Pickled Turnips - The Pickle Guys, Essex Street NYC
Happy New Year everyone! According to the Chinese astrological calendar we are now in the year of the Rabbit - the Yin Metal Rabbit. Last week was also once again National Shape Up with Pickles week and yes, there is a relationship and no, I will not be talking about rabbit recipes (card carrying PETA member that I am.)
The Metal Rabbit year and pickles relationship comes via something called "Five Phase Theory." The Chinese worldview includes five elemental influences, Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water, which affect just about everything in life. In medicine these elements are associated with specific organ systems: Wood with the Liver and Gallbladder, Fire with the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and San Jiao (an extra organ with no western equivalent), Earth with the Spleen and Stomach, Metal with the Lung and Large Intestine and Water with the Kidney and Bladder. Each element in clockwise fashion is said to "generate" the next while balance is maintained by a "control" cycle.
In the Chinese Zodiac each animal year is also associated with an element, both a "fixed" one and one that changes, cycling through the generation cycle of the Five Phases. This year we have a Metal Rabbit, but the Rabbit's fixed element is Wood. In this system Metal "controls" Wood. Think axe chops wood. It's a delicate balance that when working can give us order and calmness like the energetic predictions for this coming year. You can also think this control cycle as a lab and pit bull mix. If everything is good you have a confident and friendly dog. If things get out of balance you have a dog with an inherent conflict manifesting as anxiety disorder.
Anyway back to the food. The Metal element is associated with certain foods and flavors as is the Wood element and interestingly a lot of foods that are involved in pickling have some Metal association. Capers, garlic and dill are pungent (the flavor of Metal); carrots, herring and radish affect the lung; cabbage, cucumber, turnip and eggplant affect the Large Intestine. The process of pickling itself involves the sour flavor. Sour is associated with the Liver. Vinegar is thought to be moving, but again we have a balance. Vinegar moves, but it's flavor, sour astringes. The pickled carrot may move the Lung Qi, but not to Kansas.
Half Sours, Okra, Mushrooms, and even Pineapple at the Pickle Guys on Essex
1. Eating the Five Flavors (Sweet, Sour, Salty, Spicy and Bitter) balances your diet in the same way that the Five Phases balance everything else.
2. Pickles besides taking care of the sour element have a lot of generally acknowledged health benefits. Small quantities at the beginning of a meal stimulate digestive juices. Naturally fermented pickles especially help promote a good balance of bacteria in the gut and have naturally occuring enzymes with also help with digestion.
3. This year we may want to pay particular attention to keeping our Lungs and Liver in good shape. For those of you considering one more attempt at detox, consider adding a small amount of picked onions or radish to your diet. (Both Lungs and Liver are principal organs involved in detoxification.)
4. Chinese New Year's is another opportunity to revive those January resolutions to take care of your health. Check back for additional tips and recipes. I resolve to post more regularly!