What’s for dinner? Now that January is here, it’s getting a little less exciting figuring out what to eat. We are firmly sandwiched between the festive excesses of December and the first exciting green things to emerge in March. Additionally, many of us (myself included) are starting to long for a bit of “spring cleaning” after all the heavy foods of the holiday season. However, despite our crazy see-saw we call Colorado weather, when it comes down to it, January is just a cold month. With this in mind, true detoxification must be put off until our bodies are warmed enough from the outside world to feel good with the cooling action of cleansing foods (aka, you gotta wait a couple of months).
So, we have to find a way to feed ourselves in a way that is consistent with the season but respects our need for simpler, more wholesome foods. If you take a look at my article from last year about the basic principles of supporting the body through food for the winter, there are three primary goals: Keep blood sugar balanced, support the endocrine system, and eat foods with bountiful stored energy. Keeping this in mind, we can easily cut back on rich, refined foods while honoring the body’s need for nutrient density. Here’s a few tips for jazzing things up a bit in the kitchen during the January lull:
Try Something New
This, of course, is a handy state of mind no matter what time of the year you’re cooking. However, there are many ways to add variety by experimenting with different members of familiar families of foods. For example, try out kabocha squash instead of butternut, mung beans instead of black beans, or a new kind of leafy green instead of spinach again. Last week, my local grocery had a giant pile of a leafy green they called chicory. Despite the checkers’ inability to even locate a PLU code for it, I brought it home and found some amazing italian recipes (thanks to Mario Batali) for this nutty, escarole-like green. It can also be exciting to discover a new way of preparing basic foods by exploring other culinary traditions.
Make a Kitchen Garden
There’s not many fresh fruits and veggies coming out the garden these days, but you can bring a little excitement to the table by growing something small in your kitchen window. Herbs will do well in a pot in a window with good light, or you can use something like an aerogarden to grow vigorous greens, herbs, and even tomatoes. My father gave me a grow-your-own oyster mushroom kit this year for my birthday, the picture above shows the unexpected and delicious meal that came of it.
Use Your Kitchen Tools
For the time-limited, cooking winter foods can be challenging because often they require extensive cooking times. A good pressure cooker can cook beets in 10-12 minutes, a pot of dry beans in 20 minutes, or chicken soup from scratch in 25 minutes. On the opposite end, a crock pot is a super handy way to spend just a few minutes in the morning and come home to a wonderful, rich and warming dinner. A rice cooker is also a handy way to produce a side dish with minimal thought or effort.
Keep it Simple
Remember the basics: vegetable, protein, starch. In the winter it is important to focus on blood sugar supporting foods, so for starches stick to sweet potatoes, winter squash, beans, and whole grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and brown rice. Choose veggies that are in season and look good in the store; deep green veggies such as broccoli, sea vegetables, or leafy greens are going to be high in minerals that support the endocrine system. Make sure protein sources are high quality and responsibly raised. Generally, if you can get something from each category on the table you will be doing well to nourish yourself and your family without a lot of fuss.