A glass of hot piping apple chai, served with a stick of cinnamon or carob, for Tu B'shvat (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer)

A glass of hot piping apple chai, served with a stick of cinnamon or carob, for Tu B’shvat (Courtesy Phyllis Glazer)

I don’t know about you, but when the weather turns cold, my body craves warm foods and hot beverages. That’s not at all surprising as eating hot foods during cold weather warms our bodies from within and feels infinitely more soothing and satisfying than eating cold foods.

Ancient peoples also believed that creating and retaining body heat happens within, and today we know their beliefs have scientific backing. The process of eating generates heat that helps warm the body, as the warming effect occurs when energy is released during digestion. Ever notice that you tend to eat less in summer and more in winter? The drop in body temperature that stimulates the appetite is nature’s way of helping us warm up.

Ancient traditional medical systems from the East, such as those from China, India, Korea and Vietnam, considered foods to have innate cooling or heating qualities of their own. Uncooked fruits and vegetables for example, are considered energetically cold foods since they are quickly digested and excreted and can’t be a source of long-lasting energy and warmth. Cooked vegetables, on the other hand, and (seasonal) root vegetables in particular, along with various beans, are regarded as some of the most desirable foods for winter.

Some of the spices and herbs already housed in your pantry are considered to have warming attributes as well, such as garlic and ginger, turmeric, cumin, coriander seeds, caraway, cloves and black pepper, as well as basil, oregano and thyme. All of these contain phyto-nutrients, anti-microbial and/or anti-inflammatory properties, and others help to increase digestive enzymes, which can aid in the body’s processing of harder-to-digest winter foods.

It’s easy to use them — all warming spices have a natural affinity for one another in terms of taste, are good individually and best in concert in a variety of soups, chicken and beef stews and vegetable dishes. So this is the season for a good lentil soup, warming and fragrant with garlic, cumin, coriander and turmeric, or a chicken dish seasoned with copious amounts of ginger and garlic, and garnished with basil. Whether you’re roasting vegetables in the oven or cooking them on the stovetop – it’s a good idea to keep those spices and herbs in mind.

And when it’s time for a warming beverage, there’s nothing quite like a comforting apple cider chai, especially good if you use fresh-squeezed (cloudy) apple juice sold in health food stores and some supermarkets. I particularly like the Keshet brand sold in my local health food store.

Serve the chai in tall heatproof glasses or mugs, with an additional cinnamon stick in each glass, and for Tu Bishvat, use a carob pod as a stirrer. The boiling mixture softens the carob and you get a beverage and a snack to munch on.

You can also use the same spice mixture together with cranberry juice, bottled pomegranate juice or a green or black tea.

Apple Cider Chai (makes 1 liter)

  • 1 liter cloudy apple juice
  • Two 3 cm (1 inch)-long cinnamon sticks or cassia bark, broken into pieces
  • 4-6 cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • ½ teaspoon green cardamom seeds
  • 3 cm fresh root ginger, peeled and halved

1. Mix all the ingredients in a non-reactive saucepan and simmer over low heat for 30-45 minutes, until fragrant and richly-flavored.

2. Remove surface foam if necessary.

3. Strain and serve with a cinnamon stick inside each glass if desired.