Congee
December 18, 2019 | by Melissa Romeo PhD, EAMP

My training in Traditional Chinese Medicine taught me how we can adapt to the seasons to help maintain our physical and mental health. The autumn months are about slowing down the momentum of growth. Chinese Medicine associates each season with a different pair of yin/yang organs. The organs associated with autumn are the lungs and large intestine so many of the following suggestions focus on optimizing their function. Chinese Medicine also uses a five element framework that connects us to the natural world: wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Autumn’s element is metal.

The Autumn Kitchen

In my part one blog post, I shared tips on slowing down, getting organized, and the importance of letting go. In this post, I focus on autumn foods. In autumn we want to cook our food longer and at lower temperatures so it’s time to bring out the slow cookers. The slow cooking time helps consolidate energy in the food, and helps the body consolidate its energy and bring it inwards. If you suffer excessive dry conditions, use more stewing or poaching, which add in moisture. If you suffer excess dampness, use drier methods like baking or roasting.

This season, look for foods that nourish the metal element: cauliflower, white onions, leeks, scallions, fennel, white mushrooms, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, radishes, turnips, pears, and apples. Also include white grains like barley, white rice, white beans, white sesame seeds, oats, buckwheat, white tofu, lotus roots, and almonds.

Root vegetables are also beneficial to eat in the autumn. Root vegetables create strength and tonify our digestion. Sweet roots such as sweet potatoes benefit the spleen and stomach and the earth element while pungent roots like onions and turnips drain dampness and benefit the lungs and large intestine.

Add Pungent Foods, Spices and Herbs to Combat Autumn Dampness

When we look at the weather in autumn, it’s typically either cold and drying or wet and damp. The unpredictable autumn weather can take a toll on our bodies. Pungent flavored foods help to break up phlegm in your lungs and chest and sinus cavities and helps circulate energy not just through the chest and upper respiratory tract but through your whole body. In autumn we need to be conscious of the dry quality of autumn and also the damp quality. The pungent foods really help take care of dampness, dry it, and move it.

Pungent flavors range from hot and warm, like curry, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise, ginger, onions and radish to the cooling mints and lemon balms. Their fragrance helps stimulate the appetite, increase digestion, and create warmth and circulation, they help to break up mucus and phlegm. Warming spices can be added to mulled ciders, baked fruits, or a cup of tea. Aromatic herbs like sage, rosemary, and thyme circulate Qi, warm and stimulate the digestion and lend themselves to savory dishes. Mints help drain sinus congestion and a cup of ginger tea helps to strengthen the immune system. Garlic, oregano, cinnamon, and elderberries have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties and are great to incorporate into your meals this season.

Foods to Combat Autumn Dryness

The dry quality of autumn can dry our mucus membranes. This includes the lining inside of nose and causes some people to be more prone to bloody noses in the autumn. It also includes our entire digestive tract. If you have irritation from acid reflux or irritation in the digestive tract in general, it is useful to eat what is considered a mucilaginous foods. These help heal the whole lining of the digestive tract. Examples include buckwheat, seaweed, chia seeds, marshmallow root, and Chinese yams.

If you have dry skin, general dryness signs, or you start to develop a dry cough, eating sour foods will help build moisture in your body. Tofu and pears are especially good at moistening the lungs. The sour flavor helps brings the energy into the body, it produces yin, and helps our body build an energetic foundation. Examples of sour foods include sauerkraut, yogurt, sourdough bread, kombucha, and vinegar. Probiotic foods keep good bacteria in our gut as well as citrus, sour apples, leeks, adzuki beans. It is important to build this foundation so that when spring and summer roll around again we will have the energy to run and play and do all the fun things we like to do in those seasons.

Featured Autumn Recipe: Basic Congee/Jook

This is a classic congee recipe. You can add your favorite proteins, white autumnal vegetables/root vegetables or eat plain.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white rice, rinsed
  • 7 cups water (chicken or vegetable stock can also be used)
  • One-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
  • White parts of 2 scallions (save the greens for garnish)
  • Sesame oil or tamari (optional)

Directions

1. In a large pot add water or stock, white parts of scallions and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice clumping or sticking to the bottom.

2. Simmer the congee on low heat for 90 mins to 2 hours, or until the congee is thickened and creamy.

3. Serve the congee hot with sliced green parts of scallions as garnish. Add a dash of sesame oil and/or tamari to taste.

Notes

  • The congee will naturally thicken as it cools. Add more liquid (water or stock) as desired.
  • If using a slow cooker add the rice, water/stock, ginger and onions and cook on high for 8 hours.
  • If using an instantpot add the rice, water/stock, ginger and onions and cook on high pressure for 20 mins. Let the instantpot release pressure naturally. After 20 minutes release any remaining pressure manually.

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