Not all of us are created equal. Some of us run hot, while some of us run cold and dry. When the winter season is upon us, nature levels the playing field by providing us with freezing winds, frosty mornings, and steady days of rain, snow, and ice. The call for warmth in our bellies at this time of year tends to be universal, and nothing warms the body like a hot bowl of soup.
In Ayurvedic medicine, a 5,000-year old science rooted in the elements of ether, air, fire, water, and earth, and originating from ancient India, winter represents the elements of earth and water. It’s a time when hibernation comes easy (bears do it) and it’s natural to eat a little more than usual, to put on a few extra pounds and to insulate the self against the rough and tumble go-go-go of the outside world. In Ayurveda, this is referred to as the kapha time of year, and lasts a little less than three months, from late December to early March (only one month to go!).
Kapha is one of the three doshas, along with vata and pitta, in Ayurvedic medicine. The doshas are a simplified expression of the five elements. Vata embodies air and ether, pitta represents fire and water, and kapha encompasses the elements of water and earth. The doshas are essentially forces of nature that accumulate, and go out of balance easily when concentrated, agitated or exposed, both in the natural world and in the body. During the winter months, when kapha dominates, there is a natural accumulation of water and earth —and the associated qualities that manifest within us as feeling heavy, slow, dense, full, sluggish, and cool.
Ayurveda’s main premise is to bring balance to the body, mind, and spirit. Since winter is a time of year when stagnancy tends to build rapidly in the body, it’s important to counter this tendency with activities and practices that warm your core and keep your blood pumping. This is particularly important if you are someone who already tends toward feeling cold, heavy, or slow. To combat common winter-induced sluggishness, Ayurveda recommends warming the body by moving it regularly (i.e. engaging in a vigorous yoga practice or taking a brisk walk in the snow) and by fueling digestive fire with foods like well-spiced soups and stews.
Every dosha will thrive on a slightly different spice palate. Vata, which tends to be cold and dry, needs warming spices like cardamom, basil and ginger to fill their soup bowls. Pitta’s natural heat tends to sustain throughout the year, so this dosha does best with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric, peppermint, and coriander. Because of its slow and sluggish nature, kapha requires the most stimulating spices, like cayenne, black pepper and rosemary.
Kapha also craves foods that are warming, energizing, nourishing, hydrating, and that support strong circulation and the elimination of toxins. This dosha rules the “water-works” of the body—the kidneys, bladder and the lymphatic (immune) system—so it’s especially important to eat foods throughout the winter season that nourish these organs and systems. Teas, hot broths and stews will do the trick. Chamomile tea, for example, is known for its especially nurturing effect on kidneys. Simple herbal broths—like miso or vegetable—can easily be infused with immune-boosting additions like garlic and ginger. And since dairy can lend to an increase of mucous production which is already at a high in winter, dairy-based soups can be easily substituted with non-dairy base alternatives like coconut milk. All kinds of stews, provided they are warm and filled with as many fresh vegetables as you can get your hands on, warm the belly—and perhaps more importantly, the spirit!
Here is one of my favorite kapha-balancing winter recipes:
Carrot-Squash-Sweet Potato Soup
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
8 cups purified water
1 pound organic carrots
1 pound butternut squash, or any winter squash variety
1 large sweet potato
2 teaspoons high-quality, mineral-rich salt such as Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt
3 dried bay leaves
1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
½ bunch green onions, roughly chopped (use the whole stalk)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch fresh ginger root, washed and minced
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried parsley, basil or tarragon
1 tablespoon miso paste (any variety)
Dash of apple cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice
In a large stock pot, bring the water to a boil. Chop the carrots, squash and sweet potato into 2-inch chunks. Add them to the water along with the salt and bay leaves. Cover. If you use butternut squash, it’s fine to leave the skin on. For other winter squashes, you may want to peel them first, before adding them to the boiling water.
Allow it to cook over medium-high heat for about 20 minutes or until you can easily pierce the vegetables with a fork.
Meanwhile, in a separate medium-sized saucepan, sauté the green onions, garlic and ginger in ghee or coconut oil over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add this mixture to the soup. Remove the soup from heat, remove the bay leaves and then add all of the remaining ingredients.
Puree the soup in a food processor or high powered blender and serve hot.
Gluten-Free Soup “Cookies”
Preparation time: 30 minutes
This recipe is my take on a savory, gluten-free scone that just happens to taste amazing with soups.
1 ½ cups brown rice flour
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
1 cup tapioca flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. dried sage or 1/4 bunch fresh sage, chopped fine
½ tsp. brown mustard seeds
1 small red onion
2/3 cup maple syrup
½ cup, plus 1 tsp. ghee at room temperature
½ cup almond milk
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract or other flavor extract
½ tsp. celtic sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients and set aside.
In a small skillet, heat 1 tsp. ghee over low-medium heat. Add chopped red onion, sage and brown mustard seeds. Sautee for 2-4 minutes, until onion is slightly soft and brown mustard seeds start to pop.
Whisk the onion mixture with other wet ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in stages. Blend thoroughly.
The batter should be dense. If it is too dense, add teaspoons of almond milk until all the flour is mixed in and the batter is still rather stiff. Form Soup Cookies into 2-3 inch mounds, shaping them with wet hands.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 – 20 minutes, until Cookies form a thin crust and a toothpick comes out clean from its center. Cool on a rack before serving.
Talya Lutzker is a Certified Ayurvedic Practitioner, nutritionist, chef, and yoga teacher, and the founder of Talya’s Kitchen. Her latest cookbook is The Ayurvedic Vegan Kitchen. Learn more at TalyasKitchen.com.