Diet for Beginning of Winter and the Legend of the Dumpling

The basic idea for Beginning of Winter diet is to focus on foods that are nourishing and supplementing agents. In general then we want to focus on foods that are warming and nourishing, usually meaning more animal products. We can incorporate foods that are slightly oilier, while still consuming in season fruits and vegetables while they last (we are in the very tail end of apple season here in New Jersey). Foods to incorporate more regularly include lamb (this is New Zealand lamb season), beef, chicken, sparrow, soybeans, sesame, wood ear mushrooms, peanuts, sweet potato, and persimmon (fresh or dried). Warming spices to use include ginger or cinnamon. And patients who are dry or have Yin insufficiency can take either cow or goat milk

However, China is a land of multiple culinary traditions and thus seasonal eating recommendations vary from place to place. In the north of China people eat dumplings (jiaozi 餃子), especially those made of lamb and scallion (we’ll discuss a dumpling legend below). In the west of China where it is particularly cold people commonly eat more beef and lamb often in hot pots. In the areas of the high plateaus and mountains the weather is very dry and as such more fruits and vegetables that are still in season are consumed. In the south of China, where it is still relatively more warm even though it is Winter, duck, chicken and various types of fish are traditionally eaten now (i.e., foods that are supplementing but not overly warming).

One simple traditional recipe for Beginning of Winter is Ginseng Congee. To make this simply put 1 cup of rice in with about 8-10 cups water (increase or decrease based on how watery you like your congee), and 9-12g of high quality sliced and dried ginseng root. Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 40 minutes, or until the rice starts to break up to make a porridge like soup.  Another idea that is easy to implement is adding Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries; 枸杞子) to a favorite chicken soup recipe. Doing so focuses the recipe on building the blood, and strengthening the Liver and Kidney.

Zhang Zhong Jing and the legend of dumplings…

Did you know that one of our most famous historical doctors, Zhang Zhong Jing, was not only a master of herbal medicine but also a culinary innovator? According to popular Chinese legend, Zhang was the inventor of the dumpling – jiao zi (餃子). Zhang held a mid-level government position in Changsha. The year he retired from political life he did so around the Beginning of Winter seasonal node. On his travels back to his hometown he came across many people who had suffered frostbite, and as a result had lost parts of their ears. This touched Zhang deeply as he felt sorrow for the suffering of those poor folk.

Once home he found his hometown suffering from an infectious epidemic. The people were starving from lack of food, and also suffering from frostbite. To remedy this he had his assistants set up a large pot on a public square to cook up a remedy. The formula he decided on was a combination of mutton with a number of very warm cold expelling herbs known as Qu Han Jiao Er Tang (去寒嬌耳湯) – Delicate Ears Expelling the Cold Decoction. After cooking the meat was chopped up and wrapped in small wheat flour skins in the shape of ears, and then cooked more and served to the people together with some of the soup. And thus the dumpling was born, as well as the tradition of eating them around the Beginning of Winter!