Irregular sleep is very common and while we may be more familiar with certain foods that we should avoid because they might keep us awake, we are less aware of foods that we should include that may help relax us and help transition us more efficiently to sleep.
This simple grilled vegetable and lentil salad is not only beneficial for sleep but is also a good example of the Chinese medicine inspired “middle burner diet” that we recommend (see this earlier blog article for more), as the ingredients are lightly grilled which helps begin breaking down the foods to ease the digestion process and warm your “middle burner”. The Chinese medicine inspired “middle burner” diet is the idea of keeping your stomach at a hundred degrees Fahrenheit so the more food you can eat that is around 100 degrees makes it easier for the body to digest and absorb its nutrients, the spleen and stomach expend less Qi energy for digestion and the net gain of the food's nutrients to your Qi is greater.
Frisee is a member of the chicory family, it has a wonderfully unusual texture and a deliciously bitter edge. Slightly grilling the frisee will lessen its bitterness. Frisee can be difficult to find at the markets which is unfortunate because it is one of my favorite greens, the texture and bitterness is great and grilling it lends a wonderful smokiness to it.
The other ingredient that might be tricky to find but is well worth the hunt is the maitake or hen of the woods mushroom. The texture and flavor of these mushrooms is amazing, especially if you're a meat eater and looking to change it up a bit. I simply throw these on the grill just like a steak as the texture is surprisingly similar, especially if you're able to find some larger foraged ones at a farmers market (I've seen these as large as a small shrub, the farm raised ones at the market you can expect to be the size of a softball with a more tame flavor).
A Chinese Medicine Perspective on These Ingredients
From an Eastern perspective, bitter flavored foods such as frisee and asparagus have descending and centering properties which help to “clear heat”. From a Western perspective, frisee contains calcium and magnesium which can calm your mind and induce the release of serotonin.
The body uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin and melatonin, two hormones that are essential for transitioning to sleep. Pumpkin seeds contain a healthy dose of tryptophan and also contain zinc, which assists the brain with converting tryptophan into serotonin.
Finally, mushrooms can increase oxygenation of your blood, boost your immune system and lower inflammation, all factors which can contribute to lack of sleep.
In general, low glycemic foods that are processed slowly by our body and help to keep us full longer tend to be healthier overall, here the frisee and lentils are excellent low “GI foods”.
Grilled Frisee Salad with Maitake, Asparagus and Lentils
- 1-3 bunches Frisee depending on size
- 1-2 Maitake mushrooms depending on size
- 1 Cup cooked Lentils, more or less to your taste
- ½ - 1 bunch asparagus or to taste
- Handful of roasted Pumpkin Seeds
- Sea salt and Fresh cracked black pepper
- ¼ cup Sherry Vinegar
- ¼ cup Virgin Olive Oil
- 1-2 Teaspoons Dijon Mustard
Before we can grill our vegetables, we have to cook our lentils: Give them a quick rinse and remove any unwanted pieces. Bring about 3 cups of vegetable stock or water to a boil for every 1 cup of lentils and simmer approximately 20 minutes, depending on your taste preference and the type of lentil used. Drain and set aside.
Keeping the stem attached, cut the frisee in half (top to bottom) and place it directly on a medium high grill until it slightly begins to wilt and char on the edges; turn over and do the same on the other side. Remove from the grill, cut off the stem, cut into smaller pieces and set aside.
A similar technique is used with the maitake mushroom, as you want to cut them in half, top to bottom, rub with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and grill on both sides until it has nice grill marks and is just cooked through. Roll the asparagus in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and grill lightly, being careful not to overcook.
Make a simple vinaigrette by whisking the dijon, sherry vinegar and olive oil together.
Toast the pumpkin seeds lightly to your taste.
Pull the maitake apart into smaller pieces and cut the asparagus into smaller pieces as well. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, including the vinaigrette and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
This salad is screaming out for some high-quality creamy blue cheese, (smoked blue cheese if you can find it) which contains calcium which is a natural relaxant that has a calming effect to the body's nervous system which would be very beneficial as well, so if you happen to have some around or perhaps another cheese that you like, feel free to add some.
Keep in mind that recipes are just guidelines, you're always free to add or remove ingredients as you like to suit your taste.
I love grilling all types of food and I hope this inspires you to begin grilling more than just the usual suspects and I hope you also notice a better nights sleep.