Winter may be the cozy season of warm blankets and hearty casseroles, but as weeks go by and inches of snow pile up, our nostalgia can easily be replaced by irritability and impatience for the sun to shine again. It may be time to set aside those casseroles for foods that can boost our mood when we've got a case of the winter blues.
Substitute for Sunshine
Have you ever wondered why people tend to be jollier in summer? During warmer months, we are continuously bathed in sunlight, a rich source of precious vitamin D. But as the days grow darker and winter season deepens, hours spent inside mean we don't get enough of one of nature's essential mood boosters. Food sources for vitamin D aren't as easy to come by as other vitamins. But you'll find plenty of it in seafood, especially oily fishes such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and sardines. Dairy products are usually fortified with vitamin D—just choose the whole-milk variety, as it contains more natural vitamin D than any reduced-fat products like zero-percent or skimmed milk. Egg yolks are also loaded with vitamin D.
Taste the Rainbow
In cold weather, many are drawn to the comfort of simmering stews, which can be lovely but are dull-looking and not as mood-boosting as colorful, fresh produce. Green and red foods are abundant in precious vitamins, and seeing colors on your plate can bring a smile to your lips too. Think of leafy greens such as spinach and kale, or warm-colored veggies such as carrots, sweet potato, and pumpkin.
There is a reason chocolate has the ability to uplift and sooth one's feelings. In controlled quantities, chocolate stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that bring on feelings of pleasure. It also contains the chemical serotonin, which acts as an anti-depressant. Mind you, we are talking about dark chocolate here—the kind made of at least 70 percent cocoa. Otherwise, you risk consuming lots of sugar which has more deflating than uplifting qualities.
Spice it Up
You have probably heard of people feeling happier after exercising, thanks to the release of endorphins and dopamine into the brain. Eating spicy food, particularly with chili peppers, gives a similar effect. This isn't to say you should swap out your workout for a bowl of chili, but eating something spicy during cold weather can give your mood a quick boost. Chili-spiced hot chocolate, anyone?
If you can't seem to shake the winter blues, try a bowl of this bright, spicy soup.
PUMPKIN AND CINNAMON SOUP WITH CHILI CHICKEN
Serves 4, Cook time 40 min
for the soup:
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup coconut milk
salt and pepper
for the chili chicken:
2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 chili, finely chopped
1 tablespoon ginger, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
fresh cilantro (optional)
for the soup:
o1. Cut the pumpkin in rough pieces and roast in 210°C/410°F oven for 25-30 minutes, with a sprinkle of olive oil, salt and pepper. You can either peel the pumpkin before roasting or scoop with a spoon before adding to the soup.
o2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based pan. Cook the onions for 5 minutes. Add the chopped carrots and cook for another few minutes until tender.
o3. Next, add the cinnamon and sugar and heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Then add the stock and cook for 5 more minutes. Finally, add the roasted pumpkin and blend everything altogether (a hand blender here works well).
o4. Stir in the coconut milk and season with salt and pepper to taste.
for the chili chicken:
o5. Cut the chicken into small chunks, and mix with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, chili and ginger. You can do this a few hours in advance and leave to marinate.
o6. Heat a deep frying pan with the remaining sesame oil and quickly fry the chicken with cashew nuts.
Pour soup into a bowl. Place some spicy chicken and cashews on top. Optional garnish: sprinkle with chopped cilantro, sliced chili, and coconut milk. Serve immediately.