Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dang Gui for Replenishing Blood

I've been schooled to replenish my blood each month after my menses. This is something drilled into me since I was young, about 12 or 13. It also helped that my sisters and I were often fed with soups and tonics since young so making blood tonics isn't something new at all.

Wonderful and nourishing Dang Gui tonic for women.
Recommended to be taken  often.

When I went away to study in university, I rarely had chance to make these nourishing soups for myself. We couldn't cook in our dorm rooms - the hazard of fire was very real.

When I moved out of the dorm and into a student house (located out of campus), my dad bought me a Pensonic slow cooker so I could make soups on my own. That was about 15 years ago. That Pensonic slow cooker is still with me and yes, it still works!

The slow cooker is rather small and only makes up to 2 bowls of soup. But back then it was sufficient. After all I was only making soups for myself.

The best thing about using a slow cooker is that you pop in all the herbs, add boiling water, close the lid, switch it on to Auto and let it simmer till done (about 3-4 hours). I usually put on the slow cooker in the evening and by 10pm or so, my tonic is ready to drink. If you are in a hurry, you can use the fast setting that allows your tonic to be ready in 2 hours or less.

I don't know if I told you this but sometimes I get rather lazy and go to Eu Yan Sang for blood tonic in the form of tiny black pills. You can read all about this in this previous post. I won't repeat myself.

This time around, I found some Dang Gui in my fridge. Decided to make some Dang Gui herbal tonic. It was just the day my menses finished.

Dang Gui slices (top) and dried red dates

How To Make Dang Gui Tonic

Here's what you need for a Dang Gui tonic for one person. This tonic is highly recommended for women. Many men shy away from drinking Dang Gui so don't attempt to feed your husband or spouse this tonic. ;-)

3-5 pieces of Dang Gui root, sliced
1 chicken thigh, remove all visible fat and skin (wash, pat dry and chop into 2 pieces)
2 large pieces dried red dates, stones removed
1 bowl of boiling water (250 ml)

Ensure the water covers the chicken sufficiently

1. Place Dang Gui slices and red dates in the inner ceramic pot.
2. Place chicken pieces on top of the herbs.
3. Pour over hot boiling water.
4. Put on the glass lid of the slow cooker.
5. Turn the setting to AUTO. Let this simmer for 4 hours at least.
6. Before dishing up, add half a teaspoon of salt to taste.

The tonic must be drunk warm.

Even if you remove the chicken skin, you will see a layer of oil floating atop your tonic. You may skim this off before you serve the tonic.

After drinking this tonic, you must not drink Chinese tea or any sort of tea for the next 12 hours. You should avoid taking cold drinks too.

You can eat the chicken too as it is very tender and infused with the flavour of Dang Gui. Add a little soya sauce if the chicken meat is too bland.

All About Dang Gui 

Dang Gui or angelica polymorpha var. sinensis is one of the most popular Chinese herbs for women. It is often prescribed for gynaelogical problems - menstrual irregularities and fertility issues - as well as poor blood circulation resulting in dizziness, paleness, fatigue and dry skin.

As a root, Dang Gui's efficacy depends on which part of the root you use. The bottom part is said to move blood most strongly while the head of the root is a stronger tonic. You must ask your herbalist whether what you're getting is the head or bottom!

As a Warm herb, Dang Gui affects the liver, heart and spleen meridians. It is also rich in Vitamin B12 and folic acid besides being a liver tonic.

In Chinese TCM, deficient blood is normally associated with the liver which is believed to store blood and the heart which helps it circulate.

As blood in a Yin substance, a blood deficiency is a Yin deficiency.

It's not only Dang Gui which helps with blood deficiency. Other herbs such as Dang Shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), Shu Di Huang (Rehmania glutinosa), Bai Shao Yao (Paeonia lactiflora), Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum wallichii) and Gan Cao (Glycyrrhiza uralensis) are also used.

Note that Dang Gui is NOT recommended if you are pregnant, have diarrhea or have abdominal fullness.

Finally.....When To Take This? 

Apparently, regular consumption of Dang Gui will prevent menstrual cramps and PMS.(I can vouch for this. If I take Dang Gui regularly each month, my PMS - bloating, tender breasts, headaches - are considerably lessened. Also when my period comes, I do not suffer interminable cramps.)

What is regular? Once a month is good enough (in my opinion). It should be taken one or two days after your period is finished. I have read that drinking Dang Gui tonic is ONLY recommended for the few days after your period. Dang Gui is contraindicated for women who are pregnant.

However, if you take the Bak Foong pills, it is recommended that you take 1 bottle per week. I have never done that so I cannot say if that's good or not. Please ask your herbalist or TCM practitioner if you are in doubt.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Self Heal Tea

This is an updated post where I've added more information and photos.

Sometimes it's a revelation to know that certain herbs I thought to be Chinese actually has been in use in the Western world for a long time too.

Self Heal or Prunella Vulgaris - a great liver tonic!

One particular herb called Self Heal or Prunella Vulgaris is just that.

I grew up with this herb. Mom used to make Xia Ku Chao tea (a dark tea which looks just like Lo Han Guo tea) for us when we were little. It helped to cool down the body.

And Xia Ku Chao or Self Heal (flower spikes) is cheap and plentiful. With RM1, you could buy a fairly large packet. Just put this dried herb into a pot of water and boil away. Add rock sugar and you can drink it the whole day.

For a robust taste, substitute with brown cane sugar. For a pot of 1.5 liter water, I add about 1 to 2 pieces of the brown candy sugar.

Brown candy sugar is made from sugar cane juice.
Available at all Chinese shops and herbalists.

But Xia Ku Chao or "Har Ku Chou" (in Cantonese) is more than just a cooling tea.

It has a host of benefits too and can be made well ahead and refrigerated for those hot, balmy days. Much better than drinking canned soda!

Self Heal is a common European wild flower and like its name, it is about healing. It is used in folk medicine to heal wounds.

In Chinese medicine, it is a herb to remedy heat where it cools the liver and calming hyperactive children! If you have swelling of lymph nodes, it is also helpful to take some Self Heal tea.

All About Self Heal 

The flower spikes are used for the lung and gall bladder meridians. It is anti-bacterial, lowers blood pressure, stimulates urine flow. It is also astringent and helps with wound healing. It helps clear heat from the liver.

It can be combined with Chrysanthemum for headaches and dizziness linked to liver fire. Avoid this herb if you have a weak spleen or stomach.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Does Watercress Soup Become Bitter?

My friend, Jo, asked me this question about making watercress soup.

She says that her watercress soup turned out bitter. When it comes out bitter, it is really a waste of time and money (and appetite too) as no one will touch the soup.

Naturally I have come across this "bitter watercress soup" puzzle once. Yes, even I - I who profess to know my soups. Actually I am still learning. I am curious about soups and so this question by Jo niggled me to no end.

Many years ago, I made a pot of watercress soup and strangely, it didn't taste good at all. It had hints of bitterness. I never really got around to investigating why until Jo asked me this question again.

Now that I am a lot better at making Chinese soups, I started to think of whom I could ask.

Two people come to mind.

The woman who sells vegetables at the market. She's a friendly matronly type, a grandmotherly soul. She would know.

And then there was my balding and ever cheerful Chinese uncle herbalist at the very same market. (Gosh I love this market. I was just remarking to Nic how lucky we are to live in this area where the market people are truly helpful and lovely.)

Anyway - I asked the daughter-in-law of my favourite vegetable seller (the woman wasn't around today, unfortunately). Now she tells me that the cardinal rule of making 'sai yeong choi' or watercress soup is this - your pot of water MUST BE BOILING before you add watercress.

If you add watercress into water which is warming up or even cold water, your soup will turn out bitter.

That's it.

That's the thing you have to remember.

In all my soup-making days, I always bring water to boil first. I never add ingredients to cold water in a pot.

I will verify this again with her mom-in-law when I do see her in the market but this daughter-in-law of hers is also an experienced cook and she has been helping her mother-in-law sell vegetables for a long time.

Now you know why your pot of water must be boiling before you add your soup ingredients.

Note: She also mentioned that if you are making soup with matrimony vine leaves, you cannot overboil the leaves. If you do overboil them at high heat, the soup will also end up bitter and nasty.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Black Soya Bean & Pinto Bean Soup

I made this soup a few times already and I really like the combination of two types of beans in the soup. Their textures are completely different and that is what makes this soup a true winner.

I usually get fresh pinto beans in pods when I go to the market. Peeling them is Nic's job although it isn't really that hard to peel them. They're beige beans speckled with red dots.

My vegetable seller tells me these beans are great for soups as they're nourishing. Pinto in Spanish means "painted".

A quick search on pinto beans turns up wonderful information. You can find out more about the nutritional profile of these beans here and here.

As for black soya beans, I use the dried variety which I get from my sundry goods store in the market. Before you use them, you have to dry fry them in a pan until their black skins crack open to reveal their green insides.

Black soya beans contain antioxidants and are deemed high in Vitamin E content. They are also anti-aging and the colour of their skins are beneficial to the kidneys too. Having a healthy kidney means you get healthy skin, healthy glossy hair and reduce hair loss. (You can also make black soya bean milk which is supposedly better-tasting than regular soya bean milk.)

What's interesting is that black soya beans possess higher Vitamin E levels when they're cooked. So if you add these beans to your soup, you actually get more Vitamin E!

A high level of Vitamin E helps you improve your skin health. It also improves the collagen and elastin which helps your skin retain its suppleness.

Besides the two types of beans (about 1 cup of each), I just add pork bones (or chicken bones), chicken feet and a few dried red dates (pitted). Bring some water to boil and blanch the meat/pork/chicken feet. This gets rid of the scumminess from your soup.
In a regular stock pot, bring to boil 1 liter of room temperature water.

Once it is boiling, add your ingredients. Bring them to a rolling boil uncovered for about 10 minutes. Then cover with a tight lid, lower fire to a mere simmer and let the soup simmer for 1.5 hours. Season with salt at the end. Serve hot. (Don't over-simmer as the pinto beans will get very mushy.)

You can freeze leftover soup which I usually do. They keep well frozen. When you need to consume the soup, warm it up again on the stove. The longer you keep some soups, the better they taste. Of course, that said, don't freeze them forever. Consuming the soup within a week is probably best. For Nic and me, we usually can have this soup about 3 times.

Since we're talking about freezing soups, a little warning here - do not freeze lotus root soups as something about freezing changes the texture and crunchiness of the lotus root. You will end up with some soggy and pathetic bits of lotus root which really isn't that palatable!