As I sit here in my living room feeling cozy and warm, the world outside is covered in a blanket of snow. These slow days of winter always lead me to a place where I want to nourish myself with warm grounding food and the comfort of close friends and family. This is a time of year when warm food such as soups and stews, roasted vegetables and warm teas fill my kitchen with comfort and warmth. Reflecting on this lovely phenomenon that happens every winter as the days get shorter and colder, I’m filled with appreciation for the opportunities each season presents for growth, both physically and emotionally. Winter is the time to focus on building up our bodies with the foods and herbs we naturally crave this time of year. Warming aromatics such as rosemary, sage and ginger; teas with cinnamon, nutmeg and chaga; slow cooked vegetables for strengthening the body; and soups and stews filled with a base of herbs that not only comfort the soul but also build up our immunity and nourish us deeply. We naturally crave these kinds of foods in wintertime and so it feels good to focus on fortifying ourselves. In fact, most of us do this in the winter without even thinking. I love this process and have to say that the older I get the more I appreciate winter for its gift of letting me slow down and take care of myself and my family on this deeper level.
My favorite things to make in the winter is soup. My family always knows that they are going to get them at least a couple of times a week. I almost always try to start with a good homemade stock, usually from an organic and pastured chicken or bones from grass-fed beef. Homemade stock can turn any dish from bland to fabulous. It makes such a difference! But as I continue to grow as an herbalist, I realize that my broth can be not only delicious but also a wonderful base for herbal goodness to nourish my family. So how do I go about making stock?
For a chicken based stock I fill a stockpot with a whole chicken covered with filtered or spring water. I always add an onion cut up in chunks, a few ribs of celery and a couple of carrots. Now I add my herbal components – a couple of slices of astragalus because it is such a wonderful immune building herb; a handful of calendula is great for enhancing the lymphatic system; ginger (I especially like ginger if my soup is going to have an oriental flare to it and then I add lots of it), ginger is such an amazing antiviral among so many other things; garlic (of course), kombu – a seaweed that imparts tons of minerals; and salt and pepper. Some medicinal mushrooms like shitakes, reishi, turkey tail or even some portabellas, if you can’t find any others, will boost the immune building properties of the broth(the longer they simmer in the broth the better). This is the base. You certainly can change and add other medicinal herbs according to your own personal needs and taste. I let this simmer for a good part of the day. After the stock has simmered to my satisfaction, I take out the chicken and strain out all of the herbs. Now I have a base for whatever soup I want to make. I might make an Italian minestrone, or thai coconut soup or basic chicken with rice. I might use the broth to make a simple miso soup which supplies so many enzymes to build up the microbiome. Really, with a good broth the possibilities are endless.
I want to share one of my favorite winter recipes with you. I have friend from Thailand who is an excellent cook. She makes a great thai coconut soup or tom kha gai. She passed her recipe along to me and it is one of my family’s favorites. Here it is.
Tom Kha Gai or Thai Coconut Soup
1 whole chicken
2 stalks lemon grass, pounded out and cut in 4 inch long pieces to release the aromatics
4 thai chili peppers
6 slices galangal, sliced in ½ inch pieces
2-3 kafir lime leaves, torn in pieces (found in oriental stores)
May add mushrooms, 2 slices astragalus, a one inch knob of ginger, and a handful of calendula to add more medicinal properties
1 can coconut milk
2-3 t fish sauce
1 C shitake mushrooms
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
½ bell pepper, diced
Cover your whole chicken with water and add the lemon grass stalks, chili peppers, galangal, lime leaves and any additional medicinal herbs to the broth. Let simmer for 2-3 hours. After the stock has simmered take out the chicken and strain the herbs so the broth is clear. In a skillets saute the onion, carrots and red pepper in coconut oil until vegetables have softened. Add shitake mushrooms and saute a few more minutes. Add broth and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Take chicken off the bone and cut in pieces and add as much chicken as you wish to the broth. Add fish sauce to taste before serving and garnish with cilantro, limes and green onions.