Fall harvest: staying healthy and getting the most out of the bounty

Well, it has happened once again.  The summer has flown by and suddenly I find myself in the middle of raking leaves and quickly shortening days.  Between a remarkably mild summer largely devoid of New England's typical heat and humidity and a fall which can't seem to decide if it should be summer or winter, this year of the Horse has been quite the crazy ride.

The Fall for many of us comes with it two puzzles.  One is how to take advantage of the amazing variety of fresh and local produce.  The other is how to avoid catching one of the many colds that seems to crop up this time of year.  To that end, I thought I would send along a few tips and a recipe that is just great for this time of year.  Soups are a simple and wonderful way to enjoy many of the foods available this time of year while at the same time boosting our immune system or helping it to fight off colds that have managed to sneak past out defenses.  The recipe is a mix of many different recipes and can ingredients can be swapped out or added as your preferences and whim may dictate.

3 Fall tips to stay healthy:

  • Keep warm: Despite the wide range of temperatures we are experiencing here in New England, our bodies still need to prepare for the colder temperatures to come.  Keep light gloves handy to warm hands and dig out those socks that have been idling in your drawer since last spring.   Swap out your iced coffee, lattes and cold salads for hot beverages and warming soups & stews.  If you just love a great salad, have a hot drink along with it to help your body digest it more efficiently.  Think of it this way, if you want your furnace to keep your house warm, putting cold water in it will make it much harder for it to do its job.  The same is true of our digestive systems.
  • Protect the back of your neck: In Chinese medicine, colds are considered to be invasions of external "wind".  The back of our neck can be thought of as the back door of our house.   If we leave it exposed to the wind, that can invite the unwelcome guest to saunter right in.  Wearing a scarf can both be a fashion statement and can help to keep that back door protected and nasty colds out.
  • Stay flexible: With the typical stress that comes with the end of summer vacations and the resumption of school, work and everyday life, many of us may find that our necks and shoulders are tighter and those toes we used to be able to come close to touching feel farther away.   Doing some light stretching after getting out of a hot shower or after a workout will help keep you limber and can help avoid or alleviate the soreness, tension and discomfort of tight muscles.  A hot pack or heating pad used while sitting at your computer or chilling out at night can also help those muscles remember how to relax.

Fall harvest soup: 

Based on the Lentil Soup recipe in "Soups and Stews" by Cook's Illustrated.

A delicious way to enjoy the bounty of fall and great for boosting our immune systems, this soup is very versatile, so feel free to tweak it to make it your own special recipe.  Onions, garlic and kale are all warming in nature and can benefit the lungs by easing congestion and boosting the body's Lung "qi" which is an important part of our defense system.  Lentils and carrots are neutral in temperature, but benefit the energy of the Kidneys and Lungs respectively.

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed through a garlic press
  • 2 medium carrots diced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 14 oz can of diced tomatoes (you can also use fresh and just add additional liquid later)
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 cup lentils, washed & picked through
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 cups additional liquid (you can use a combination of white wine or simply add water)
  • 4-6 stems of Kale, stems removed and leaves cut or torn into small pieces
  • Salt & ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • Optional: meat of your choice (bacon, pancetta, sausage or chicken are all nice adds to this soup)
  1. In a large heavy pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and saut√© onions, garlic & carrots until soft (about 2-3 minutes).  If using a meat in your soup, cook this in the oil first, allowing it to brown slightly, then add in the onions, etc.
  2. Add tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme, cook an additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add lentils, salt & pepper, cover and cool on medium low heat for 8-10 minutes.  Lentils will become darker and vegetables soft.
  4. Uncover, increase heat to high and add broth and other liquids.  If using white wine, add that first and allow it to simmer for a minute before adding the rest.  Cook the soup partially covered for 30-35 minutes until lentils are soft, but still hold their shape.
  5. About 5 minutes before the soup looks to be done, stir in the kale and allow it to soften.  It will turn a vibrant green color and will cook down quite a bit, so do not be alarmed if it seems like a lot to be adding to the soup at first.
  6. Finish the soup with balsamic vinegar, adjust salt and pepper to taste and remove bay leaf.
  7. Serve hot with some crusty bread for dipping.
  8. Enjoy!