Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Cough Cure: American Ginseng and Honey Dates

This recipe is thanks to Erina who saw me having a coughing fit yesterday and recommended that I try her mother-in-law's recipe. She said her son had been coughing too and after drinking this concoction 3 times a week, he had been cured.

For this cough cure, you will need some slices of American Ginseng and 3-4 dried honey dates. These go into a pot with 2 bowls of water. Simmer until only half the water remains. This could probably take 20 minutes or so. Drink warm.

American Ginseng (panax quinquefolius) or Pao Sum (in Mandarin) is one of the milder ginsengs from the ginseng family. It is milder because it is yin or cooling in nature. It was first discovered by the Jesuit priests in Canada around the 18th century. This root herb was shipped in massive quantities to China - it was a valuable export in the 19th century. Hence the name American Ginseng because it really comes from America.

The taste of American Ginseng is sweet and slightly bitter but is highly suitable for the Heart, Lung and Kidney meridians. That's why it is often used for chronic coughs, fatigue and kidney ailments. It is traditionally used to nourish Qi and nurture lung yin.

But it is not suitable for pregnant women or those with cold and damp in the stomach (due to its yin nature).

Dried honey dates are larger than dried red dates. They're sweeter too. Accordingly they come from Anhui province in China.

I suppose like dried red dates, they're used to harmonize the concoction.

Take this concoction 3x a week until your cough improves.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chai Boey with Pork and Duck

OK, this isn't really a soup. It's more of a dish than a soup but I want to share this recipe with everyone because my first time trying this recipe was truly a success. And if I can cook this dish, so can you.

"Chai boey" is a Hokkien term - we Cantonese call it 'choy mei' or 'leftover vegetable' (literal translation). It's a tangy, salty, sour dish of mustard greens boiled with meat (usually roasted pork/ roast duck). It's great on its own and even better eaten with rice.

In the olden days, it's called 'chai boey' because people really used leftovers in this dish. My aunt makes this dish each Chinese New Year eve, once we're done with the reunion dinner. In our reunion dinner, we'd have lots of leftover dishes - roast meats, minced pork balls, etc. One should have leftovers for Chinese New Year as this signifies that we would have "plenty" for the coming year. It's symbolic most times.

For the chai boey dish, my aunt would put all these leftovers in a pot and boil with fresh mustard greens. Lots of mustard greens. The vegetable will wilt as the dish is simmered slowly.

For my chai boey, I had advice from my vegetable-seller and my butcher from the wet market. I pre-ordered a roasted pork leg (RM13) from the butcher. Here's a tip: get the front leg and get the leg chopped up into bite-size pieces. The front leg (or what the Chinese call the pig's hand) is less fatty. The back legs of the pig is oilier and makes your dish very oily! Enough to throw your cardiologist into a heart attack!

You will need to get a huge bunch of mustard leaves too. My vegetable-seller, once she knew I was going to cook THE dish, helped me cut up the greens into bite-size pieces too (see how useful it is to make friends with your market folks?). She reminded me to get some fresh serai root too.

Chai boey is simple, and now that I've cooked it successfully, wonder why I didn't cook it earlier. Hmmm. The good part of this dish is that it tastes much better the next day, and the next day... you will get a huge pot of it. Nic and I got sick of eating it after 3 days! We had it for lunch and dinner and then again the next day. Chai boey is a family dish - it means get lots of family members to partake in this dish. (Personally I felt nauseous after eating too much of it but that's another story again. Anything that's overdone can be rather offputting.)

Here are the chai boey ingredients:

1 roast pork leg (chopped)
some roast duck (chopped)
some cooked/roast chicken feet (get this from your chicken rice seller - he'll have plenty)
mustard leaves (chopped into big chunks)

dried chillies, about 10 pieces (or more if you like it spicier)
2 stalks of serai, bruised
8 pieces of dried tamarind slices (or more if you like it extra tangy)
2 tablespoons of tamarind paste, mixed with water and strained (to get tamarind juice)
Salt and sugar to taste

How to cook chai boey:

Bring a pot of water to boil (about 2 liters). Into the boiling water, add serai, dried tamarind slices and dried chillies. Boil for 20 minutes. Add meat at this stage (roast pork leg, chicken, duck, etc). Lower fire, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add mustard leaves.

Add in tamarind juice, salt and sugar. Now it's time to taste your chai boey. Adjust the seasoning and tamarind juice accordingly. If the water's reduced, you can add more water to thin out the dish. The dish shouldn't be too soupy though. If you like, you can simmer for another 20 minutes to allow the taste to mellow out. Serve piping hot. As I said before, this dish tastes excellent when left to mellow overnight.

*There are some extra stuff you can add to the dish - some recommend adding tomatoes (for added sourness instead of adding a lot of tamarind) and some suggest adding cili padi instead of dried chillies. Whatever you add, it's up to you. You can even add Chinese cabbage (torn up into fairly large chunks) if you wish.

Wai San Soup with Pork Ribs

I've written about using fresh wai san in porridge, thanks to the recipe passed on to me by my regular vegetable-seller in the Lip Sin wet market.

A couple of weeks ago, I chanced upon fresh wai san again in the market and bought it for cooking porridge. But the wai san was huge, so I used up only half. The vegetable-seller told me I could keep the other half of the wai san in the fridge for a week or so, provided I wrapped it up in newspaper.

One of those days while rummaging through my fridge for something to cook, I saw the wai san again and this time decided to try it in a soup. I had read somewhere (forgotten where now...tsk tsk, must be old age) that it is good as a soup too.

The recipe is simple (ah, I am a big proponent of simple recipes, ya) and just needs 3 major ingredients: freshly peeled and sliced wai san, 4-6 de-seeded dried red dates and about 400 gm of pork ribs, blanched.

As usual, bring a pot of water to boil. Put all 3 ingredients into pot; bring to a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Lower fire, cover pot and simmer for 2 hours. Season with salt and serve hot.

The best part about this soup is that it's clear and sweet! There's something utterly unadulterated about fresh wai san - we Cantonese call it 'cheng theem' or clear sweet. It's a taste that's a bit tough to describe - like love, you need to experience it to know what it really is!

Wai san isn't expensive at all. The next time you are in the wet market, look out for this unsightly root vegetable. It resembles a long, brownish stick!