The change of seasons is always a time of potential vulnerability. To protect ourselves, we can benefit from a little Chinese medicine wisdom derived from the doctrine of the Five Phases. The four seasons are closely aligned with the Five Phases: Wood - Spring, Fire - Summer, Metal - Fall, Water - Winter. But there are two ways to relate the fifth Element, Earth, to the four seasons.
First, Earth can be associated with late summer and its unique climatic conditions. Second, Earth is positioned in the Center, while the other four Phases are related to the four cardinal directions. When these directional associations dominate, Earth is considered to be associated with the 18 days before and after the solstices and equinoxes. Using this latter reasoning, we know that the transition to fall is an important time to harmonize the center and support the organs associated with the Earth, the Spleen and Stomach, the keys organs of digestion in Chinese medicine.
With these considerations in mind, we have designed a recipe that uses healthy grains and seasonal root vegetables. We begin with amaranth, which was domesticated by the native peoples of the Americas. It isn't technically in the same botanical family as our standard grains but it can be cooked and eaten like one. Like the other staple crops used in Chinese cuisine, it supports the Spleen and harmonizes the Stomach.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, and almost all varieties of beans are considered "sweet" in flavor. This means that they also support the center and benefit digestion. To season this dish, we have used nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, all spices that "warm" the interior and have "pungent" qualities that can move qi and disperse pathogenic factors, such as "cold." The Spleen and Stomach are easily damaged by "cold" foods - foods that have cooling effects on the body - and cold temperatures. Hence these seasonings are the perfect complement to this dish and the cooler temperatures accompany the beginning of fall.
Earth Element Amaranth Stew Recipe
Serving size: About 2
Prep Time / Cook Time: 10 minutes / 30 minutes
1 ½ Cups Vegetable Stock or Water
½ Cup Amaranth
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
¼ Cup Carrot (small dice)
¼ Cup Onion (small dice)
¼ Cup Sweet Potato (small dice)
½ Cup Garbanzo Beans (cooked)
1 Cup Cabbage (chopped)
2-3 Dried Apricots (small dice)
4 Dashes Ground Cinnamon
4 Dashed Ground Nutmeg
3 Carrots (small-medium to yield ½ cup juice)
½ Inch Ginger
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Lightly toast amaranth in a sauce pan, add vegetable stock and simmer about 20 minutes (still a bit crunchy).
Juice carrots and ginger, set aside.
Saute the onion in the olive oil with a few dashes each nutmeg and cinnamon. Add the diced carrot and sweet potato and saute a couple minutes. Add the garbanzo beans, cabbage, cooked amaranth, diced dried apricots and carrot juice and simmer until the vegetables are cooked and the juice has absorbed and thickened a bit. Adjust seasoning.
The recipes on The Way are intended as an East meets West look at food and its relationship to health and nutrition. Food is powerful, and every bite can either greatly benefit your system or effectively work against it. In Chinese Medicine, each grain, vegetable, meat, fruit, and spice has unique properties that can be harnessed to help us achieve and maintain balance in our bodies. Our recipes seek to incorporate some of the age-old principles of Chinese medicine into the culinary practices more familiar to the West.