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Strengthening Winter Cooking

winter recipes
Image Courtsey of Bettina Zumdick

Winter is the time when the energy from nature withdraws into the earth. The freezing and thawing of winter’s weather in the North allows the nutrients from the surface – like the fallen leaves, etc. - to settle in the soil nourishing the new seeds for growing in the spring.

Similarly in our winter cooking, we need to let the nutrients settle into our deepest body structure: the bones, so that we can ready ourselves for another cycle of the coming seasons and begin to dream and envision our future. The blood that is created in healthy bones nourishes the whole body and this allow us to be in the ‘flow of life’.

Richer dishes, sea vegetable dishes, stews and longer cooking generally speaking are foods that help to nourish the deepest structures of ourselves.

Unprocessed plant-foods are ‘light-foods’ in the sense that plants use photosynthesis or light to grow. And while plant foods or ‘light-foods’ are not directly connecting us with the rays of the sun, they help us indirectly by connecting to our light bodies – sometimes also called our etheric bodies. Our light bodies are where our life force energy is sourced. So, eating plant foods helps us to maintain and sustain our light-bodies and thus provide our physical bodies with vital life force during the winter when sunlight is limited.

The rays and energy frequencies coming to our world from the cosmos at this time are drastically changing and shifting. If you wish to ride the crest of the wave, junk food is not likely going to work for you without re-percussions in the long term.

Food is something most of eat and handle every day. So, it is our responsibility to choose wisely and become aware of the quality and energy of food. This will make it much easier for us to nourish a bright vision of how we wish our life to be in conjunction with Mother Earth and each other.

Winter Strengthening Foods

Intuitively most people feel like consuming more cooked food rather than raw food in the winter in the northern climate. Especially combined cooking methods such as sautéing onions and then using the sautéed onions as a base for boiling a soup are helpful in warming the body and nourishing our kidneys – in Traditional Oriental Medicine the kidneys govern our energy and bones of the body.

Whole grains are excellent staple foods: they contain many essential minerals, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, vitamins and other super nutrients along with complex carbohydrates to provide the body with an even level of energy for a long time.

Short grain brown rice, sweet brown rice, millet, buckwheat, whole oats and wild rice are examples of wonderful grains to keep the body well-nourished in the winter.

Plant based protein from beans and bean products strengthen our bodies: beans like kidney-, pinto-, black-, cranberry beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas and lentils – just to name a few. If you wish to particularly strengthen the bones and kidneys: black soybeans or azuki beans are most excellent choices.

Eating daily leafy greens in the winter is important for vitamin C intake, as well as minerals and antioxidants. Leafy greens would ideally be steamed, blanched or sautéed briefly - less than 2 minutes to retain the vitamin C content. Winter leafy greens include all kale varieties, collard greens, leeks, broccoli, tat soi, watercress, parsley among others. 1 cup of kale has at least double the vitamin C content of an orange.

In addition, eating storable root and round vegetables, such as carrots, burdock, parsnips, daikon, rutabaga, turnips, onions, brussel sprouts, cabbage, winter squash, etc. make excellent side dishes that are providing the body with proper nourishment.

Here are some hearty and delicious winter recipes to strengthen and boost your immunity and overall health:

Leek-Daikon Nishime with Marinated Tempeh:

Leek-Daikon Nishime with marinated Tempeh.

About This Dish: Nishime style of cooking involves vegetables either whole or cut into large chunks and cooked slowly for a long time over low heat with a small amount of water.

This dish will help us to either maintain or re-build our source energy and the naturally sweet and salty combination of this dish helps to strengthen our Solar Plexus organs – in particular our Spleen, Pancreas, Stomach and Kidney/Adrenal Glands.

Ingredients for the Marinade:

  • 1 cup tempeh, cut into ½ inch cubes

  • 1 – 2 dried shiitake, soaked and minced

  • ½ cup onion, diced

  • 1 teaspoon ginger, fresh, minced

  • Water to cover all ingredients

  • 1 – 3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari or to taste

  • 1 leek, cut in half lengthwise, then into 3 inch long strips

  • 5 – 7 pieces of daikon, cut into ½ inch thick round slices

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons of kuzu or arrowroot powder, diluted in 2 – 3 tablespoons of cold water

The Recipe:

Place the daikon, pinch of salt, leek and tempeh/onion/mushroom mixture into sections in a heavy skillet or pot. Add a little of the marinating liquid from the tempeh and more water to just cover the bottom of the pot with liquid. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for approximately 20 – 30 minutes or until all vegetables are soft. Add water if needed to prevent burning.

In a separate saucepan bring the left-over marinating liquid to a boil and slowly add the diluted kuzu or arrowroot powder until the liquid thickens.

Pour the sauce over the nishime and serve warm.

Kale-Carrot-Chickpea Salad with Balsamic Vinegar Dressing and Lightly Roasted Pine Nuts 

A Kale-Carrot-Chickpea Salad.

Tired of plain kale? Try this delicious recipe with it’s many faceted flavor profile.


  • 4 large leaves of kale, washed, de-stemmed and torn or cut into bite-sized pieces

  • 1 carrot, washed and cut into matchsticks

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons lightly roasted pine nuts (or other nuts or seeds of your choice)

  • ½ cup cooked chickpeas (optional)

  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

  • 1 - 2 teaspoons olive oil

  • 1 - 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce or tamari or to taste

  • 1 small clove garlic, minced or 2 tablespoons of finely minced onion

The Recipe:

1: Blanche the carrot matchsticks for 1 - 2 minutes; then blanche the kale, lifting it out of the boiling water when the color turns vibrantly green.

2: Let any excess water drip off. Mix carrot and kale with pine nuts and cooked chickpeas in a bowl.

3: In a small saucepan heat the oils, vinegar, soy sauce and garlic or onion for 2 - 3 minutes over a low flame.

4: Whisk together and let cool for a few minutes before mixing with the kale and carrots.

Kinpira Soup
A bowl Kinpira Soup.

If you need strengthening and quick ‘pick-me-up’ energy that is not coming from coffee or drugs, this is it.

Burdock is a very sturdy, earthy root vegetable, that is known to detox the blood among many other benefits.

In combination with the other vegetables in this soup and the minced cutting style, it produces an extraordinary strengthening effect.


  • 3 tablespoons of each burdock root, carrot, lotus root (dried or fresh), onion and sweet winter squash (butternut, kabocha, buttercup, red kuri), finely minced

  • 1 dried shiitake mushroom, soaked and minced

  • 2 - 3 cups of water

  • 1 tablespoon unrefined sesame oil

  • Pinch of sea salt

  • 1 - 2 teaspoons chickpea miso (or other short term fermented miso)

  • 1 - 2 teaspoons 2-year-fermented barley miso 

  • Minced scallion or parsley for garnish

The Recipe:

  1. Mince burdock, carrot and lotus root. 

  2. Lightly brush the bottom of the soup pot with sesame oil and begin to heat on a medium flame. When oil is hot (but not burning), saute the burdock for 2 - 3 minutes. 

  3. Layer the shiitake, carrot and lotus root on top of burdock. 

  4. Cover all vegetables with water, gently bring to a boil with a pinch of salt, and lower the flame - simmer for 10 to 20 minutes. You may need to add water from time to time to prevent complete evaporation and burning of the vegetables. 

  5. Add minced onion and sweet winter squash next. Add enough water to cover all vegetables, and simmer until all the vegetables are tender – approximately 20 – 30 minutes. 

  6. Mix the two kinds of miso in a small bowl and dilute with some soup broth. Slowly add diluted miso to soup for a mild (not salty) flavor. 

  7. Simmer another 2 - 3 minutes. This is a hearty stew - full of strengthening vegetables. 

  8. Garnish with scallions or parsley.

Black and Tan Sesame Seed Brittle
black and tan seed brittle

Sesame seeds are a good source of healthy fats, protein, B vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds.

And goji berries are known for their many special antioxidants and other plant substances that protect the eyes, helps with immune support, encouraging healthy skin, improving depression, anxiety and better sleep and preventing liver damage.


  • ½ cup lightly roasted black sesame seeds

  • ½ cup lightly roasted tan sesame seeds

  • 6-8 tablespoons rice syrup or maple syrup or honey

  • ½ teaspoon ginger juice or vanilla extract or cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

  • 1 – 2 tablespoons finely sliced dried goji berries or dried blueberries or dried raspberries

The Recipe:

Boil the syrup for a few minutes with the salt. At the end add ginger juice or substitutions. Line a cookie sheet or a larger plate with parchment paper and lightly brush it with oil. Combine the lightly roasted black and tan seeds with the berries and add to the heated syrup. Mix well and spread in a thin layer on the parchment paper. As it cools it will harden if the syrup is heated long enough. Cut into desired shapes after cooling.

For more information, please check out my websites:

  • Health & Life Coaching

  • Online Culinary Medicine Cooking Classes

  • Question & Answer Sessions

  • Culinary Medicine Certificate Course 

  • Advanced Study Course 

  • And more


About the Author:

Bettina Zumdick is a teacher, counselor, humanitarian, and author who is integrating the modern knowledge of the West with the ancient wisdom from the East. With a background in Food Science, Dietetics and Nutrition from the Wilhelms University in Münster, Germany, she has been involved in sharing her knowledge about Food as Medicine – using foods to maintain or re-gain good health. With over 30 years of experience in the field of holistic health, wellness, and macrobiotics she has helped many people to regain and retain their health and vibrancy.


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