Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Quick Tofu, Bittergourd and Minced Pork Soup

This isn't a slow simmered soup that takes 2 hours on the stove.


This is a quick 20 minutes soup that you can make on days when you want something nourishing and you just got home from work and you're too damn tired to call for take-out. 

This is my go-to soup that's nutritious and flavourful.

Packed with only 3 good ingredients - tofu, bittergourd and minced pork. 

You can even just cook some rice (in the rice cooker) while you make this soup. Once the rice is done, so's your tofu soup. 

simple chinese soup with tofu and bittergourd

Here's how you do it. 

1 packet of soft tofu, cut into cubes
1/2 cup minced pork/chicken - marinate with some salt, pepper, cornstarch and sesame oil 
1/2 bittergourd, sliced thinly*
some chopped garlic
spring onions to garnish
salt & pepper to taste
800 ml water 

Heat up some 2 tablespoons oil in a pot. Add garlic. Stir until it browns. Add water. Cover and bring it to a boil.

Once it is boiling, drop teaspoonfuls of minced pork/chicken into the soup. 

Let this come to a boil again.

Add in tofu and bittergourd. Season with salt and pepper. Bring heat to mere simmer. Simmer this for another 3 - 5 minutes (don't overcook the bittergourd). 

Turn off heat. Do not cover pot or else your bittergourd will look an unappetising brown instead of green. 

Then let the soup "rest" for about 5 minutes. I find that "resting" soups lets the flavour deepen more and gives a more robust taste compared to serving the soup immediately. This is a key tip! 

Before serving, sprinkle with spring onions. Your soup should be warm and lovely to slurp!

*Before you slice the bittergourd, wash the insides of the gourd (after you've scooped out the seeds) with a teaspoon of salt. Rub it well and rinse under running water. This gets most of the bitterness out of the gourd. 

Bittergourd is very good for removing heatiness in the body. 

It is also associated with older folks as younger ones often dislike bitter vegetables. 

It's also quite Chinese to encourage young people to eat bitter melon or bitter gourd presumably as "eating bitterness" seems to be in the Chinese psyche. If you can't take the bitterness of life, you're doomed. 

I enjoy eating another dish with bitter gourd. It's stir-fried with fermented black beans and garlic. All you need to do is slice the gourd thinly and fry it in a pan with fermented black beans and some chopped garlic.

Indians slice and deep-fry bitter gourd until they're crunchy. Often served with banana leaf rice, it's also a tasty way to eat bitter gourd minus the intense bitterness!  

Of late, there's a lot of health benefits about juicing bitter melon and drinking it neat. I shall stick to my bittergourd soup, thank you! 

What's your favourite way to cook and eat bittergourd (assuming you do eat this vegetable)? 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dried Sugar Cane Herbal Tea

You would have seen this in most Chinese shops. It's a packet of dried ingredients made up of roots and twigs. Actually it is sugar cane. Dried sugar cane with an assortment of ingredients to make a cooling herbal tea. It's called Cane & Arrow Root Stock. 

sugar cane herbal tea

The package contains 3 ingredients (see photo below) - sugar cane, carrot and arrow root

All you have to do is put the contents of this packet into a pot of water, say 1 liter. Boil on low fire for 20 minutes. Then add rock sugar to taste. It's a traditional herbal tea for cooling down the body on hot summer days! 

sugar cane herbal tea

Arrow root is the white slices, the carrot is the amber coloured stuff on the top while the rest are just sugar cane.

What's your favourite herbal tea? 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Chinese Winter Dates Are Actually.....

Here are some new type of fruits I bought in the supermarket the other day. They're called Chinese Winter Dates. I didn't know much about them until a friend told me they're lovely and crunchy. When I saw them in the supermarket, I decided I ought to try them out. 

chinese winter dates from Shandong

Here's how they look like. Don't look very appealing right? All yellow and brown.

chinese winter dates from Shandong

They're mildly sweet and crunchy though. Like an apple.

chinese winter dates from Shandong

This is how it looks on the inside. The flesh is white with a seed in the middle. 

Actually they're dates. 

Like the regular dried red dates. 

It's just that these are fresh dates which have yet to wrinkle up and dry out. 

chinese winter dates from Shandong

They're mostly from Shandong and available from October to December (hence their "winter" status). It's supposed to be the "rarest fruit in the world" but don't take it too seriously. I think Chinese exporters tend to make big claims. 

There's very little information on this type of fresh dates from China.

Anyone know much about this fruit? 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Here's How A Wai San Plant Looks Like

Wai san plant that I grew from fresh wai san 

This is a wai san plant. I didn't even know I could grow them here in Malaysia. And I grew them by accident! (Wrote about them a while back too).

Below is a fresh wai san tuber. I've always bought this in my Lip Sin market. Used it for soups.

Fresh wai san root 

Fresh wai san tuber can keep for a few weeks in the fridge. Just make sure you wrap it in some newspaper and put it into a plastic bag.

Sometimes though I forget I have wai san.

After a month or so, I get icky about using the old wai san lying about in my fridge.

As you know I never throw organic stuff that's edible away. I just turn them into compost.

So I chucked the old wai san into my compost pot. I figured it will disintegrate and become compost after a month or so.

But imagine my surprise when I started digging up the compost. The wai san was alive and growing!

It sprouted new roots.

I was feeling adventurous so I decided to give it a new life. Planted it into a pot. Kept it in the shade and then the leaves started growing too.

This took about 2-3 weeks.

Then some snails or maybe grasshopper started chewing on the wai san leaves. It ended up bereft of leaves and bald as a chicken.

Still it did not die.

So now it's recovering. Smaller leaves are coming back.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Black Bean, Goji Berries and Pig Tail Soup

The soup for making your hair dark, lustrous and beautiful 

Hey there.

I have been missing for a bit. But I miss my blog too.

Today I am going to share a new recipe but I am not too sure if I've shared this before.

Doesn't matter right?

I have been intrigued by foods and ingredients that are black. With my white hairs popping out, I have been on a journey to find foods that prevent hair from greying (actually I have not seen grey hair but I have seen lots of white hair).

Pan-fried dried black beans in their split skins

I hate pulling out my white hair by its roots but somehow I do it.

Some folks say that pulling out your white hair encourages more white hair to grow.

Bah. I don't care.

My current fave - super large sized dried red dates 
I have also been using henna powder to dye my hair. That's a lot better than waiting for chemicals to seep into my brain when I go to my hair stylist's. I sit there with the stuff on my head for 45 minutes while my eyes smart like hell.

I have since refused to do it, preferring to use henna powder that I buy from the Indian shops in Little India.

Maybe I should have another post for henna. Henna not only dyes hair but encourages hair growth and imparts good benefits to hair (gives it more form and shine). When I was a kid, my Malay neighbour used to grow henna. She used to pound the leaves and use the henna juice to colour her nails. This very habit strengthens nails but my mom had a fit when she saw me with orange nails!

Of course, now you don't need to grow the plant to get the dye. Just buy dried henna powder in any Indian shop. It's inexpensive and I feel much better using something nature intended on my head and hair than commercial dyes.

Chopped up pig tail 

I am also thinking, eating something must be better than putting it on my head so I have resorted to soups.

This time, it's black beans soup with pig's tail.

Make sure you blanch the pig tail chunks first to get rid of the oiliness and scum

Now the thing with pig's tail is this - you have to pre-order the tail or at least be damn chummy with your butcher. After all, each pig comes with a tail. Tails are scarce!

My butcher will chop up the tail into nice chunks for me. The only problem I have with this soup is that it's heck of an oily soup. You need to skim off the fats. The pig's tail is rather fatty you see.

Here's what you need:

1 pig's tail, chopped into chunks and blanched
1 cup black beans
1 thumb-size piece of young ginger (gets rid of the gassiness of beans)
2-3 dried red dates, pits removed
A handful of goji berries, soaked

Black beans need to be pan-fried in a dry pan (no oil OK?) until they pop their skins and reveal a hint of greenish bean inside. Let it cool.

In a pot, bring about 1.5 liters of water to boil.

When it boils, add all ingredients into the pot. Do not cover pot. Let the entire thing boil rapidly for 10 minutes on high. The boiling must be furious.

After 10 minutes, put the cover on the pot and lower the stove fire to the lowest you can manage. Let this simmer for 2 hours minimum. Add salt to taste at the last 15 minutes or so. Dish up and serve hot.

Here's the yummy goodness after 2 hours of slow simmering

Eat up all the beans, goji berries and chunks of pig tail. You may want to skim the fat or oil off the soup before you serve.

Black beans are great for kidneys. In TCM, anything that has anything to do with your kidneys has something to do with your hair and ears and eyes. Black beans presumably are also good for making your hair lustrous.

Here's something else - did you know that black beans are grown in India and Brazil? Find out more about the benefits of eating black beans here.

In my next post, I am going to tell you about an ingredient that doesn't need to be boiled (but can be if you want to) and can be eaten just like that, raw and is still GOOD for you and for your hair! (Plus invigorates your kidneys and liver too!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Steamed Green Apple With American Ginseng To Cure Headaches Forever

I know. It sounds unbelievable right?

Steamed green apple with American ginseng will cure your headaches forever? Isn't it such an audacious claim? Really? Does it work?

Actually, these were my reactions too when I heard it from - of all people - my mum!

As I live in Penang and my mum lives in Selangor (Banting, to be specific, which is a little town near Morib and one that's well-known for its seafood), we have regular phone conversations. These days it's much easier because calls are free - we use Viber a lot. So we have long conversations.

About food. About life. Mostly food. She knows I love my food. And I like taking good care of myself. I am a hedonist. I probably learnt that from her. She's always telling me how we should all eat better. It is true though. With better nutrition, you do feel immensely better. That is why SoupQueen exists, right? ;-)

Here's how the story goes.

My mum often goes to the Sunday market in Banting where there's lots of interesting food vendors and vegetable sellers. It's not like a market with a roof and structure. The Sunday market is just a place where sellers and hawkers of all types congregate to sell their wares.

The day she went she met a man hawking his plastic fruit peeler - you know those lively market sales people who snap on a portable microphone and start doing demos with the fruit peeler. Mum didn't buy as she already had a fruit peeler but this guy dispensed a recipe - which is the one I am going to tell you about.

I don't know if it's a marketing spiel but he says this recipe came from his grandmother.

After 3 days of taking this dessert consecutively, you will never have another bad headache again!

Bold claim huh?

So my mum tells me I have to try this recipe. I haven't yet because I've been rather busy. I did buy green apples which is uncommon for me. I don't like apples or oranges much. I prefer local fruits.

Perhaps you can try it and let me know?

You will need:

1 green apple
a few slices of American ginseng
2 dried red dates, pitted
a few pieces rock sugar

You have to core the apple but you can keep the peel on. Into the cored apple, place the American ginseng, red dates and rock sugar. Put this entire apple into a crockpot. Pour over a cup of water. Set your crockpot to simmer for 2 hours.

Drink while warm and eat up the apple, ginseng, red dates and all. Best drunk just before you go to bed.

Continue to brew this again for the next two nights and drink before going to bed.

This, says my mum or rather the fruit peeler guy, will cure your headaches for good.

Do I believe it? I don't know. I don't have (touch wood) massive headaches.

But it sounds do-able and something that probably tastes better than eating paracetamol!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Mulberries - Not Just Food For Silkworms?

Do you like mulberries?

I find them rather fascinating fruits because they're a cross between raspberries (in look) yet with the tartness of lemons.

My friend, Don, once offered me a tiny mulberry that he plucked off his mulberry plant. As we live in Malaysia where the weather is hot, the mulberry was prized indeed. It was barely red enough.

It tasted tart. But I like tart fruits so that was all right. 

When I was in Hong Kong last year, I managed to buy some fresh ones and they were much larger than the tiny one grown by Don. For about HK$15, I bought a box (see below) at the local Hong Kong evening market. Looks like a lot of fruits right? 

Mulberry fruits or mulberry berries? Bought these from a market in Hong Kong. Don't be fooled
by the overflowing basket. The berries are propped up by lots of foam!

Sneaky HK fruit sellers prop their baskets with foam so that you just get a handful but it seems like a lot! I think that is really cheating. I'd prefer if they put them in a plastic bag and you can see how much you are getting.

These mulberries are probably grown in China. They were sweetish but still had a tartness about them. I polished off this entire basket (not very big basket mind you) after dinner while eating blue cheese and drinking sake in my friend's apartment in Tseung Kwan O. The thing is, the tartness of these berries complimented the blue cheese! Strange bed fellows indeed.

Back in Malaysia, a lot of people have been planting mulberry trees as it is supposed to be super easy to grow. Just cut off a branch of mulberry and poke this into the ground and in no time, it will grow.

That's what I did.

But it didn't grow as easily as I thought!

Mulberry is also called Sang Shen and it is actually very good for health - healing a variety of ills from anemia to premature hair greying.

It is also a fruit that affects the Lung and Liver meridians.

As it is cooling, it clears Liver fire and is a remedy for coughs, colds and fevers. As you can use it for your Liver, it assists in giving you better vision and hearing. It is also useful in cases of constipation (used together with other herbs as seen here). All the more reason to eat mulberries by the handful.

Fresh mulberry leaves can be steeped in hot water and sipped as a tea (here's how you make the mulberry leaf tea).

To discover more about this wonderful fruit/leaf/herb, take a look at this site which details everything about mulberry. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wai San, Carrot & Red Date Soup

This is a soup that I made one day while trying to clear up leftover vegetables in the fridge.

I had half a carrot and some fresh wai san. So I made this soup which I think tastes infinitely better than plain old wai san with pork ribs. 

Carrots in soups make soups taste a lot "sweeter". 

fresh shan yao and carrot

For this soup, you will need:

1/2 carrot, cut into chunks
Fresh wai san, peeled and sliced
2 dried red dates, pitted

300gm of blanched pork bones
1 liter water

Bring water in a pot to boil and add in all the ingredients. Boil on high heat for 10 minutes before putting the lid on your pot. Reduce fire to a mere simmer. Simmer soup for 2 hours. Add salt to taste.

You must let your soup "sit" and have the flavours develop once your soup is ready. I noticed that if I immediately serve the soup, it won't taste as good.

Let it "sit" for 30 minutes or so before serving. The soup is flavourful and of course you must eat up the carrot and wai san - they're good for you! 

wai san, carrot and red dates

Speaking of red dates, I recently managed to buy some huge dried red dates. They're about 4 times larger than most dried red dates and costs three times as much. I got these from my regular market where the herbalist recommended these to me. It is said that three dried red dates a day keeps one healthy with a promise of long life! 

chinese red dates

This packet of dried red dates cost me RM26. Below I compare the red date with a regular lime. See how large the red date is? 

comparing a lime to a dried red date

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Goji Berry Tea For Sparkling Eyes

Each Sunday I try to find a new herbal recipe to test. I love my Sundays when I lounge at home, listening to the jazz channel and sipping homemade herbal tea while reading.

Today I dug out some wolfberries or "kei chi" or goji berries from the fridge. I am usually running out of space in my fridge because all my herbs go into the fridge.

In this tropical weather, herbs will either dry out or go mouldy if you keep them too long in the cabinets. One distinct way to know if your wolfberries are deteriorating is to see their bright red colour becoming a dull, dirty red. That's why you know your wolfberries can go into the compost bin! (Or maybe you can stick them into some soil and grow your own goji berry plants. I might try this though finding available space in my already thriving garden can be tough!)

This packet of wolfberries is considered Super Grade because each wolfberry is larger than regular itty bitty ones you see in most pre-packed herbal soup packets. My regular Chinese herbal guy recommended that not only is this better grade, it is also recommended that one takes a handful of these wolfberries each day. The back of the packet says this:

wolfberries from ningxia region of china - good for kidneys and liver

The best wolfberries come from the Ningxia region of China. (I first came across Ningxia when I drank some Ningxia Red, a product from Young Living. While I like that the drink packs a power punch of antioxidants, I get really hungry after 20 minutes! That said, Ningxia Red products supposedly contain the powerful wolfberries from the famous goji berry producer, the Ningxia region.) 

Just so you know, Ningxia is the principal region of China where wolfberries are grown. 

dried goji berries from ningxia china

Anyway, today's recipe uses 3 basic ingredients or herbs you can find in any Chinese home. You need a handful of each - dried chrysanthemum flowers, dried longan and goji berries. 

Place these into a pot with about 1 liter of water and let it simmer for 15 minutes on the lowest fire. Drink this as a tea throughout the day. 
dried longan, goji berries and chrysanthemum flowers for herbal tea
From top right: dried longan flesh, goji berries, chrysanthemum flowers

If you're really lazy, you can just steep these ingredients in a teapot but I find simmering on low heat brings out the best in the longan - at least they'll expand properly and release their sweetness into the tea. 

This tea helps with dizzyness and improving the health of your eyes. Highly useful if you (like me) work long hours in front of the computer. 

You may also want to know, how often should you consume teas such as these? I say once or twice a week is good enough. Never go overboard and overdo things. 

Whenever I think of excessiveness, think of this: you should eat something regularly rather than consume a big pot of it at one go. 

Health is about regular maintenance. You wouldn't eat 7 apples in one sitting would you, even if apples are great for health? It's better to eat one apple a day than gobble all 7 on a Sunday night!

Update: add a few goji berries to your hot tea - this way you'll always be eating this superfood!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growing Wai San...Yes, Believe It Or Not!

Whenever I see fresh wai san or shan yao or Chinese yam in the market, I'll buy some. As wai san can keep for a few weeks wrapped in paper in the fridge, it is a worthwhile buy. (And you know how I love making wai san soup and wai san congee).

Sometimes, I forget I have wai san sitting in my vegetable compartment and when I finally dig it out, it has gone all mouldy and icky.

I am not too sure if I mentioned this but I compost all of my organic matter - from cooked stuff to fish bones and meat bones. A lot of people will only compost vegetable and fruit - I am not too sure why they think fish bones or meat bones or chicken bones won't compost. Maybe they fear the smell of rotting animal matter?

As I've been composting using a 10-pot system taught by my friend Don for more than 2 years now, I can tell you that as long as you cover your waste matter with minimum 2 inches of soil, there will be no flies or maggots. Of course bones will not compost easily. It is after all made of calcium. However there is no smell even if I compost stuff like gravy, curry or even cooked stuff.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I found an old piece of wai san in my fridge. Decided to chop it up into smaller chunks and compost it in my compost pot.

I thought that was the end of it.

The wai san was not to be outwitted. My compost pot seemed to be the perfect environment for these chunks of wai san to grow!

When I dug out the compost pot, I saw that the chunks of wai san, left for dead, had grown healthy roots.

It was a surprise indeed.

Since it was growing happily, I decided to transfer these 4 chunks of wai san into a proper pot.

I have been googling about planting or growing wai san and what do you know? It is a seemingly easy tuber to grow. And it can be invasive and take over your entire garden so while it is a useful herb, you don't want to grapple with a wai san overgrowth problem.

The wai san plant grows like a creeper and has flowers which smell like cinnamon!

I shall keep you posted on how my wai san grows. If it really grows well, I may not ever need to buy wai san from the market again. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nothing Sweeter Than Fruitful Effort

First of all, so very sorry for a long hiatus from this blog.

I have been extremely busy with my business and that left me very little time for blogging (and you know I have another blog, right?). The thing about business is, after sometime, you need to re-focus and re-strategize because we're no longer interested in what we were in interested in say 7 or 8 years ago. Our focus has changed. That's got a lot to do with experiencing everything that a business puts you through - both good and bad.


This blog will resume (I found out just this week that a blogger friend had closed her blog for good! Wow. That takes a lot of courage) and I will continue blogging.

I am never at loss for topics - usually it is a lack of time!

So let's see....remember my pomegranate tree? It's still fruiting with wild abandon. Its branches, puny as they look, are heavy with fruits and supporting the rosy orbs.

I was really eager to taste the fruit but this is my first time harvesting a fruit tree so I wasn't too sure when I should pick a pomegranate to try!

I decided to be brave and cut one off the stem.

I read online that a pomegranate can be harvested after 6 months or when the skin turns a rosy pink. The other way of gauging if it's ready is to hold it in your hand. If it feels heavy, it's ready.

There's a secret pleasure in cutting open a fruit that you planted. For me, nothing beat that intense pleasure when I sliced into the fruit which is the size of a lemon. Those ruby red arils were amazingly sweet and astringent at the same time.

Some people will chew the arils and spit the seeds but I ate everything.

This was truly my first time tasting my own homegrown fruit. Now I am itching to see what other fruit trees I can plant (papaya comes to mind because it is so easy!). Of course, I have eaten sweet basil which I've grown but I used it mainly in making pesto for my pasta. Yet nothing beats eating fruits from your own garden.

By the way, pomegranate is also used for Traditional Chinese Medicine as this blog post informs me.

The rind and seeds are useful for a host of ailments from dysentery to sore throat though you're cautioned NOT to overdose on pomegranates. Pomegranates target the Spleen and Stomach and is Warming. It nourishes blood and stops dysentery too.

What fruit trees have you planted? What do you suggest I plant next? ;-)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Pomegranate Tree Is Finally Fruiting!

I know it's ridiculous to be so happy about a fruit tree but this tree holds a special place in my heart. 

I had this tree grow from some leftover pomegranate seeds while I was still living in my old apartment - I think that was sometime in 2009. 

I planted the seeds in a plastic pot and forgot about it. You see, my then balcony didn't have much direct sunlight so I barely had any hope that the seeds would germinate.

Fighting against all odds (and maybe, just maybe I have green fingers!) the seeds grew into a spindly little plant. Pomegranate leaves are long and tapered, as you can see in the photos below. 

I brought this pot over when I moved home in November 2009. This new apartment of mine affords me a little bit of backyard. I promptly transplanted the pomegranate plant into a larger pot made of clay. I figured it would have more space to grow. I placed this pot in the garden, with direct sun and rain. 

I kept "feeding" it compost every month or so but I believe the plant loved the outdoors. It started growing tentatively but after bouts of really hot sun, it started to really grow tall. I had never hoped for any fruits because I learnt that it takes about 4 to 7 years before any pomegranates will appear and that's also if one's lucky. One cannot hurry Nature. It takes its own time and space.

pomegranate bud
Pomegranate bud

Early this year, I saw some tiny red buds. Like the one above but a lot smaller. I got excited because this meant that flowers were coming! By this time, the sapling had grown into a tree, about 4 feet in height. Its leaves were much greener and larger and its branches looked sturdier. Its trunk had thickened considerably too. From the bud came the flower - soft little petals which looked so delicate but which attracted butterflies! (Some people cannot stand butterflies because it means there'll be pupa somewhere and that eats up leaves.) 

pomegranate flower
Pomegranate flower 

Anyway, when the heavy rains pelted my poor plant, I was terribly worried. Would the flowers fall off in these tropical thunderstorms? Yes, some did fall onto the ground! But most of them stayed happy and tight on the branches. 

And from those which stayed put, something magical happens. The flower turns into a fruit! Can you see the lovely bulb-like fruit forming? It's still early so the fruit may not be fully formed until a few weeks later but it's very exciting to know that a few seeds turned into a plant and that plant or tree is now bearing gorgeous carmine coloured fruits!

pomegranate fruit
Pomegranate fruit slowly forming from the flower

Having said that, did you know that Chinese folks love growing pomegranates in their gardens? Usually it is placed in front of the home. It is a symbol of fertility (especially many sons; we Chinese love our male progeny) - the many seeds in each pomegranate is a symbol of this and abundance and prosperity. 

It is also used in feng shui where artwork featuring pomegranate are hung in newlywed's homes to encourage and create offspring luck. As you can see, it is a feng shui fertility cure. It also symbolizes happiness in the family, as well as good luck for one's descendants. By the way, it's not just in Chinese culture. This fruit, high in antioxidants, is also mentioned in many ancient religions from Judaism to Islam. 

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, pomegranates which are of bitter and astringent nature are dried and used to benefit the kidneys, intestines and stomach. It expels worms in the stomach besides treating skin conditions and diarrhoea. If you suffer from coughing, eating pomegranates may help. 

I can't wait to taste the fruits when they ripen! Will keep you updated! 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Collagen, Fish Maw & Aging Gracefully

It's been a rather busy time for me (but hey, that's life, right?) with our new website product for the business as well as going home to Banting to visit my parents in March.

March was also my birthday month where I turned 38. I am 2 years away from the big 40.

One of the things which I love about soups is that if you drink soups regularly, your skin won't age that badly even if chronologically you are ageing! (That and a penchant for foot reflexology - I've been going for foot reflexology sessions twice a month and I believe that helps with preserving good health too!)

Speaking of which, my friends from France who came to visit Nic and I two weeks ago (after their conference in Singapore) were rather intrigued by all this health and wellness they seemed to see everywhere in Penang. When we were going to a restaurant for lunch, we walked past a health and wellness exhibition.

"Health is really a big deal here," Hugh commented.

I never really gave this much thought until Hugh brought it up. He said that it seemed everyone in Penang was very much into longevity and good health.

It's true. Health definitely is wealth to any Chinese. Living a healthy life and ageing well seem to be our main aim in life.

We spoke at length about this too when he pointed to the menu and asked what fish stomach was. This was a dish on the menu ("perut ikan"). Perut ikan is a classic Nyonya dish known as a pickled fish stomach curry.

In fact, he asked good questions because after thinking about it, it all boils down to eating for health, right? I see that a lot among the Chinese (and I am a Cantonese though I have my reservations about eating stuff like birds' nest and such).

"It's all about collagen," I told Hugh.

A healthy (slim) body with a lovely smooth complexion - these are what Chinese women generally wish for.

Then I realized, we do eat a lot of food with collagen - chicken feet, fish maw, fish stomach, birds' nest, pig trotters. The stuff that most foreigners look on with horror, we dig into them with such glee!

Unfortunately for Hugh, we didn't manage to taste fish stomach because the restaurant had run out of this dish that Saturday.

But I wanted to know more too so I started reading up on fish stomach. Is it maw? Is it called "fa kau" (in Cantonese). I've seen the puffed and fried versions in Hatyai markets but I didn't know if they were the same as the flattened and dried versions (the expensive ones sold in Chinese shops!).

Here's the difference: "yue piu" is the fish bladder or swim bladder of the fish and it is not the same as fish maw or "fa kau".

Fish maw is the stomach of the fish that has been cleaned and sun-dried whole. However most people mistake one for the other and refer to them as fish maw/fish stomach.

Fish bladder or fish stomach is often sold fried, looking all golden and puffy. It has to be deep fried and soaked before cooking while fish maw is never deep fried.

Fish maw is sold flat and dried.

Fish maw is usually braised or double-boiled in soups to infuse it with flavour as it is a rather bland ingredient. Apparently, fish maw harvested from the croaker fish is the best as it has thick stomach walls and of a fairly large size compared to other fish maw. (Just in case you are considering, fish maw is supposedly cheaper than birds' nest but does provide the same benefits - smoother skin!)

Fish maw is an excellent source of collagen and it ranks as a luxury food together with abalone, sea cucumber and sharks' fin.

Frankly, I think these types of food are over-rated.

We Chinese love to spend atrocious amounts of money just to eat parts which taste rather rubbery and on its own (without the sauces and braising) rather bland and uninspiring!

I've never liked abalone or sea cucumber and as of this year, I am going sharks' fin- free - meaning I won't be eating any sharks' fin soup during Chinese banquet dinners. I have come of age or maybe turning 38 is making me rethink my food choices.

I was also very surprised that my mom who is 63 years old this year told me that she doesn't want sharks' fin soup on the menu for my dad's 70th birthday dinner (coming up in June).

Now THAT is an eye-opener. My mom has never been much of an environment freak and environmental issues like finning sharks and all that never used to bother her.

So I was pleasantly surprised when she brought up the idea of not having sharks' fin soup. I don't know what prompted her to change but I am very glad she is coming around to saying no to killing sharks for their fins. (Hurray for the sharks!)

Back to fish maw. This ingredient in soups is supposedly good for coughs, asthma, lung problems and blood circulation (even fertility or so I read). It's a tonic for those recovering from illnesses too. When cooked, it tends to become slippery and soft.

I have never cooked fish maw because it takes some effort to clean and cook it while at the same time, ensuring your soups do not taste fishy! That's rather ironic because a dried fish maw will taste and smell fishy right? You'll need to cover fish maw in boiling water and leave to soak for at least 2 days to soften it for cooking. If it is not soft enough, you repeat the process.

Anyway, since I don't cook fish maw or fish stomach, you may want to hop over to this blog and check out this easy recipe for fish stomach soup. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Lotus Seed & Lily Bulb Dessert For Beautiful Skin

This is yet another easy dessert recipe for women.

The combination of these two main ingredients, lotus seeds and dried lily bulbs, is better than any skincare.

Drinking this regularly - say once a week - is touted to improve your skin texture and promote cell regeneration.

It's really easy if you have a slow cooker. Just put the ingredients in, switch the cooker on, let it simmer for an hour and you'll have a deliciously light and sweet dessert to drink before you turn in for the night.

Remember to soak the lotus seeds to soften first, then crack them open and remove the green (bitter) pith beforehand. If you can get fresh lotus seeds (the kind that is sold vacuum-packed), you don't have to soak the seeds.

Lotus Seed & Lily Bulb Dessert

19 gm dried lily bulbs
38 gm dried lotus seeds (soaked and pith removed)
2 cups water
some rock sugar to taste

Place all ingredients into a slow cooker or crockpot. Simmer for an hour. Serve warm.

Here's to beautiful skin!

About Lotus Seeds
Lotus seeds benefits the spleen, heart and kidneys. It also calms because it helps with restlessness and insomnia. It clears heat and therefore highly nutritious to people prone to heatiness.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Pig Tail Soup

Chinese people love eating parts of the pig. Apparently each part of the pig corresponds to the parts in us humans. So if you want to strengthen your legs, eating pig trotters are the way to go.

Or if you want to become smarter, you go for the pig's brain (and we all thought pigs are stupid creatures!).

When I was in my teens and studying for major exams, my mom would specially order a whole brain of the pig from the pork butcher. She would then boil the brain with some herbs in a slow cooker and I'd take that, soup, brain and all. This was to ensure my brain got all the nutrients it needed to perform well under stress.

I do know now that consuming the innards and organs and yes, the brain of the poor pig, does increase one's cholesterol level. However, at that age (remember I was in my teens), I'd imbibe the stuff my mom cooked because they were delicious in a morbid way. I'd always feel a bit like Supergirl after taking these soups.

Pig's brain, when cooked, tastes like a rich yet soft tofu. Did the brain soup make me brainier? I don't know but I have been a star student since I was 11 years old. I have gotten enough A's in my exams that my parents have nothing to complain about.....or maybe the pig brains did help!

I consider myself very much Cantonese as I love all parts of the pig - intestines, brain, liver (oooh, especially liver which Nic always cautions me about since we don't know if the liver's healthy or not) and ears (have you eaten crunchy braised pig ears? Yummy!).

Today I'm sharing with you a recipe using pig's tail.

Now if we go by the logic that parts of the pig that you eat benefits the part of your body, then why are we eating pig's tail? We don't have tails, right? I suspect the tail will benefit our lower back. I do love Dang Gui so the addition of this herb in this soup should be reason enough for me to like this soup.

Pig Tail Soup

300 gm spare ribs (blanched)
1 pig tail (blanched and chopped into smaller chunks)*

10 dried red dates (seeded)
2 whole dried scallops
1 tablespoon kei chi or goji berry
10 gm dried longan
10 gm dang gui slices

1.2 liter water

Bring water to boil. Add all ingredients and bring up to a rolling boil for 10 minutes with the pot uncovered. After that, put the lid on the pot, turn fire down to low so that soup simmers. Simmer this for 2 hours. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm.

Let me know if you come across any pig tail herbal soup recipes too!

*If you cannot get pig tail, you can omit it. It tastes all right even if you just used spare ribs. I believe you can even use chicken if you don't consume pork.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Longan, Red Date & Goji Berry Dessert

I was riffling through my recipe book last night when I saw this recipe. I am not sure where I got it from since I normally copy recipes, stick them to my fridge as a reminder to try the recipes out.

Nourishing goodness for the eyes, blood and Qi

I figured I should try this one out as it has a host of benefits. This dessert soup comprising dried longan, dried red dates and kei chi or goji berries helps with:

  • replenishing vital energy or Qi
  • promotes blood
  • improves eye sight

All you need are a handful of dried longan, about 8 dried red dates and a tablespoon of goji berries (soaked in water for a bit). Add these ingredients to a pot of water (about 1 liter). Add enough rock sugar (depends how sweet you like your dessert soup). 

Bring to a rolling boil. Then cover and lower fire so that the dessert merely simmers. Simmer it for 35 minutes or so. Serve warm. 

Great to be taken just before bed time! Warm of course. Not cold. 

This recipe makes about 4 bowls of sweet soup. It has a delicate sweetness from the trio of ingredients plus rock sugar of course. 

Friday, February 03, 2012

I Love This Blue Flower!

I have this climbing creeper plant called Clitoria Ternetea or Butterfly Pea Flower or Bunga Telang (in Malay) in my garden for many reasons. This blue flower is one of my favourite flowers of all. Its intense indigo makes me happy (I have always loved strongly coloured fruits and flowers...I don't know why).

Clitoria ternetea flowers 

One, you add precious nutrients into the soil when you plant this on the ground. Two, the flowers are used to colour food naturally. The blue Nyonya kuih made with glutinous rice was in the olden days coloured with pounded juice from this pea flower (I sometimes wonder if they use blue dye these days!). Even "Nyonya zhang" or the Chinese dumpling can be coloured with this blue flower. 

Third, the flower can be made into a drink that's full of antioxidants. Fourth, you can use the blue flowers to dye your hair (haven't tried this yet).

As a drink, I just pluck about 5 to 8 fresh flowers and steep with hot water for about 5 minutes. When it's ready, just add some honey and drink up. It doesn't have much aroma or taste. The flowers do fade to a pale white when the water turns blue! Interesting isn't it? You can do a bit of a magic trick too if you serve this in a glass. Just before serving, squeeze some lime juice into the glass and watch the colour change! It's like litmus paper!

The dried pea pod with seeds 

When I was in Thailand, I've seen shampoos which use this clitoria flower as its hair darkening ingredient.

Aren't they just lovely?

The clitoria ternetea is easy to grow. As it is a pea, germinate its seeds and in no time you will have a few plants. It needs to climb though so you may want to plant it near some fence or trellis. The plant flowers regularly and attracts butterflies although the flowers don't last very long (perhaps a day or two before they wilt).

To keep these flowers, just pluck and dry them thoroughly. They'll shrivel as they dry but it's OK. You can then keep them in your fridge (wrap them up in tissue paper and put into an airtight container). When you need some natural blue dye for your food, reconstitute them in hot water again so they release their blue colour.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Garden Weed Or TCM Herb for Urological Problems

I came across this post on Persicaria capitata and it seems this weed is really a herb.

In many ways, I have often pondered on the fact- when is a weed a weed and when is it a herb?

Even certain grasses function as herbs for cats. My cat loves to chew on grass when she's feeling a bit under the weather. In the past, we used to bring home grass for her (we used to live in an apartment where grass was scarce!) and she was too scaredy to go down to the park to chew some grass, well at least the kind cats can use for stomach problems. 

Now Margaret has all the grass she can chew. We're still living in an apartment but it's on the ground floor and we have a tiny backyard where we grow quite a bit of herbs and stuff. The grass, all types, are plentiful. It's a veritable buffet.

With grass, comes weeds. 

What really are weeds anyway? 

Weeds are just a name we give to plants which we feel we have no proper use for. To Margaret, grass is a herb. If we humans find a use for a plant, it becomes less of a weed and more of a herb! That's my definition of weed versus herb. Correct me if I am wrong. 

Many years ago, my sis had some problem with her urinary tract where she would pee urine stained with blood. Mom got worried and took her to the Chinese sinseh. He recommended that she find this particular herb and boil with brown sugar and drink it as a tea.

Now living as we did in a small town of Banting, mom and dad went searching everywhere for this herb.

They had to peek at drain cracks and little patches of grassy plots to find the all elusive herb. Here's how it looks like.

Anyone knows what this is called?

Actually it is found in most grassy areas. It is a weed. I even have some in my garden (see above photo).

When mom visited me, she pointed out to me that the "weed" growing between crevices and cracks in the cement (near the drain) was the very herb she used to cure my sister's problem! The things I learn! 

Anyway, back to the Pink Knotweed or Persicaria capitata. It is also known as Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Smartweed and Pink Bubble Persicaria. I found some growing near my compost pots. I often wondered what kind of plant they were. Thanks to Gardening with Wilson, now I know. 

Pink knotweed 

Wilson states that this is a herb used in TCM for "for the treatment of a range of urological disorders, such as kidney stones and urinary tract infections." Pink Knotweed also contains antioxidants. 

Misai kucing herb

What do you know! 

Now besides my misai kucing or Java tea plant, I can use this to treat urinary tract infections. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Pumpkin Barley Dessert

Happy New Year folks!

I have been so busy with business in between planning out stuff for this year that I've been quite guilty of not updating fast enough. Anyway, since this is the week before Chinese New Year, I'm going to be good and share some interesting dessert soup recipes.

OK, onwards to this dessert made with two nourishing ingredients, pumpkin and barley.

I had this as a drink recently when I was lunching with a good friend at a macrobiotic cafe. I enjoyed the taste very much and decided to replicate it at home.

Pumpkin barley dessert - so nutritious and easy to make

Pumpkin is one of my favourite vegetables but Nic doesn't like it much (especially cooked as a dish for dinner). But I do know that pumpkin is good for health and I try to incorporate it as much as I can into our food.

Buying pumpkin whole is always better than buying halves but how else can you have pumpkin besides stir-fried with garlic? Hence this recipe! (Also I make pumpkin man-tou too with leftover pumpkin. I also roast pumpkin when I am roasting chicken - my pumpkin man-tau is a true keeper I tell you! Soft, fluffy goodness! Will share that here soon so come back.)

If you make this pumpkin barley dessert, even those die-hard haters of pumpkin will eat it. Once it is simmered, the pumpkin pieces taste like sweet potato (just make sure you do not over simmer or the pumpkin will be mushy).

Pumpkin and barley 

Pumpkin Barley Dessert
(Makes 6 servings)

You need only 4 ingredients:

1/2 pumpkin, remove skin and seeds, cubed
50 gm barley (soaked and rinsed)
some rock sugar
2 fresh pandan leaves, cut into pieces

Put these ingredients into a pot of 1 liter water.
Cover and bring to a boil.
Once it is boiling, lower heat and simmer covered for another 45 minutes.
Taste to adjust sweetness. Serve warm as a dessert.

If you are unable to finish this in one sitting, you can refrigerate it (do not freeze). When you wish to drink it, just warm it up lightly on your stove (do not bring to a boil).

Closer look at this soothing dessert 

Why Eat Pumpkin?
I am a big fan of pumpkin. I will eat pumpkin even if it is not nutritious! But then again, pumpkin is terribly good for your body.

Pumpkin is good for your eyes as it's loaded with vitamin A and antioxidant carotenoids, particularly alpha and beta-carotenes. It contains vitamins C, K, and E, and lots of minerals, including magnesium, potassium, and iron. According to Chinese medicine, pumpkin seeds - dried and ground up - are good for expelling worms from your intestines! On the Western front, pumpkin seeds are famous for helping with prostate health.

According to TCM sites, pumpkin has a cooling nature and helps to resolve dampness, stabilizes a hyperactive foetus, kills worms, reduces fever and diabetes. It is also (surprise) an antidote for opium addiction!

What's most interesting is that pumpkin seeds helps to build Kidney Yin which is essential for reproduction and fertility.