Recently at school, we’ve been learning about the importance of warming the CENTER. According to Chinese medical theory, the torso and abdomen are divided into three sections, which have no counterpart in Western medicine — the upper, middle, and lower burners (jiao). The Spleen & Stomach (which are NOT the same as Spleen & Stomach from a Western perspective) reside in the Middle Jiao, and are largely responsible for digestion (along with the Small & Large Intestines) — supplying us with our daily Qi — or vital energy –from our food. In a balanced system, the Spleen’s energy moves up and the Stomach’s down. The Stomach initially receives the food, starting the process of transformation, and the Spleen transports its essence to the other organs. The Stomach likes to be moist but tends toward hot, dryness. The Spleen likes to be dry but tends toward dampness. When things get out of balance, you can have reflux, nausea, diarrhea, bloating, gas … the list goes on — all the common digestive complaints that make life unpleasant.
The best thing you can do for your spleen and stomach (and, women, for your uterus as well) especially at this time of year, is keep it warm and balanced through good food choices. This tends to be the season when holiday excess looms on the horizon. Fortunately, we have an array of warming digestive spices that most of us already associate with comforting, festive autumn foods. Cinnamon is perhaps the biggest powerhouse to help keep your Spleen happy (and Western science has also shown us that cinnamon helps to balance blood sugar). Ginger is another one. Cloves too! Sounds like the makings of an apple pie, no? Then there are others, perhaps slightly less familiar here but staples in much of the world, such as cardamom and fennel (that would also be great in this recipe, should you care to experiment!
For me, all of these tastes brighten a fall or winter day and give me the feeling of being wrapped in a cosy quilt back home next to the wood stove. Interestingly, they are equally at home paired with vegetables, fruits, meats or grains … do you think that possibly means we’re supposed to be eating plenty of them? 🙂 Hopefully this fast & easy recipe will inspire you to treat your own center to some warmth.
CARROT-GINGER SOUP: (Makes a BIG pot to freeze for lunches)
- 1 cup red lentils (soaked in 2 cups water overnight if possible)
- 10 cups (approximately) broth of your choice (I use bone broth, but this soup is great for vegans made with veggie broth)
- 1.5 lbs. carrots (about 6-7 large ones)
- 1 medium sweet potato
- 1 large onion
- 8 (or lots more!) cloves garlic
- 1-2 tart apples such as Mackintosh or Granny Smith
- six inch chunk fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric (or a chunk of fresh root if you can find it)
- 2 tablespoons cumin
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- chili powder or diced fresh jalapeno to taste
- tamari or soy sauce to taste
- balsamic vinegar to taste
- olive oil, ghee or coconut oil
- 1 cup leftover cooked brown rice (I particularly love the taste of Basmati in this soup) … OR …
- 1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight in 2 cups water and drained (optional instead of rice for non-grain eaters)
- diced green onions or cilantro for garnish (optional)
Coarsely chop onion, garlic and ginger. (The great thing about this recipe is that everything will be pureed in the end so you don’t need to take much time chopping — it’s a great recipe for kids to practice their safe kitchen cutting skills on because the chunks can be big and messy!) In a heavy-bottomed pot, saute onion, garlic and ginger in a few tablespoons oil of your choice until soft and just a bit brown. Add the turmeric, cumin, chili and cinnamon, and toss for a minute to roast the spices. (*The amounts of spices I’ve listed here are all conservative — if you like spicy, add more!) Add the lentils and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook until lentils are soft — if you’ve pre-soaked them, this will be just about 10 minutes. In the meantime, roughly chop your carrots and sweet potato. Remove seeds from apples and cut them up too. No need to remove any of the peels on anything if they’re organic. If not, please peel. When lentils have basically dissolved, add the chopped veggies, and continue to simmer just until nice and tender when stabbed with a fork — about 15 min. Remove from heat, add brown rice or soaked almonds if using, and puree in pot with a hand-held blender, adding liquid as you need it. (Or transfer to a regular blender when cool, but this is more of a pain than going out and buying an inexpensive immersion version.)
Once you’ve got the consistency you like, add vinegar and tamari to taste (two tablespoons each is a good starting point) and any more dashes of spice you want. Sprinkle with nice green chopped cilantro (or blend it right into the soup as I like to do.) This soup goes well with lightly sauteed or steamed dark greens such as kale or collards — or broccoli. I also like to add some right into the pot for some texture and a one-bowl meal. This is also a terrific soup to freeze for lunches or anytime you need to heat up something quickly.