Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Book on Herbs From The Herb Shop!

Introduction to Chinese Herbs published by herbal company, Eu Yan Sang

While shopping for herbs for my Mom-in-Law a few weeks ago at the Eu Yan Sang outlet near my home, I saw this book on Chinese herbs. Priced at RM38, the book is published by Eu Yan Sang and contains an introduction to Chinese herbs and their origins, pinpointing their location in China.

I told myself that I was there to buy herbs for my Mom-in-Law so I thought I'd buy this book the next time.

I have quite a few books on Chinese TCM herbs but I still love collecting these books. Even in today's Internet age where I can easily google and find out about a specific herb, nothing beats browsing a real book.

I also realized why I need to quickly learn how to read in Chinese - many books on TCM herbs are still largely in Chinese (as I found out when I was at Popular Bookstore). I found myself annoyed that I could not understand 80% of what was written in these Taiwanese and Chinese books.

(In case you are keen to learn Chinese, let me point you to Skritter which I am using. It helps me a lot and at US$9.95 per month, quite an affordable deal for self-motivated Mandarin learners like me. I like to be able to login any time to learn.)

In the end, I did buy the book above, no thanks to the fact that the sales promoter told me I would qualify for their lucky draw if I spent another couple more ringgit to make it a total of RM160. (Packets of herbs in Eu Yan Sang are not cheap - a packet of herbs for soup costs about RM16 to RM18. Compare this to my market herbalist who sells similar packet herbs for RM5 to RM8. So Eu Yan Sang is a little more expensive than your no-brand herbalist.)

However, I do believe the herb selection and processing should be much better at Eu Yan Sang. After all they have their brand to protect.

The book caters to both English and Chinese readers. It's not a recipe book but a book which informs how you should select herbs, what to look for, what region or province in China it comes from and what are the distinguishing features. It does have recipes but without the photo of the dish. The pages are in full colour.

The best part is they do inform you how many grammes of the herb to be used, which makes it a lot easier than going by guesswork.

Many of the featured herbs are familiar but they get the in-depth treatment for each page. It's always interesting to know the regions they come from and how the herb is processed. Things like these fascinate me to no end.

Over the next few weeks, I shall share more from this book. Anyway I am pleased I bought this book. Another herbal book to add to my TCM book collection!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Red Bean Dessert

I tend to poke about the kitchen a lot more on weekends.

Sweet red bean dessert with dried longan and rock sugar

Cooking is my therapy. It gets me away from computers and the Internet for two days.

Today, I made some red bean dessert for tea. Yes, for tea.

We Chinese like our desserts for those in-between meal times.

Actually you could drink/slurp this dessert any time of the day. For me, it just so happened that the dessert was ready around 4pm and tea it was.

Red beans or adzuki beans are commonly used in Asian food. In Chinese cuisine, red beans are normally eaten in sweet form, but I have eaten it as a soup, a savoury version when my Mom-in-law boiled it as a soup with pork bones. Nic was aghast at the taste but like a dutiful son, he drank up the soup though he did tell me privately that it was rather weird to have a savoury red bean soup. I thought so too. All my life, I've grown up drinking a sweet red bean dessert so savoury red beans do taste odd!

Red bean dessert is simple to make. You do need, however, to soak the beans in water for a few hours before you cook them. I heard this soaking reduces flatulence (they are beans anyway) but mostly it helps 'soften' the red beans.

I used my claypot for this recipe because I was only cooking a small cup of red beans, enough for two people. But then again, I will caution you - it depends on how watery or how thick you want your red bean dessert to be. Some people like a thick, gooey porridge-like red bean dessert. I like a more watered down version. It's more of a drink than a porridge.

Put your soaked red beans (100 gm), rock sugar (50gm or adjust to your taste) and a handful of dried longan into a pot of water (1 liter). Bring the pot to a boil and then cover and simmer for an hour. After an hour, you need to test if the red beans are soft. If they are not soft yet, let it simmer for another hour. Once ready, serve warm.

The good thing about using a claypot is its heat retention. It softens the beans in an hour. If you do not have a claypot, you can use a slow cooker or crockpot too.

I found this recipe for adzuki bean tea where one drinks it like a tea! You can try this version of red bean soup by author Letha Hadady (whose book - Asian Health Secrets - was one of the earliest books I had on Chinese herbs).

Why Eat Red Beans?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, aduki or adzuki or red beans are known for their “strengthening” qualities and yang energy. Red beans are good for blood-building as they're full of iron. Its high iron content also makes them a good choice for women’s health. In Japan, adzuki bean soups are often consumed after menstruation to replenish red blood cells. 

Red beans are also used to support kidney and bladder function.

Besides, red beans are a good source of magnesium, potassium, zinc copper, manganese and B vitamins. They are a high-potassium, low-sodium food which means they can help reduce blood pressure and act as a natural diuretic. 

Like all beans, they are a good protein substitute and contain lots of soluble fibre, which binds to toxins and cholesterol, eliminating these from your body. 

Adzuki beans are also used in some TCM fertility treatments. 

However, I have also read that you cannot overconsume red beans as they will make you emaciated and dry (as it promotes urination). 

In my recipe above, I added dried longan because it adds a different texture to the dessert plus it contributes a delicate sweetness. Dried longans are also useful in preventing hair loss and hair greying so all the better!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Basic Won Ton Soup

I got this question today in my email. A reader emailed me to ask for the "wan tan" or "won ton" soup.

Please help me with the recipe for the broth (only) for won ton soup. Every Chinese reataurant makes it and has the same taste which I am addicted to. Tried with plain chicken broth and added garlic powder, celery, some soy sauce and green onion, perhaps some white wine and sesame oil but not the same. Can you help?

Here's my answer:

I've tasted the Malaysian versions of wan tan soup, not the American Chinese restaurant version. So my answer and reply to this reader is based on what I have tasted.

I recently watched a TV programme where I learnt how wan tan soup is made.

They used "ikan bilis" or dried anchovies as well as dried red dates. I am not sure if they added chicken bones or meat bones but it is OK to do so as this adds to the 'sweetness' of the soup. Please do not be mistaken about 'sweetness'. Sweetness usually means a clear tastiness to the soup and has nothing to do with it being sugary sweet.

We don't add garlic powder to soups. Neither do we add white wine.

If you're good with making won ton soups, please share your version of this soup. I would really appreciate it!