Cooking with Herbs for the Holidays

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The holidays are fast approaching and before you know it, you might need to start cooking up a storm. But what if you’re tired of the same old recipes or you want to try something new? Look no further. I’ve got several ideas here to spice up your holiday eating as well as expand your culinary herbal horizons. And at the very end I’ve included several after-dinner digestive aids to prevent that awful sluggishness most of us feel after over-eating holiday meals.

 

Traditional Meal

Many of us love the traditional meals we serve at holiday time so I won’t mess with those plans. However, here are some ways you can sneak spices into your dishes so they are more interesting and healthy ones, too.

Creamed onions: Add cardamom, one of the best spices to help digestion and eliminate the dampening nature of dairy.

Winter squash: Cut in half and baked with a drizzling of ghee and generous sprinkle of cinnamon, this delish dish not only makes your kitchen (and house) smell divine, but the cinnamon also helps balance blood sugar and warms your inner metabolic and Kidney Yang fires.

Stuffing: By adding sage, thyme, bay and rosemary to your stuffing mix, you’ll aid digestion and help protect everyone from the nasty colds and flu so common at this time of year.

Pumpkin pie: Spices are sure to be in your pies, but know that together cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cardamom all help digestion, eliminate dampness, warm the metabolism and balance blood sugar.

 

Add a Little Adventure to Your Meal

Side Dishes

Try these two vegetable dishes to expand your flavors and increase your meal’s health benefits.

Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic: The garlic in this dish helps treat and prevent colds and flu. As well, lemon juice helps clear some Liver Heat that increases from all the tasty wine you might drink.

String beans with lycii berries (gou ji zi) and walnuts: This preparation is not only unusual in taste but also color and texture. Traditionally, Chinese long beans are used but I’ve made it with regular string beans just fine. Blanch the walnuts and soak the lycii berries before adding. Include the lycii juice, too. Lycii not only nourishes the body’s essence, it also helps eyesight and supports the Liver and Kidney energy. Walnuts tonify Kidney Yang and so treat low back pain, lowered metabolism, edema in the legs and mild constipation in those who are tired and cold.

 

Main Dishes

Calendula Quiche: Calendula flowers are anti-fungal and move circulation. They are used for skin complains, red and irritated eyes and liver cleansing. They add a beautiful visual touch to your meal as well.

  • 1 pie crust
  • ¼-1/3 lb. cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Swiss cheese
  • are good choices.)
  • 1 cup onions
  • calendula petals from 8-10 calendulas
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Grate the cheese and put in piecrust. Sauté onions and mix with calendula petals. Pour over cheese. Beat together eggs and milk. Pour over top of pie mixture. Bake 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool. Cut into 6-8 pie wedges. Top each with a calendula flower.

 

Basil Pesto: Used as an appetizer or part of the main meal, basil helps digestion, treats colds, is anti-inflammatory and supports heart health. Garlic cures everything except what it causes: bad breath!

  • 3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½-¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ packed cup parsley

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor. Pour into a container and cover with 2 tablespoons oil to keep it from darkening.

 

Salad

Flowered Salad will surprise everyone and provide a spicy-sweet flavor, interesting texture and gentle fragrance to your meal. As well, colored flowers are striking against the green leaves in a flower salad. Flowers have been eaten for thousands of years – why not bring them back again?

Wash and dry edible flowers such as chives, nasturtiums, violets, borage, pansies, wild radish, Johnny-jump-ups, and rose and calendula petals. Add to salad greens right before serving. Lightly sprinkle on your favorite dressing (see below) and toss.

 

And Don’t Forget the Dressing!

Make one (or all!) of these vinegar dressings ahead of time and enliven your salads even more.

Spiced vinegar: Add 2-4 garlic cloves, 4-6 ginger slices and 1-2 whole cayenne peppers to apple cider vinegar.

Italian vinegar: Use a whole stem each of rosemary, oregano and thyme and 4-6 leaves of basil apple cider vinegar.

Dandelion vinegar: Use a handful of dandelion leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar.

 

Drinks

Try some new drinks this year! How about mulled cider, chai, or cinnamon milk? You might even make some herbal beers or wines, although those recipes aren’t included here.

Chai is a delicious spicy tea is regularly drunk in India. Chai helps relieve indigestion, gas and colds with strong chills and a low fever. It also makes a great winter brew to warm the body and metabolism, especially if you easily feel cold. Orange and tangerine peels are great digestive aids, alleviating gas, nausea and vomiting and clearing white to clear-colored mucus. Lemon peel is a traditional after-dinner tea in Italy to help digestion, while grapefruit peel lowers fevers and treats colds and flu.

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 7 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 15 cardamom seeds
  • 1 peel from a whole orange (dry or fresh), tangerine, lemon or grapefruit
  • 1 pint water
  • ½ cup milk

Combine all the ingredients except milk in a pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add milk and simmer covered another 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. You may brew this with black tea or other herbal teas such as rooibos.  You can also make it more or less spicy by adjusting the amount of milk used.

 

Ginger Ale Fizz tastes very much like old-fashioned ginger ale but is much healthier and is a great digestive aid and cold/flu preventer.

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root, or ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup carbonated water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (raw or brown sugar is preferable) or honey

Bring ginger and water to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer covered for no more than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Strain. Add carbonated water. Stir in sugar or honey. Let cool.

 

Cinnamon Milk is just one of many herbal milks you can make. Often used in India, cinnamon milk especially helps to firm loose or runny bowels, warms the body and aids digestion. This is a great drink for children or to help sleep after a long busy holiday.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Heat milk in a pan to scalding. Add powdered cinnamon and honey and stir well.

 

Desserts

Cinnamon Halvah

Halvah is a wonderful candy made from sesame seeds and honey. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, a mineral that strengthens bones, teeth and nerves while honey is warming and helps clear white mucus. When cinnamon is added, it warms you up on a blustery day and aids digestion, too.

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • ½ cup honey

Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet, stirring constantly until the seeds start popping and turn brown. Cool. Grind sesame seeds in a nut and seed or coffee grinder, blender or food processor until they form a paste. Mix with cinnamon powder and honey. Spread mixture thinly on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap up to cover. Refrigerate several hours. Cut into bite-sized pieces and eat.

 

Candied flowers have traditionally been eaten for centuries. They are a beautiful and delicate treat. Many different types of flowers may be used, but try violets, rose petals, borage, honeysuckle, or jasmine for starters.

  • A handful or two of flowers
  • 2/3 cup unrefined granulated cane sugar
  • ½ cup water

Gently rinse flowers in water and set to dry on a towel. Boil sugar and water 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light syrup forms. Using a fork or tongs, dip each flower into the syrup and gently shake off the excess. Set flowers on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. With a toothpick, straighten out any folded or bent petals. Let dry in a warm place out of the sun. Store in a tin until ready to eat.

 

After-Dinner Digestive Aids

How do you prevent the awful stomach bloating or food stagnation that arises after over-eating a delicious meal? Here are three choices that not only help digestion, but also taste fabulous, too.

Fennel Candy is a regular after-dinner treat to aid digestion.

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon water

In a pan mix together the fennel seeds, sugar and water. Heat gently on the stove until the sugar dissolves and coats the seeds. Pour into a bowl. Add 2 more teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons sugar. Mix together well and let cool.

 

Candied Ginger is typically eaten in China to aid digestion.

  • ¼ pound fresh ginger root (about 1 cup sliced ginger)
  • ½ cup sugar (raw sugar is best)
  • 1 cup water

Peel off outer skin of ginger. Slice ginger into paper-thin rounds. Bring the water and ginger to a boil and simmer 10 minutes covered. Remove and set aside the ginger slices. Add ½ cup sugar to the ginger water and stir until dissolved. Return pan to the heat and cover. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until a syrupy consistency is reached, about 5-10 minutes. Add ginger to the syrup and stir well to coat the ginger. Remove the ginger slices from the liquid and place into a bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons extra sugar over them and roll in the sugar to coat the slices. Then place ginger pieces on waxed paper spaced apart. Let dry overnight. Store carefully in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Hawthorn berries not only help heart function, but also help the digestion of meat and fats. In China hawthorn is made into thin wafers and eaten as candy after meals for just his purpose. Place a bowl of fresh or dried hawthorn berries on the table and let people eat as desired, or make into a paste that can be licked off spoons by grinding the berries and mixing with honey.

SHARE YOUR FAVORITE HERBAL HOLIDAY RECIPES IN THE COMMENTS SECTION and I’ll post them for everyone to use over the December holidays!

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