An Acupuncturist's perfect Fall Balancing Recipe that will Warm and Nourish your Qi

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An Acupuncturist's perfect Fall Balancing Recipe that will Warm and Nourish your Qi

If you see me for acupuncture and we’ve done any TCM dietary counseling, or you’ve been to one of my seasonal eating talks, then you know that as the seasons change, the foods we should be eating to stay balanced and healthy change too.

A few weeks ago, I came across a recipe that looked fabulous and decided to try it — being a sucker for lovely photos of decadent looking foods, I was instantly drawn in by the cookbook’s rich caramelized illustration of the roasted chicken and tomatoes. 

But I was also excited to try it because with a few simple changes, I could incorporate many foods that were currently bountiful with the abundant early fall harvest, which meant that this would turn into an incredibly medicinal and balancing meal as well.

While summer is a time when cooler and moderate amounts of raw foods are more acceptable, during the colder months, most of us would do best to stay away from cold and raw foods and focus more on the slower cooked, richly warming foods like roasted dishes, soups, stews, and casseroles.

As the weather starts to turn and we feel that cool sharpness in the breeze that lets us know that fall is arriving, we are naturally drawn towards these more wholesome, hearty meals.

What makes this meal medicinal and energetically “balancing”?

This meal is chock full of foods that will help us preserve and store energy.

It is hard for us to conceptualize needing to “store energy” or “Qi” during the winter months, as most of us nowadays are constantly trying to figure out how to get off all this extra stored energy! 

But if you think of a food’s energy in terms of the vitality that foods bring you, (rather than just as calorie content) and the fact that Qi, or vitality, naturally wanes in the winter as the days are shorter and darker; it will start making sense that those foods that store energy well, such as the root vegetables and winter squashes–some of which can be stored all throughout winter and maintain their freshness into spring–are also the ones that we should be focusing on, because they will impart those same qualities of nourishing and storing our vitality deep inside.

And that’s just where we want it to remain so that we can stay strong and robust throughout the winter months.

So, foods that become available just as the weather starts to turn cold, such as all the winter squashes, and other foods that store well, become energetically balancing and medicinal for us during colder seasons.

For this reason, as I looked at this recipe and conjured up ways I could combine it with other recent recipes I’ve come across to make one big Fall Nourishing Qi Bomb, I knew this would be the perfect staple meal for many a cold fall and winter night.

Upon tasting the finished product, I was so instantly amazed by its absolute yumminess that I knew I’d have to pass along the discovery!

I hope you take advantage of not only the nourishing tastiness of this recipe, but also the opportunity to perhaps try some ingredients that you have yet to try, or, have been convinced that you don’t like because you never had them cooked well. 

After trying it as written here, if you enjoy it feel free to experiment with the veggies used! Substitute winter squash, kohlrabi, or carrots for the sweet potato, for example.  When tomatoes are no longer available locally, leave those out. If you happened to can some tomatoes from your garden, then lucky you…you can use those all winter long!

Ingredients:

  • Combination of about 6 chicken pieces with skin, preferably at least a couple darker meat pieces for the rich juices they will produce. You can choose all leg, or a combination of legs, breasts, drumsticks, etc. Rinse and dry off with a paper towel (important if you want the skins to brown!) and season all sides with salt and pepper
  • Tomatoes: get em while they last! There are still some available at the farmer’s market and this recipe is the perfect use for them at this time of year– Can combine about 4 large tomatoes or a 3/4 pint or so of cherry or small heirloom varieties
  • 1.5 large fennel bulb, or enough to produce about 2 cups chopped fennel
  • About 2.5 cups cubed sweet potato: I like the Hannah variety because they cook up the most similar to regular potatoes, having a more similar pale flesh and being less sweet and “pasty” than most sweet potatoes.
  • 1 entire head garlic (yum!), all skin removed and individual bulbs separated
  • Red Beets: however many you have but use a lot…these cook down very small when roasted as they should be, so an entire 2 bunches isn’t too many (save the greens! Use them later in scrambles, soups, or stir fries. Great source of nutrients that is often thrown away needlessly)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Preparation:

First, beets need about an hour to fully roast and become caramelized, giving them the oh so yummy qualities that make this recipe delicious. So take care of the beets first, and while they’re baking you can attend to the rest of the recipe. 

WORD OF CAUTION!: If you are not familiar with roasting root vegetables, you will make this common error of novice cooks—arranging too many veggies in the same roasting pan, which makes them STEAM in their own juices and become soft, rather than roast and therefore caramelize. I can not overstate how important this aspect is in making beets turn from something that many  don’t like, to a food that rarely makes it to leftover status.

Also, you MUST use a glass baking dish. Otherwise the veggies will roast unevenly and they will burn on the edges before the insides have a chance to completely cook and they release their sugars to caramelize.

Turn the oven on to about 400, and start chopping away at the beets, making them into about 3/4 in cubes. It is not necessary to peel off the skins! Plus, the skins have important nutrients so you won’t want to loose those in the peeling. Simply scrub well with a good veggie scrubber, cut off the hairy and knobby end, and chop away.

Then, cut about 2/3 of your fennel into slivers about 1/2 in wide. (leave the rest for the chicken dish).  Throw all this into one or two GLASS roasting dishes, and drizzle with enough olive oil to lightly coat all the veggies, and sprinkle on some salt and pepper.

Now, mix around to get everything good and coated, and arrange all the veggies in the pan, making sure not to crowd them as mentioned above. Toss into the oven and set a timer for about 20 minutes.

Next, start the chicken dish part.  Get a LARGE pan with high edges which can be transferred to the oven. As you can see by my image, I just used my largest cast iron pan.  First, put in the sweet potato chunks and spread out evenly. Chop the remainder of your fennel into cubes about the size of your potatoes.  Add those to the pan, along with all the garlic bulbs. Next, put in the tomato pieces and spread those around. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Finally, put in the chicken. Drizzle with a good portion of olive oil, making sure the chicken all gets a little bit. You want this all to be crowded in the pan, but for the chicken to be above everything so the skin can roast nicely. Place in oven next to the beet and fennel pan that is already baking.

When the timer goes off for the beets, take them out and turn them over, so both sides will caramelize. Put them back in the oven. Set the timer again for 20 minutes.

At that point, check the beet dish to make sure it’s not burning. The pieces should all be MUCH smaller, and very dark, but not turning black. They should be getting somewhat crispy. If they’re not, they need more time.

At some point in the cooking, you can take the chicken dish out and move things around a bit as they cook, to make sure the potatoes and fennel are cooking in the nice juices that the dish will be forming. Also, you can move the tomato pieces around so some are exposed and brown. 

The chicken dish should cook for about 40 minutes. If the tops aren’t browned but the meat is cooked inside, you can take everything else out of the oven, turn on the broiler to high, and just let them broil for about 5 minutes to brown the tops.

Ready to serve! Place a good serving of the beet and fennel dish on each person’s plate, and then cover with a piece of chicken, ladling helpings of the sweet potato, fennel, tomato, and garlic part over and around the whole thing.

Make sure to get some of the luscious juices onto every plate!

Now, slip into heaven. :-)