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 http://alternativehealing.org/huai_shan.htm , 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.