Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Huang Qi Tea

I recently got to know of a simple recipe while browsing in the bookstore. This is very simple but very beneficial to everyone especially if you are prone to tiredness or generally feel out of sorts and need a pick-me-up that's gentle and soothing.

It's a tea made using a Chinese herb called Huang Qi (which is a root). It is sold cheaply in chinese herbal shops as strips of dried root, sliced thinly. Just put some into a liter of water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. That's it. Sip throughout the day.

Despite the simplicity of this drink (which you can drink throughout the day), this herb is full of health benefits (In English it is known as milk vetch root). It is a herb that helps with your Qi, Spleen, Blood and Stomach. I read that it is also good for the Heart.

It is used to tonify one's defensive Qi and as such, drinking huang qi tea helps to boost one's immune system. If you are prone to colds (it means your lungs are weak), Huang Qi is the herb for you. It is also the herb for tonifying your spleen. If you have a deficient spleen, you will be tired with poor appetite. Taking this tea will help strengthen your spleen.

Other than that, Huang Qi is also a good herb for the blood and for the skin, particularly if you have sores on the skin surface. That's why I found this recipe in a beauty book for women. Drinking this tea regularly helps to bring about smooth skin! Now that's really the ultimate motivation for most women to take anything.

To learn more about this fantastic herb, go to

To see how Huang Qi looks like, take a look here.

And in the meantime, go out and get this herb.

P/S: Another herb which I really love is Liquorice Root or Kamcho. It is also a dried root, sliced and sold cheaply. It helps with coughs and sore throats. Keep some at home and if you have a sore throat coming on, take one or two slices and chew. Yes, chew. After you've taken the juice of the root, spit out the remnants.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Chrysanthemum Flower Herbal Drink

We Chinese pay particular attention to the yin and yang balance of our bodies. Our concept of eating has to be balanced with the changes in weather. Although in Malaysia, the weather is tropical all year round and we don’t experience snow or fall, the fluctuations between hot, humid and warm can take a toll on how we feel and taxes our bodies too.

It must be global warming because the weather in Penang right now is very hot! The mornings start off extremely warm and the heat increases during noon. My skin literally burns when I get out into the sun. It’s a searing heat that can be quite lethal. The sun keeps this dry heat going on the whole day until dusk sets. When evenings come, the day’s heat has become heavy rain clouds, pregnant with rain and thunder. The evenings are stormy and rain comes often. It is these two very extreme ends of the weather that causes many people to feel uncomfortable. Hot in the day and cold in the night.

To combat this hot weather, I remember the herbal drinks my mom used to prepare for us when we were little. One of my favourites is chrysanthemum flower herbal drink which is cooling on a searing day.

Chrysanthemum flowers (chrysanthemum morifolium) are dried and sold in Chinese medicine shops cheaply, usually RM1 for a large packet. They are good for the eyes, lung and liver and can be made into an infusion or eye-wash for red eyes (if you are using as an eye-wash, please don’t add rock sugar!). The flowers should not be overboiled or it will lose its potency. The flowers clear heat, fever, headache and calms the liver. But do not use it if you have diarrhea.

The packets of chrysanthemum sold usually come with two other herbs. One is Jin Yin Hua or Honeysuckle which clears toxins and heat while the other is Licorice Root or Gan Cao. It is called a long life herb and is usually added to Chinese teas for revitalizing Qi. Gan Cao can be chewed on its own (like a chewing gum – discard the root once you’ve taken its ‘juice’) if you have a sore throat or itchy cough. It helps with the lung meridian and detoxifies the body. It is often used to harmonize the prescription of other herbs.

This trio of herbs can be made into a cooling herbal drink easily. Just boil the trio of herbs in a pot of water for 30 minutes. Sweeten with rock sugar if you like. This herbal tea can be taken warm or cold.

Tip: A delightful glass of cool chrysanthemum tea is heavenly on a hot afternoon!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wai San and Minced Pork Congee

This week I am going to talk about a Traditional Chinese Herb in the form of a root. We Cantonese call it “wai san” but it is also known as “shan yao”. It is a root that is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine – dried white slices which are added to soups.

It is also called Chinese yam, Japanese mountain yam and Korean yam (Radix Dioscoreae Oppositae).

The wai san that I usually know is in the form of dried slices which is not very tasty even though it has been boiled and simmered in soups. When I was in the wet market, I chanced upon the fresh version of wai san when I asked my vegetables-seller what this funny-looking root was.

Here’s a little bit about this humble herb which actually is very good for the body.

Wai san is an anti-ageing herb (that should be enough to get you scrambling to your nearest wet market in search of this root) and is particularly beneficial for the stomach, spleen and lungs.

According to Alternative Healing , wai san helps if you suffer from:

  • lack of appetite
  • chronic diarrhea
  • vaginal yeast infection
  • spermatorrhea and frequent urination
  • chronic cough or wheezing
  • abundance of phlegm due to lung deficiency
  • fatigue

It tonifies the Qi and Yin of the stomach and spleen, kidneys and lungs. In short, it is a relatively mild herb (safe for long-term use) and can be used for Qi deficiency as a Qi tonic.

The Japanese who call it nagaimo use the root raw and grate it for their udon.

The fresh wai san needs to be peeled before you slice it thinly for the congee recipe. But be careful as it gets slimier as you peel. The starchy root starts becoming more and more difficult to hold once it gets wet.

Wai San and Minced Pork Congee
(Serves two persons)

1 cup rice, washed

1 whole fresh wai san root, peeled and sliced thinly

½ cup minced pork (marinated with a teaspoon cornflour, a dash of pepper, a teaspoon soya sauce and a teaspoon sesame seed oil for 30 minutes)

1 liter water

  1. Place rice, water and wai san into a rice cooker. Switch the cooker on. Do not cover tightly but leave a gap so that the rice won’t boil over. Let congee cook for 30 minutes.
  2. Using clean hands, shape minced pork into little balls and drop into the congee.
  3. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the congee and stir well.
  4. Switch off the rice cooker after 1 hour. Cover with lid tightly and let congee sit for another 10 minutes to thicken. Serve hot.

The congee should be of a starchy consistency and it tastes fabulous on its own even without soya sauce.The wai san imparts a delicate sweet flavour that’s both comforting and delicious. If you wish, you can add a handful of wolfberry fruits or ‘kei chi’ to add more nutrition to the congee. You can also substitute the minced pork with a slab of lean pork but with lean pork, one has to cut it up before serving the congee. With minced pork, it’s easier to serve and there’s no mess.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Corn, Carrot and Dried Oyster Soup

This week, I made a super easy soup. This soup is beautifully delicious and soothing because of the natural sweetness of corn and carrot. Dried oysters are added to give more oomph or body to the soup. Carrots are a good source of betacarotene and good for the eyes. Definitely a soup for people who often work in front of computers. Dried oysters help increase milk in nursing mothers and is a blood tonic for those suffering from anaemia.

To make this soup, you will need the following:

3 chicken carcasses
10 dried oysters, soaked and softened in water
1-2 whole corn, washed and cut into large segments
1 large carrot, washed, deskinned and chopped into large chunks
5 - 7 dried red dates to harmonize and balance the soup

1. Bring a pot of water to boil, around 1.5 liters.
2. When the water starts to boil, put all the ingredients in.
3. Let it boil furiously for 10 minutes.
4. Turn fire down low, place cover on pot and let soup simmer for 2 hours.
5. After 2 hours, add 3 teaspoons of salt and some pepper. You don't need to add sugar as the soup is naturally sweet!
6. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Matrimony Vine Leaf Soup with Wolfberry Fruits

This is a simple and quick soup and can be ready in 30 minutes. Yes, it is that easy. This soup does not qualify as a slow simmered soup as it needs a fast boil. Very suitable for moms who are home late and need to whip up nutritious yet fast soups.

This soup needs two major ingredients - matrimony vine and wolfberry fruits. Actually they are both from the same family! Matrimony vine leaves are the leaves from the tree which bears the wolfberry fruits (lycium chinense or L.barbarum). Wolfberry or "kei chi" or "gou qi zi" is a staple in many Cantonese homes/kitchens. I used to grow up drinking soups which contained these little sweetish red berries or what my yoga teacher calls "chinese raisins". They're also known as Duke of Argyll's tea tree. I wonder why!

Wolfberry fruits are usually dried, wrinkled berries which can be bought from any good Chinese medical hall or herbalist. Quality berries are large and plump, not shrivelled beyond recognition. To use them, grab a handful and soak in some water. They'll rehydrate in 5 minutes and you can put these berries into your simmering soup.

These berries are very good for eyes (though I still wear glasses!). Mostly they help with the Liver and Kidney meridians. That's why they're beneficial for remedying Kidney Qi deficiency which brings about problems like lower back pain, impotence, dizziness and tinnitus. It helps lowers blood pressure (just like hawthorn fruit), lowers blood sugar levels and lowers blood cholesterol levels besides acting as a liver tonic and nourishing blood.

Though they're full of goodness, don't overdo it. Particularly if you have excess heat or dampness. Just a handful in your soup will do.

Here's how you can prepare Matrimony Vine Leaf Soup.

1 bunch of fresh matrimony vine leaves (available at most wet markets)
1 handful of wolfberry fruits (soaked)
1/2 cup of minced chicken or pork
1 egg
1.5 liter water

First, peel the leaves of the vine/stalk. Soak the leaves in water for 10 minutes. Rinse and drain.

Next, marinate the minced meat with 1 tsp cornflour, 2 tsp soya sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil and 1/2 tsp sugar. Leave aside for 10 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to boil. When it's boiling, put in the wolfberry fruits. Lower fire and simmer with pot partly covered for 10-15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, wet hands and make little balls of the minced meat and drop into the simmering soup. Add the matrimony vine leaves. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes, uncovered or until the leaves wilt in the soup.

Add seasoning - I usually add pepper, salt, sugar and a little soya sauce. No MSG for me. Not even in these fast soups. I am after all a soup purist!

Finally, bring the soup to a quick, furious boil. Beat the egg and pour into soup quickly to make 'egg flower strands'. Cover pot and remove from heat. Serve hot.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pinto Bean Soup

This week I made pinto bean soup because my vegetable-seller at the Lip Sin market told me that these beans were good nourishment for the back.

A small packet of the pinto beans cost RM2. I didn't know the name of this bean but a quick check online using Google and Google Images search did the trick.

These pinto beans are white but freckled and part of the kidney bean family. Pinto means 'painted' in Spanish which is quite accurate as the beans are white and mottled. These beans are a favourite in Mexican dishes.

Similar to other beans, the pinto bean contains iron, potassium, selenium, molybdenum, thiamine, vitamin B6, and folic acid.

For me, I made these beans into soup. The soup is deliciously sweet and clear. The ingredients are:

1 packet of pinto beans (available fresh from your wet market)
5-8 dried longans
5-8 dried red dates
300gm of blanched meat/ribs
1.5 liters of water

Bring the water to a boil and add all ingredients into the pot. Boil furiously for 10 minutes. Lower heat, cover pot completely and simmer for 2 hours. Add salt to taste after about one and a half hours. Serve hot.

Find out more about the pinto bean (it's good for your heart!) right here

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tonic For Anaemic Women

This is a lovely dessert for anaemic women especially for those who often feel dizzy. It is also good for women who have just given birth.

It's basically a tonic for the blood. Men can also drink this as the two ingredients are good for promoting general well-being.

Dried longan is warming but it is recommended as a titbit/snack for expecting moms. It also helps with people suffering from insomnia, forgetfulness and anxiety. It contains iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, and large amounts of vitamins A and C. In traditional Chinese medicine, longan is associated with the Heart and Spleen meridians. It is helpful for calming the spirit.

Dried red dates as I have mentioned before are a must-have in the Cantonese kitchen. It's a blood tonic and helps to balance or harmonize soups. The concept of Yin-yang balance is reflected in the way we cook. Remember to remove the stones as the stones create dampness and phlegm. Red dates replenishes the Qi, nourishes blood and relieves fatigue.

Red Dates and Longan Tonic

You'll need 10 to 15 red dates and a small handful of dried longan. Put both ingredients into a pot of 4 to 5 cups water. Simmer gently until water is reduced by half. Drink warm.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

White Radish Soup

I hesitated in making this soup because white radish tends to stink up the whole kitchen when it is simmering. The stink, as one little girl admits, smells like very bad gas! But white radish or daikon makes good soups because the soups are very 'sweet'. When Cantonese use the word 'theemm' for soups, it doesn't mean they are sweet like sugary sweet. 'Theemm' is a single word which means a lot - it denotes deliciousness that's deeper; when Cantonese mention 'cheng theemm', it translates loosely as 'clear and delicious'.

Anyway, white radish or 'lor pak' (in Cantonese)is purportedly good for breastfeeding mothers. If you add dried cuttlefish to the white radish soup, it encourages lactation. The white radish is also good for clearing heat because of its cold nature. As such, the elderly should not take too much of this soup.

And if you are on medication or taking herbal tonics, you certainly do not want to drink this soup as white radish neutralises the efficacy of your tonics. It would be plain wasted. It's just like how we are cautioned NOT to drink Chinese tea after we take herbal tonics like 'pat chen cha' (Eight Herbs Tonic).

White radish, despite its cold nature, contains a number of vitamins and minerals. It is an excellent source of potassium, folate and Vitamin C. It is also a good source of magnesium. You can read more about the health benefits of the humble white radish at
It is also rich in vitamins A, B, D, E and believed to help stimulate appetite, combat scurvy and rickets, treats asthma, liver and gallbladder troubles. It helps to soothe sore throats and expel phlegm besides aiding digestion.

In terms of cooking use, we Chinese tend to use white radish in soups and stirfries while in the West, it is mostly eaten raw in salads.

For White Radish Soup, you'll need 3 simple ingredients:

1 white radish (wash, peel skin and cut into fairly large chunks)
600gm pork ribs (blanched)
6-8 dried red dates (de-stoned)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Put in all ingredients. Bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Lower fire, put lid on pot and simmer for 2 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Note: You can add dried cuttlefish if you like and substitute pork ribs with chicken (skinned).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Chinese Herbs in TCM

Here are some links to Chinese related sites with a herbal glossary or index where you can click to find out about individual herbs. If you know any great site, please share your links too!

Old Cucumber and Pork Rib Soup

This is a favourite soup of mine. It's clear and very soothing. And when you're simmering this soup, your neighbours would probably know you're having Old Cucumber (Lou Wong Kua in Cantonese) Soup.

Old cucumber is actually matured cucumber. It has a brownish hard skin on the outside. It looks like a melon because it is fat and squat. My vegetable-seller tells me that the older the cucumber, the better it tastes!

Many people shy away from using pork ribs for this soup; they prefer to use chicken thighs without skin. But I like my soups to be robust and flavourful so I tend to use pork ribs. Chicken-based soups taste completely different from pork-based soups. I am fundamentally Chinese in this aspect.

Old cucumber is not only cooling for blistering hot days but is also good for the skin. I read somewhere that it helps to prevent aging! Now that's enough reason for us all to run to the nearest wet market to get some old cucumbers!

Anyway, some people prefer to cut the cucumber into large chunks and de-seed these chunks. (Keep the cucumber skin on, wash and scrub the skin before you slice it up because that keeps the cucumber from 'melting' completely into your soup!). I don't de-seed the cucumber because I actually like chomping on the kuaci-like seeds.

Next, rinse 5-6 pitted dried red dates. Blanch your meat - if you are using pork ribs, blanching is necessary because you want a clear soup. If you are using chicken thighs, remove the skin. Next, for added flavour, I like to soak a few scallops or if none, use some dried oysters.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add in your meat, chunks of old cucumber, red dates, scallops or dried oysters. Boil furiously for 10 minutes or so. Then lower the fire to a mere simmer, cover the pot and let it simmer nicely for 2 hours. Season with salt before serving.

If I use pork ribs, I usually get rid of the excess oil (which floats to the top) using a fine steel sieve.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Black Beans, Red Dates and Chicken Feet Soup

This is a super simple soup to make.


A cup of black soy beans, washed & drained
Half a cup of pitted dried red dates
10 pairs of chicken feet

Blanch chicken feet. Bring water to boil in a 1 liter pot. Put in all 3 ingredients. Let it boil for 10 minutes on high fire and lower fire to simmer for another 3 hours. Add salt to taste before serving (I like to add a teaspoon of brown sugar to balance the taste).

Red dates is a must-have in the Cantonese kitchen. It's a blood tonic and helps to balance or harmonize soups. The concept of Yin-yang balance is reflected in the way we cook. Remember to remove the stones as the stones create dampness and phlegm. I always buy pitted dates so it saves me some time in pitting them! Red dates replenishes the Qi, nourishes blood and relieves fatigue.

Black soy beans nourish the spleen and kidney, and expels wind so it is great for people suffering from rheumatism.

Lok Mei or Six Combination Soup

This is another yummy soup to make when you feel tired or don't have much appetite. It is called Lok Mei Soup (Luk Wei Tang) because it consists of 6 types of herbs. You can buy the prepacked herbs from the herbalist or Chinese medical hall. And yes, it is even sold in the supermarkets.

The 6 types of herbs are:
Dried longan flesh
Fox nuts
Dried lotus seeds
Yok Chok/Yuju or Solomon's Seal
Wai San/Chinese yam or Dioscorea
Lily bulb or 'pak hup'

As usual, blanch the meat bones first before you put them into a pot with the herbs. Bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes before switching to a low simmer for another 2 to 3 hours. Add salt when the soup is nearly ready. The soup tastes even better when it has time to mellow out overnight.

Fox nuts are supposed to be good for strengthening kidneys, relieving leucorrhea (which happens to women)and strengthening the spleen, regulating blood pressure. It is even believed to help if you have numbness and aching near waist and knees.

Lily bulbs help by moisturising the lungs and hence, is good for coughs. Lotus seeds strengthen the spleen and kidney while Wai San is good for spleen and stomach (those with poor appetites) and helps with weak lungs. And it is supposed to be good for enhancing the kidneys.

Longan flesh is known as a good blood tonic due to its high iron content. Pregnant moms usually snack on this. It is good to treat dizziness and insomnia but do not overeat dried longans because it is a 'warming' herb. Usually, you can just boil a handful of longan flesh and dried red dates to make a nice dessert for strengthening one's blood (usually women because we menstruate).

Finally, Solomon's Seal or Yok Chok (Cantonese) or Yuju (Mandarin) helps to nourish the stomach (weak digestion) and lungs especially if you have a dry cough. It is also good for men as it helps with impotence.

Although many people (my husband included) do not like to eat the herbs in the soup, I believe the herbs provide extra 'bite' to the soup.

My cat, Margaret, likes to eat the boiled Wai San and Yok Chok! No kidding! She's a picky eater, often sniffing her food before she eats it but she'll happily wolf down these 2 herbs! (Maybe she has a weak stomach and needs to nourish her cat yin!)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Szechuan Vegetable and Seaweed Soup

OK, this is not exactly a simmered soup. This soup is so easy to make that it's a laugh. It's almost plebeian. But you see, my husband loves this soup and if I am pressed for time, this is what I whip up. Fast soup. Tastes good too.

Szechuan vegetable is a pickled spicy lump of vegetable that goes well in most meat dishes. If I do not cook it in a soup, I'd slice the vegetable and cook it with chicken and tomatoes.

One important thing to note: Szechuan vegetable is salty and spicy. I don't like pre-packed ones which I can get at Giant or Tesco. Rather, I go to my neighbourhood Lip Sin market and get it from my trusty grocery woman. She tells me that her version comes in huge containers so they're tastier! But it is true. Nothing compares with her Sezchuan vegetable. I always think this vegetable is our Chinese version of Italian truffles! In fact, Szechuan 'chai' or vegetable is quite cheap!

I don't have a photo of this vegetable but you can do a search on Google if you have no idea how it looks like.

Anyway, for this 30-minute soup, all you need are:

1/2 cup of minced meat marinated with some cornflour, sesame seed oil, soya sauce and pepper for 10 minutes (set aside)
1 fairly large piece of clean seaweed (if you buy the clean seaweed, you don't need to soak it at all)
1 knob of fresh ginger, flatenned
1 bowl of sliced Szechuan vegetables (do not wash or it'll lose its lovely taste)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add in the ginger and Szechuan vegetable. Let it simmer
for about 15 minutes. Form tiny balls with the mince meat and drop into the soup slowly. Bring the soup back to a rolling boil. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar and some pepper. Do not add salt or soya sauce until you've tasted the soup first (it could be way too salty). Taste the soup to see if it's salty enough. Add the seaweed and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Tadaaa, your soup is ready for the table!

Now didn't I say it was such a simple soup? It gives you a good appetite because it's spicy and salty. Yum!

* You can add cubes of soft tofu if you want more protein but I think minced meat (usually I use pork) is good enough.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Chicken Congee When Appetites Wan

I know. Chicken congee or porridge is not exactly "soup" and thus, simply does not qualify as a post here. But, hear me out.

The weather in Penang can be intolerable. The heat is on. Literally. I sweat oodles and curse oodles too. The rainy season - where art thou? Sigh. While Kuching rains almost every other day, Penang is the complete opposite.

I just returned from a short trip to KL and KL is not as warm or muggy as Penang. In fact, I was caught in the rain twice for the 4 days that I was there. Maybe that's why I am feeling plain awful today.

Flu? Cold? Whatever it was, my body wasn't up for cooking. Not lunch. Not rice. Oh no. The warm weather makes one lose appetite (or perhaps I've eaten too much while in KL. I practically ate half a roasted duck... only to realise that my uric acid must have shot sky high. That's why I came home and guzzled some apple cider vinegar quickly.

Anyway, back to chicken congee. Congee is easy to digest and fast to cook, especially if you are not up to much cooking activity in the kitchen (who wants to slave over a hot stove)).It's comfort food. It's nutritious without being oily or heavy. Thus, perfect food for the young, the elderly and those feeling a bit out of sorts, like me.

You can cook this up in under an hour and all you need for 2 hearty servings of chicken congee are:

1 chicken thigh, skin removed (for once, I don't like oiliness in my food)
2 dried scallops, soaked in some water and roughly shredded
1 tablespoon of "tungchoi" (preserved vegetables), soaked and drained
1 cup of rice, washed and drained

The above ingredients go into your rice cooker. Add 4 times the water. This works out to about 4 inches of water above your rice. Close the lid and cook your congee as if you were cooking rice.

About 30 minutes later, slide the lid to the side so the bubbling recedes. Add salt, pepper, sugar and sesame oil. Stir well.

Remove the cooked chicken thigh and shred the meat into slivers. Return the shredded meat to the simmering congee (the grains of rice should be soft and mushy now). Switch off the electricity and let the congee "sit" for another 10 minutes to thicken slightly.

Scoop up and serve with soya sauce on the side.

(For soya sauce, I prefer Po Po Premium Quality Soya Sauce. Yes, it is pricier than usual soya sauce but the taste possesses much more depth! Cheap soya sauce is all salt and nothing else.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Buddha Fruit Sweet Soup

This is one of my favourite sweet soups! It is very much a dessert that can be taken hot or cold.

Clockwise from right: Buddha Fruit, dried lotus seeds, dried red dates and dried longan.

The Buddha Fruit or Lo Han Gua (actually I think it should be called Lo Han Fruit instead of Buddha Fruit) is a fruit from China that helps to reduce coughing. It supposedly aids longevity. You can read more about this amazing fruit by going to

It is usually dark brown and very light. Its sizes range from as small as a golf ball to as big as a tennis ball, any Chinese medicine hall or herbalist would have this available. It's not too expensive either, about RM1 per fruit.

To use it, just wash it and light crack it open. I use one medium size fruit for one pot of water (about 1.5 liters of water).

Besides the Buddha Fruit, I use a handful each of dried longan, dried red dates and dried lotus seeds.

The red dates are already pitted so it saves me time (yes, I am rather lazy!) in the kitchen. Just rinse the red dates and let them dry. Dried longan is also washed and left to dry.

Now for the dried lotus seeds. Soak them in some water. When they soften, use a sharp knife to split the seeds into two. Using the sharp edge of the knife, remove the green pith in the centre of the seed. This pith is bitter so I don't like accidentally biting into some bitter stuff when I am chewing the lotus seeds. What I do know is that the green pith is very cooling. You can discard the pith and just use the lotus seeds.

All you need to do now is put all these 4 ingredients into a pot of water and bring to boil. Once it has come to a boil, add some rock sugar and let it simmer for an hour or so. After that you can serve it warm. If you want it cold or chilled, do not add ice cubes! Just cool it in the fridge and you'll have a refreshing dessert.

Since taste is a personal preference, I often boil this dessert without rock sugar. I take it warm so just before serving, I mix it with honey. Honey is more nutritious anyway and is great for the complexion. And by doing it this way, I can please everyone in the family - some might want it sweeter, hence I just add more honey.

Of course, if you intend to chill it in the fridge, please add honey into the warm dessert before you do so.

Watercress and Pork Rib Soup

I know, I have not been updating this blog for some time now although I have been simmering soups!

The weather here in Penang has turned mild - less sunny but a total 180 degree change. It is now rainy and cloudy! Not cold but a lot cooler. It also signals the coming of the Chinese Qing Ming Festival - something like All Souls' Day. Rains are more frequent and the ground is wet and splotchy each year as I make the climb (or hike) towards my great-grandfather's grave.

So, news and weather aside, what soups have I been concocting?

A few familiar soups come to mind. But one that I love for its simplicity is watercress and pork rib soup. It's great for clearing heat in the body and sputum in the lungs. I know that watercress is used raw in salads and sandwiches in the West but for the Chinese, nothing is more comforting than a bowl of watercress soup. It's also popular in Chinese restaurants and roadside stalls. Sometimes the soup is steamed instead of simmered over a stove but whatever way it is boiled, the taste is just as good.

As it is so simple, you need only 3 main ingredients (told you Chinese/Cantonese soups are always quick and simple) - a bunch of fresh watercress, some blanched pork ribs and 5-6 dried red dates (stones removed). The reason why stones are removed from red dates is to prevent dampness. You can buy ready pitted dates from Chinese herbalists.

I tend to use up the whole watercress, from leaves to stalks. I know many people throw away the stalks - too chewy. But here's what I do... I pluck the leaves and let them soak for about 15 minutes in salted water. This removes most of the grit and slugs, if any. The stems/stalks are washed carefully under running water and kept aside.

Next, I bring a pot of water to boil. Then I put in the blanched pork ribs, dates and the stems/stalks. Bring it to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes and lower down the heat to a mere simmer. Simmer this soup for about 1.5 hours.

By then, the stems would have softened totally. Then I add in the watercress leaves and boil again for another 20 minutes. Some people like their watercress still green but I like mine soft so I let it simmer a lot more. Lastly I add 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon sugar to taste.

That's all there is to a robust soup!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Cool Down with Lotus

The weather's becoming crazily warm these days. It's to be anticipated as the run-up to Chinese New Year, which falls on 29 January this year, is often hot and dry in Penang. The sun is really high in the sky and the heat penetrates through walls, literally!

On days like these, I am reminded of my childhood where the day's menu would feature cooling soups and sometimes, porridge or congee.
One of the best (and again, easy... if it isn't easy, it won't find its way into my kitchen) soups for warm days when the appetite is waning is a bowl of lotus root soup.

Lotus root soup cures heat in the body, relieves dizziness and heatstroke. It also relieves constipation and improves appetite.

Lotus root comes from the lotus plant, from which you get the beautiful lotus flower. You can also get lotus seeds from lotus pods. The seeds have medicinal value and often the dried seeds (with the green pith removed) are used in herbal soups. The fresh seeds can also be eaten raw, and not everyone likes the taste though.

I haven't seen any fresh lotus pods in Penang though I can get it easily for RM1 per bunch in Ipoh. Here's how a fresh bunch of lotus pods look like (see below).

Anyway, the lotus root is another magic ingredient by itself. You can buy it in any wet market. Ask if it is from China. China-grown lotus roots are bigger and more robust. Locally grown ones are skinnier, according to my vegetable-seller at the Lip Sin market.

Lotus root can be made into a savoury soup or you can also turn it into a dessert (or 'sweet soup'). Just wash the root and peel off the outer skin with a potato peeler. Then slice thinly.

If you want a 'sweet soup'/ dessert, just boil the root slices with 3-4 pitted red dates in a pot of water and add rock sugar when it has simmered for about 45 minutes. It's a lovely cooling drink especially if it is chilled slightly. You can discard the lotus root slices.

For a savoury soup, just place the root slices into a pot of boiling water. Add 6-8 pitted red dates and 300 gm of blanched pork ribs. Again, as with all soups, bring to a rapid boil for 10 minutes. Then cover and simmer for 2 -3 hours. Add salt and a little soya sauce when the soup is almost done. And you'll have a wonderfully light lotus root soup to go with your rice.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Black-Eyed Beans, Dried Oyster and Pork Bone Soup

Made this soup just the other day when I managed to buy some black-eyed beans (see pic on the left) from the Lip Sin market. My Hokkien is just enough to get me by in Penang so I had to resort to asking my husband to translate for me (he's Hokkien so that's not a problem for him!). The woman we buy from said it's called "pek dao" in Hokkien.

Anyway, black-eyed peas or beans (or known as cow peas sometimes), whichever way you call it, is an easy and digestable type of bean very much suitable for the elderly and the young. It's considered neutral in terms of yin and yang (some are considered 'warming' or 'cooling' and therefore certain people with certain body constitutions might react to the food).

They are also a good source of fiber and helps to get rid of cholesterol in the body. As with all beans, they are also a good source of folate, potassium, copper, phosporous and manganese. Plus I heard that these beans help reduce blood pressure.

Well this black-eyed beans soup is very easy to make. And it serves 2 persons well for 2 meals- lunch and dinner.

Just bear in mind some simple steps when simmering this soup:

1. Remember to blanch the meat/chicken/pork in boiling water for 5 minutes before you add the meat to the soup proper. This gets rid of the scum which floats to the top of the soup and gets rid of the blood and icky stuff from the meat bones (usually pork bones have a lot of this scummy residue).

2. After blanching the meat, rinse the meat under flowing tap water for a few minutes to get rid of any bits of fats and scum.

I'm a stickler for simple soups so what you need for this soup are:
  • 1-2 cups of black-eyed beans, soaked in water for 10 minutes or so (the beans soften quickly in the soup so you don't have to worry)
  • 300 gm of pork rib bones (blanched and rinsed)
  • 1 knob of old ginger
  • 6-8 dried oysters (see pic below)

Dried oysters add a wonderful flavour to soups.

Bring a pot of water to boil (about 1.5 liters of water). Add in all four ingredients. Bring all to a rolling boil for 10 minutes (do not cover pot at this stage).

After 10 minutes, lower stove fire to the lowest. Cover pot with lid. The soup should merely "bubble" along slowly. Leave soup to "bubble" along for 2 hours.

Add 2 teaspoons of salt, a dash of pepper, 1 teaspoon brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of good quality soya sauce to taste about 10 minutes before you turn off the fire. (I never add MSG into my soups but you can if you want to.)

Serve hot.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Difference between Soups... Or Are There?

For the Cantonese, there is a firm difference between 10-minute soups and 4-hour soups.

10 minute soups are not encouraged but it makes it easy for harried homemakers to quickly boil a pot of soup for dinner.

That's why in terms of semantics Cantonese call it "kwen tong" = boil soup.

The 4-hour soups are real soups. Full of goodness because of the 4 hours of simmering the soup over a low fire. We call it "pow tong" = simmered soup.

There is a major difference between "kwen tong" and "pow tong". It's in the taste. Soup connoisseurs might turn their noses up at 10 minute soups but sometimes, when I am in a rush, I would not mind a bowl of boiled soup. Boiled soups are usually for vegetables where they do not need much boiling or they'll wilt completely. Simmered soups are usually for herbs where a longer simmering time allows the full extraction of their goodness.

And then there is "thun tong" or double-boiled soups. This is even better. Using a double boiler, soups are cooked in small quantities and their taste is also similar to "pow tong". Usually soups like these are for those with high-quality and expensive ingredients such as birds' nest and etc.

(However, I'd like to say here that I don't encourage the eating of birds' nest soup. If you think about it, it is basically the saliva of the swiftlets. Placed in that perspective, would YOU want a bowl of saliva? Ugh.) That said, I am not a big believer in abalone or sea cucumber either. They're bland and need countless hours of cooking and simmering to get them nice and soft for the cooking pot.