 5min. Add the ginger and let cook for 1 additional minute.
- Add one at a time- stirring before adding in the next ingredient- sweet potato, carrot and parsnip. Add water to cover the ingredients by an inch, then cover with lid and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to simmer for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Add the napa cabbage and shiitake mushrooms, return the soup to a boil, then decrease heat again to simmer for 5 minutes.
- When the vegetables are cooked add the tofu or chickpeas and let them warm.
- Take the soup off the heat and allow the soup to stop simmering. In a small bowl measure out the miso paste and slowly add some liquid from the soup to liquify the miso paste. Then add the miso to the soup and stir to incorporate. Adjust miso to taste.
- Serve garnished with scallions.