Diet and Nutrition

Warming "Yang" Foods For Balancing The Cold Season

Lately my blog,, “10 Winter Warm Foods and Beverages” has been popular. So this week I give you more to think about and more delicious warm foods to drool over from the Mediterranean while using a traditional Chinese approach to food. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has an important place in health and wellness:

TCM foods have warming and cooling characteristics based on each foods “energy” characteristics regardless of its temperature when served.
Unlike the western version of the plate method,, eastern Chinese medicine categorizes foods into 3 groups (yin, yang and neutral). Each food group maintains internal balance when considered as part of the external (warm or cold) environment or an imbalance with internal organs and medical conditions.
Always eat foods from each group, but during the winter, balance is shifted towards eating more warming ” yang” foods during the cold season. For example, when combining foods like pepper (yang) with chicken (yang), the meal is more yang. If chicken (yang) tops a  salad  (yin), the chicken becomes less yang and moves towards neutral or yin.
Here is a simple list, according to Chinese medical practitioners at Ping Ming Health,
Yang  foods: Have a warming energy on the body
chicken, lamb, ham, prawns, goat milk, walnuts, pistachio and pine nuts; beverages (coffee, wine) and vegetables (greens, onions, leeks, chives, squash, pumpkin) spices and condiments (cinnamon, ginger, basil, vinegar, wasabi, chilli, garlic, ginseng, pepper), fat (butter).
Neutral foods:
fruits (berries, olives, plums, pineapple), vegetables (mushrooms,  pumpkin
shiitake mushroom, Chinese cabbage, sweet potato, string bean), nuts/seeds/beans (sunflower seeds, kidney beans,  peanuts, almonds), protein (beef,  cow’s milk, duck, fish, oyster, pork, scallop). Water is neutral but changes based on its temperature.
Yin foods: Have a cooling energy on the body
fruits (strawberry, kiwi, grapefruit, pear, lemon, apple) , vegetables (green leafy lettuce, seaweed, spinach, tomato, cucumber, celery, alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, mushroom, eggplant, watercress), protein (egg, crab, clam, tofu), grains (barley, millet, buckwheat),  fat (sesame oil), tea (green and peppermint tea), salt.
This winter, use TCM principles to select healthy warming foods. I have selected a few recipes from “Mediterranean Paleo Cooking” authored by a husband wife team (Nabil Boumrar, a chef from North Africa  and Caitlin Weeks; Diane Sanfilippo helped with photography and design) that contain warming yang ingredients! You can almost taste the food as you browse through the pictures that look so yum, If you like what you see, you may want to purchase the cookbook. I know it can be purchased at Costco or amazon.
Here are a couple of my favorites:
1. Creamy Cilantro Salmon
prep time: 5 minutes | cook time: 10 minutes | serves: 4
4 cups loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
4 cups loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons lemon juice (2 lemons) 1 cup full-fat, canned coconut milk
4 (5-ounce) wild salmon fillets, skin on
1 pinch fine sea salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, ghee, or coconut oil

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Make the sauce: Put the cilantro, parsley, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse the herb mixture while slowly adding the coconut milk until the sauce is creamy. Set aside.
  3. Prepare the salmon: Season the salmon liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat for 2 minutes. Add the fat to the pan and melt. Sear the salmon in the skillet, skin side down, for 1 minute. Press down on the salmon, making sure the skin is touching the pan.
  4. Transfer the fish to the oven, leaving the skin side down, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the salmon over and cook for 2 more minutes, leaving a little pink in the middle of the salmon. Be careful not to overcook the salmon or it will dry out.
  5. Remove the salmon from the oven and transfer it to a platter. Top with the sauce and serve.

2. Tangy Lamb Stewwith Saffron and Ginger (Harira)
prep time:10 minutes  |  cook time: 65 minutes  |  serves: 4
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, ghee, or coconut oil
1 pound lamb or beef stew meat
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 pinch fine sea salt and ground black pepper
1 cup diced celery
1 medium onion, diced
4 medium tomatoes, cored
4 cups beef broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint, divided
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, sliced
In a stockpot, melt the fat over medium heat. Add the meat, saffron, turmeric, ginger, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté the meat for 5 minutes, then add the celery and onion and sauté for another 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until they are pureed. Add them to the pot. Add the beef broth and cook the mixture, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and set aside in a bowl. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer the soup in batches to a stand blender. Pulse until smooth and return the soup back to the pot. Add the meat back to the pot and simmer the soup, uncovered, over medium heat, until it thickens, about 10 more minutes. Add half of the mint, the vinegar, and the lemon juice to the soup and stir. Adjust the seasoning to taste and ladle into bowls. Garnish with  remaining mint and the lemon slices.
Consider TCM philosophies to warm your heart and the rest of your body in the cold season using these warming yang foods with these tasty delicious Mediterranean recipes.

About the author

Valerie Goldstein

Valerie raises the bar for health and nutrition know how with unconventional expertise and unconditional support for wellness.