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.

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