Autumn will soon officially be here, and if previous years are anything to go by, the harvest moons can be particularly breathtaking. Therefore, it’s time to delight in the flavours of autumn cooking and learn how to create delicious dishes using the fruits and vegetables of the season. Learn how to apply the Eastern wisdom about autumn in your own cooking for optimum health, nourishment, and vitality.
In nature, autumn reflects dryness: when the leaves lose their moisture, they shrivel up and ‘let go’ of the branches they have hung onto since springtime. As a result, it is the time to reflect on the past year and prepare to withdraw as the winter months close in.
The life-giving light of the spring and the summer begins to wane, and the vigorous energy of those seasons comes to an end.
There is a beautiful sadness to autumn.
If we look at the grander scale of things, individual old age corresponds to autumn in the larger cycle. Enjoying the wonderful fruits of our life and harvesting the memories should be a joyous time. Sadly, this is not the case. Our elders are losing their golden years to ill health, physically and cognitively.
If we look deeply enough, we see that body and mind are one. Mental conditions are rooted in physical health and our mentality conditions our physical health. Daily diet has a profound influence on both physical and mental health, as well as on the quality of life we experience in old age. I advise all of my students and clients to follow my dietary and lifestyle recommendations.
If they do, they will have better health as they age than they did in their younger years.
My mum, at ninety-four years young, is a dynamic, healthy, beloved soul and talks about the ‘old buddies’ in the nursing homes that she often visits. They have dementia, Alzheimer’s, and all sorts of non-communicable diseases. So much suffering and all so unnecessary. This is my birthday month and at sixty-three years of age, I am blessed to have my mum as my number one fan. She eats as I do, walks everywhere, and takes no medication.
As temperatures fall and the evenings draw in, our motivation to exercise is less apparent. However, it is important to stretch out the muscles of the body and get plenty of exercise. Breath is your life! We need to begin by warming the body, as in my ChiBall Yoga classes, I use Tai Chi to stimulate the circulation, various sequences to generate warmth during which time the muscles are stretched, and joints mobilized. One can follow yoga for strength, flexibility, and body conditioning and Feldenkrais movements as in keeping with nature. The closer to winter we come, the slower and gentler the class becomes. My autumn yoga sequence incorporates:
- Twists: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose, Noose Pose, Revolved Triangle Pose
- Side Stretches: Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose
- Backbends: Bow Pose, Bridge Pose, Camel Pose
- Warrior I Pose and Warrior II Pose
- Sun Salutations will also warm the body during the chill of autumn.
Autumn Dietary Tips
To understand the metal element (autumn) in TCM, you must learn about boosting your immune system, better breathing, super skin, letting go of grief, and eliminating toxins from your bowels. The corresponding organs for the Metal Element are the Lungs and Large Intestine. The lungs expel carbon dioxide, and the large intestine eliminates solid residue.
If this waste is not eliminated frequently, it can have an effect on the skin. The skin is known in TCM as ‘the third lung;’ it is part of the Metal Element and can reflect sluggish bowels (toxins that remain in the colon for too long will be discharged through the skin). The bowel is one of the most important routes of elimination for self-cleansing and works together with the kidneys, bladder, lungs, and skin to help eliminate waste efficiently from the body.
Finding out the best autumn foods to support and strengthen the body sets you up for the colder months of winter and will serve you well. Seasonal cooking is the best way to safeguard your ‘chi’ (energy). My recipes and teas all use vegetables that are in abundance during this season and support the lungs and large intestine. Be sure to incorporate these foods into your autumn meals.
Happy Gut – Happy You
This is also a perfect time to start making some wonderful probiotics to keep you in tip-top condition as the cooler months emerge. Fermented vegetables are the perfect food to replenish the good bacteria in your gut and support your immune system. We are made up of 90 percent bacteria. Nine out of every ten cells in our bodies are not human but belong to these microbial species (most of them are residents of our gut).
Perhaps their most important function is to maintain the health of the gut wall, or epithelium.
In the course of a lifetime, sixty tons of food passes through the gastrointestinal tract, yikes! Taken as a whole, the organisms in the gut constitute the largest and one of the human body’s most important organs of defence.
You can choose from an array of beautifully coloured vegetables to ferment, but cabbage, carrots, and cucumber are the ones I use most. The salt and water solution, known as brine, is used to protect against the growth of microorganisms that would lead to rotting and promote the growth of the good bacteria ‘lactobacilli.’ It’s important to use the correct ratio of salt to water, otherwise the fermentation process won’t happen.
Lacto-fermented vegetables are cultured vegetables.
You’ve may already use sauerkraut, kimchi, and sour dill pickles; these are all forms of Lacto-fermentation. Making your own Lacto-fermented vegetables is so easy that once you start, you’ll be hooked! Sour, salty, and crunchy — these pickles are delicious added to beans, grain dishes, and salads. We have a serving or two every day from the many different pickles I make.
Traditionally, Lacto-fermentation was used to preserve the harvest and store vegetables for the winter. If you have a garden full of cabbage, cauliflower, beetroots, carrots, and green beans, but you don’t know how to store them all, consider making a few batches of Lacto-fermented vegetables. These can be stored in your refrigerator for months.
Be kind to yourself.
If you are dealing with multiple allergies, chances are your gut is out of balance and is in need of a daily dose of beneficial microorganisms. These crispy, sour, salty vegetables are highly addicting and an easy, economical way to maintain a healthy gut.
Another important consideration to share with you is that one of the features of healthy societies is that they relax at meals and don’t overeat. In fact, in Okinawa, it is considered very bad manners to eat too much; eating modest amounts of food is considered a sign of a cultured person. In modern culture, food is often eaten on the run. We get used to eating quickly to fit lunch or breakfast into a busy schedule, and as a result, we don’t chew properly. What a mistake. When we stop moving, sit, and relax, we digest food more efficiently and convert blood sugars for long-term storage. These functions of the parasympathetic nervous system do not function when the mind is anxious.
- 4 cups finely grated green cabbage
- 4 cups finely grated carrots
- 4 cups filtered water
- 2 tbsp sea salt
Pack the vegetables into a mason jar as tightly as possible. Pour in the brine until all the vegetables are submerged. Cover with a cabbage leaf to keep the vegetables underwater. Close the lid and store in a cool dark place for up to five days then store in the refrigerator.
Sesame Adzuki Bean Burger
The adzuki bean, or red mung bean, is an annual vine widely cultivated throughout East Asia for its small bean. Adzuki beans are rich in nutrients, such as fibre, protein, and manganese. They are linked to several health benefits, including weight loss and improved digestion.
- 1 onion, finely diced
- 3 stalks celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, small dice
- 3 cups stemmed, chopped kale, small dice
- 3 cups cooked adzuki beans, divided
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 2 tbsp water, or as needed
- ½ cup or more sesame seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 190C/375°. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Heat a splash or two of water in a large pan over medium heat and add the onion, celery, garlic, and ginger. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is softened and translucent. Stir in the bell pepper and kale and cook, covered, until kale has wilted, another 5 minutes or so. Remove from the heat. Meanwhile, puree 2 cups of the adzuki beans, tahini, and water in a food processor. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the vegetable mixture, and remaining cup of whole adzuki beans. Sprinkle sesame seeds on a large plate, if using.
With moistened hands, scoop out one heaped tablespoon of the mixture and form into a ball. Use more mixture for larger burgers. Flatten slightly and press either side into the sesame seeds and transfer to the baking tray. Bake the burgers for 20 minutes, turning once halfway through or until a slight crust has formed. Serve with baked pumpkin slices on top, drizzle with balsamic glaze, and enjoy a hefty serving of steamed greens and pickles.
Autumn Roasted Vegetables
What vegetables should you roast? Root vegetables like potatoes, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and carrots are old standbys when it comes to roasting, of course, but there are all sorts of wonderful concoctions you can come up with. From cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts to courgettes, onions, and bell peppers. I often make a batch of oven-roasted root vegetables and store leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
- 2 parsnips, peeled and sliced thick
- 2 large red beetroots, scrubbed, peeled, and quartered
- 2 large carrots, cut into thick spears
- 1 large sweet potato, cut into thick spears
- 2 large red onions, peeled and sliced thick
- 1 courgette, cut into irregular chunks
- 6 cloves of garlic, in skins (remove after roasting)
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tbsp mixed herbs
Preheat the oven to 180°C/375°F, gas 5. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables in the balsamic vinegar. Add some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle with a spoonful of your favourite herbs: oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, parsley, or basil, and mix well. Transfer the vegetables to a parchment-lined roasting tin. Roast the vegetables for about one hour, stirring them at least twice through the cooking time. If the vegetables being to dry out, spritz with some water. If you prefer your vegetables less cooked, shorten the roasting time. The balsamic vinegar and sea salt make for fabulous roasting, complementing the caramelized sweetness with a perfect touch of salty tart.
Marlene’s Home Remedies for Autumn
Pungent — the taste associated with the autumn season. The pungent taste gives off a hot, dispersing energy and is said to be beneficial to the lungs and colon. However, excess of these foods can irritate the intestines. Pungent foods have been known to stimulate blood circulation and, according to TCM folk medicine, have a natural ability to help break down accumulation in the body. In most culinary cuisines, they are commonly combined with foods high in fat. These foods include spring onions, daikon radish (or dried daikon), ginger, peppers, garlic, onions, wasabi (dry mustard), and horseradish.
Herbs and Spices
Thyme is the key spice or culinary herb that I have chosen for the autumn season. It is often used in teas to help ease bronchitis and other respiratory complaints. The tea can also be used as a gargle to soothe sore throats and coughs. Lotus root is also an excellent tea for chest and throat ailments. Echinacea has active compounds that can help to reinforce the body’s own defence mechanism and is well known for its ability to accelerate recovery from infections, colds, and flu.
We develop conscious awareness of the underlying, over-riding connection between body and mind. We cultivate volitional command over that energy as a pivotal bridge linking the mental faculties of spirit with the physical functions of the body. Energy is life’s most precious commodity. Sometimes, all we need to do is just breathe.