A Winter Wellness Kitchen
November 8, 2021
With temperatures dropping, and closets changing from t-shirts to turtlenecks, winter is near, and winter wellness is on our minds.
One of the best places to start upping your winter wellness game is in the kitchen. Chef, restaurateur, educator and author Divya Alter shared some tips on how to cook, and eat, in winter for optimal health. Divya’s cooking is based on the ancient principles of Shaka Vansiya (SV) Ayurveda.
Divya explains that the key to adjusting our diets to the seasons, and to any other changing conditions, is to follow the ‘Golden Rule of Balance’ – Like increases like. And we balance with the opposite. Practising Ayurvedic principles, she says, “teaches us to pay attention and adjust accordingly.”
The goal is to live in harmony and be aligned with nature. This applies to our own nature and the environment around us. According to Divya, “when nature changes with the seasons, you need to change your food just as you change your clothes, to live in harmony with your environment.” Specifically in winter, when we are faced with cold, windy and dry conditions, it’s best to balance with warm and moist foods. Our bodies are also working to counter these external conditions, by creating more digestive fire, driving us to eat heavier foods, and more of them. Divya advises that winter is not the time for light, cooling salads, or iced teas. “We need the heavy foods – that contain more protein and fat, to satisfy the heavy fire.” she explains, “Avoid ice, and drink liquids at room temperature, or warmed.”
Reading through the menu at her popular East Village, New York restaurant, or the seasonal recipes in the pages of her cookbook, she brings the ancient wisdom of Ayurvedic cooking to a modern lifestyle and palate. When it comes to cooking for winter, there are a few basic principles, and staples, that can help turn your kitchen into a cold weather, nutritional fortress for flavor and good health.
Grains are grounding and should be included in every meal. Rice, wheat, einkorn, spelt, oats, and amaranth are all balancing grains. Remember, we aren’t just eating foods because of their temperature, but those that are warming and moisturizing in our body. Barley is fine occasionally, but grains like buckwheat and millet are more appropriate for spring – as they are more drying.
Beans are a great source of protein, and also wonderful for making warming stews and soups. Larger beans create dryness in the body, so smaller beans are preferred for winter. Lentils, adzuki beans and smaller chickpeas are all good choices.
In winter, it’s good to add a bit more fat to your cooking, to moisturize your body on the inside. In Ayurveda, Ghee, also known as clarified butter, is a staple. There are two types of Ghee, common Ghee made from sweet butter and the cultured variety made of cultured cream. In the latter, the lactose is converted to lactic acid, making it helpful to balance the friendly bacteria in your gut, which is key to digestion and overall health, including healthy skin. According to Divya, this type of fat can also actually help you lose body fat. Olive oil and avocado are also good fats for winter. It’s best to avoid coconut oil in winter, as it is very cooling.
It seems the squirrels are onto something. Stocking up on nuts is a good idea for winter, as they deliver lots of (healthy) fat and protein. It’s best to soak raw nuts for easier digestion. Almonds are among the most healthy nuts for us, and easy to digest. Other good choices include walnuts, cashews, pecans and pine nuts. Seeds like pumpkin and sesame are also good to have on hand. While not technically a nut (they are considered a legume), it’s best to avoid peanuts as they can be too acidic.
Root vegetables are great for winter. These include squashes, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, radishes and pumpkins. It is advisable to limit white potatoes, but if you really want them, choose the red-skinned variety. Greens are very important for our health, and in the cold months, they should be cooked. Saute kale, spinach, chard, and mix your leafy greens with root vegetables to ground them. If you are sluggish, cabbage will clear your digestive system and help you feel lighter. Fermented foods, used sparingly on the side, are also great for when you feel the winter sluggishness, as they promote heat in the body.
For those whose winter favorites include hot apple pie and fresh baked cookies, your sweet tooth is a typical craving for the season. You can satisfy these cravings more healthily with rice and almonds, or fruit. Pomegranates are seasonal in winter and pack a lot of nutritional value in their ruby seeds. Persimmons are also good for winter, providing extra iodine. Apples, pears, grapes and citrus are also wonderful immune boosting, fulfilling, sweet options.
Flavorful and healing, spices are an important part of your winter kitchen. In the winter we can use all spices, except for red chili, which can be drying. Warming spices include ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Ginger increases circulation, is anti-viral and removes phlegm.
One spice that is especially wonderful, when used properly, is turmeric, described by Divya as the king of spices. This ancient spice has only recently gained popularity in modern western society. Turmeric’s many healing properties are renowned, and you can find it’s golden tint in all manner of health-foods and concoctions. Divya warns though, that there can be too much of a good thing, and using turmeric in certain forms, or in excess can actually be overly drying and cause imbalance. She explains that turmeric’s main action in the body is as a powerful detoxifier of the liver. When the liver and blood are clean, we feel markedly better. The best way to get the benefits in your kitchen is to cook with it.
You can also reap the rewards of this powerful, balancing, detoxifier from one of our most popular Kat Burki products, PH+ Enzyme Essence. This elixir, which includes turmeric, optimizes the skin’s ph level – balancing it for health, strength and protection. Interestingly, the ancient Sanskrit word for turmeric, is ‘haridra’, which translates to that which enhances your complexion.
As winter approaches, remember that staying well starts with your lifestyle choices. Nutrition is a big part of those wellness choices. Or as the saying goes, without a proper diet, medicine is of little use. And with a proper diet, medicine is of little need.
Please enjoy this recipe from Divya’s upcoming new cookbook. Enjoy a 15% discount for Nourish readers at her online shop. Use code NOURISH15
Makes: 1 serving
Prep: 2 minutes
Cook: 3 to 5 minutes
• 1 1⁄2 teaspoon ghee
• 1⁄4 teaspoon black mustard seeds or cumin seeds
• 1⁄4 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1/8 teaspoon ajwain seeds
• 1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
• 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
• A piece of green Thai chile, minced (optional)
• 2 tablespoons whole parsley leaves (preferable Italian parsley) • 2 tablespoons chopped beet leaves (optional)
• 1⁄4 teaspoon salt or to taste
• 10 oz boiling hot water
• 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice or to taste
1. In a small saucepan, heat the ghee over medium-low heat and add the mustard seeds. As soon as they turn grey and start to crackle, add the fennel, ajwain, and turmeric. Lower the heat, and toast the spices for about 5 seconds, until they release their aroma, then add the ginger and optional chil. Toast for a few more seconds, add the parsley, beet leaves, and salt. Toast for about 10 more seconds, then pour in the hot water.
2. Cover and let the broth simmer on low heat for 3 minutes.
3. Serve the broth in a bowl, and let it cool down to sipping temperature, then add the lime juice. Sip slowly and chew the spices and the greens well.