Thursday, June 28, 2012

Keeping our insides warm in winter

This is turning out to be quite a cold winter!

In agricultural-based societies, winter was the season of pulling back from the usual workload and spending more time conserving energy; very similar to what many of the plant world during this time. Crops grown over this time are slower growing, and somewhat heartier; and many of the heavy crops harvested in autumn are either preserved or kept in order to be consumed over the colder months. People would still wake with the dawn and bed down at dusk - these times being somewhat brought closer together due to the shorter daylight hours.

Life for us however doesn't necessarily allow us to follow these kinds of patterns. Our schedules are determined by the clock, not by the movement of the sun; and our workloads don't really differ that much from season to season. However, our bodies have an intelligence which mostly is still tuned to those natural cycles - insofar as we unconsciously yearn to sleep more and do less and stay cosy and warm on these chilly winter days.

In Chinese Medicine, wintertime is associated with the Water-phase of the 5-Agents schema. The energy of Water is about dormancy and conservation; the tendency of this time is solitude and isolation, and the emotional need is one of being protected. Immediately, many of us would think of sitting neat an open fire with hearty warm foods, wrapped in warm pyjamas and blankets and fluffy slippers, whilst the cold is kept away.

Here is another one of my family recipes which we thoroughly enjoy at this time of year. It is very rich, but it's also incredibly filling and warming. While the Beef can strengthen Qi, the richness of the meal nourishes and supplements Yin and Blood. The spices also contribute to warming the Yang, while the vinegar and rosemary assist in moving Qi.

Stifatho - Beef stew


½ kilo rump/topside steak, diced
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic
2 bay leafs
2-3 sprigs rosemary
400g tomatoes (passata, or canned tomato)
½ cup red wine
1 cup vinegar (malt or red wine)
10 small pickling onions or shallots
5-6 potatoes
Salt, pepper, cinnamon, few cloves
  • Pre-heat oven to 160 C.
  • Saute meat, add onion, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary until meat is sealed and brown. 
  • Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, cinnamon and cloves and simmer gently for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  • When the sauce has thickened and reduced, add the wine and continue simmering for another ½ hour. 
  • Add the onions and the vinegar and simmer for another ½ hour. 
  • Add your potatoes and continue to cook gently until the potatoes are soft.
  • This dish is to be very slow cooked so that all the flavours can fuse together and the meat just melts.

Serve this up with a side of steamed green vegetable - traditionally greens such as leafy amaranth, silverbeet, endives, spinach, or 'mountain greens' were lightly boiled and sprinkled with virgin olive oil and lemon juice. Some steamed jasmine/basmati rice can also round this off.

This is certainly a heavy dish, so probably not had as a late evening meal. This dish can take up to four hours, so start cooking it early to have as a late afternoon meal. 

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