Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anti-Aging Soup with the Vine that Ate the South

Clockwise, from top: fresh corn, dang shen, goji berries,& kudzu root

Quite an intriguing title for today's post right?

I was introduced to this soup by the auntie in the Lip Sin market. She's a regular grandma in her 60s but she operates a vegetable stall in the market and she's often my source of recipes, particularly soups.

Last week, she introduced me to fresh kudzu. See that blob above in the photo that looks like a turnip or "bangkuang"?

She told me it's called "fen kok" in Cantonese. I have never come across it before.

I am particularly excited when I come across ingredients I've never used. This was no different. So I asked her what I could do with this "fen kok". She told me that it's good for boiling soups. She even told me that I should boil "fen kok" with some fresh corn, goji berries and "tong sum" (Cantonese) or "dan shen" (Chinese sage or salvia miltiorrhiza) and of course some pork bones or chicken bones.

And me, being a soup adventurer, decided that yes, that was fabulous. A new soup recipe always perks me up!

I rummaged through my fridge and found a packet of "tong sum" which I'd bought and stashed. (All my Chinese herbs go into the fridge. This Malaysian weather is too unforgiving with such perishables!)

I also soaked about 2 tablespoons of goji berries. Then I blanched about 600 gm of pork bones.

But Wait....What Is Fen Kok?

But first I had to cut up the "fen kok". Initially I had no idea what it was called in English. A quick search on Google told me it's called Kudzu.

Kudzu vine actually. This turnip-like thingy was its root.

In fact, in the US, the kudzu vine (pueraria lobata) is considered a weed. A nuisance weed. That is why it is called the vine that ate the South (the southern states of the USA).

According to my handy little book "Secrets of Chinese Herbal Medicine", the kudzu vine is a member of the pea family.

It was introduced into the US from Japan in 1870s because they thought it was a good source of "food, fodder and fibre crop". In fact, farmers were encouraged to plant kudzu. The vines then self-seeded and spread all over across farmland. Now it is considered a tough and nasty weed, growing all over other plants and spreading over the landscape.

I believe I have seen this kudzu vine growing near the walkways going towards the Penang Botanical Garden. Only then I didn't know it was kudzu!

The root of the kudzu vine, called Ge Gen and its flowers, Ge Hua, are used medicinally.

The root is used to encourage sweating for feverish colds and to relieve measles and neck pains. It is also used for reducing high blood pressure while its flowers are used to relieve alcohol poisoning, in fact, it is believed to be useful to counteract alcohol addiction. People who take Ge Gen extracts have been found to reduce their alcohol intake.

Ge Gen can help clear various types of toxins too. It can raise Yang Qi, relieve the body of skin eruptions (hence useful for measles), cool the body and disperse wind-heat and wind-cold.

Of course, one other thing that is not mentioned is that Ge Gen is great for women especially if you're into youthfulness and anti-aging. Read on and you will see why.

As you can see, I was experimenting with angles when taking photos with my iPhone.

For Preventing Menopausal Symptoms 

Further digging got me to the website of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

It's a truly comprehensive list of herbs (Western and Eastern/Chinese) with accompanying research and studies.

Perhaps why it's good for women is that Kudzu intake "may improve symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats in perimenopausal women and cognitive function in postmenopausal women".

As you can see, most researchers stay away from claiming Ge Gen prevents hot flushes or night sweats or improve women's memory.

However, no one can dispute that Ge Gen or Kudzu contains isoflavones - in fact, the roots of kudzu are a rich source of isoflavone O- and C-glycosides.  Isoflavones is very similar to estrogen in the human body. Besides kudzu, the most popular sources of isoflavones can be found in soya beans and tempeh.

So the thing is, when a woman is middle-aged and menopause hits, the body's natural estrogen drops. So eating foods high in isoflavones can help reduce those menopausal symptoms of hot flushes (is it flushes or flashes) and night sweats.

I suppose this is where the anti-aging bit comes into play.

Anyway, if you live in a place where you can't possibly find fresh kudzu, then go for dried kudzu slices available at your Chinese herbalist. There's a ton of information on kudzu or pueraria.

So, yes, back to my soup. I made soup with this fabulous root-herb.

What Kudzu Root Tastes Like

I had a tough time peeling off the tough kudzu skin and even chopping up the kudzu root into chunks took some time. It was really solid!

Then as always, bring 1.5 liter of water in a pot to boil. Add the corn (break off into 3 chunks), kudzu chunks, goji berries and "tong sum" together with the pork bones. Bring to a rolling boil - about 10 minutes uncovered. I found that some scum still floated so I spent some time skimming off the scum before I put the lid on the pot and turned the fire to a mere simmer. I simmered this for 2.5 hours, adding about 2 - 3 teaspoons of salt almost at the end. Let the soup rest for about 30 minutes before serving. I find that "resting" my soup gives it a more rounded flavour.

Kudzu chunks in the soup wasn't very edible; it was still a challenge to eat and tasted like a starchy potato but with none of the creaminess of a potato. In the end, I gave up. I was just going to drink the soup, forsaking the chunky bits of kudzu. After 2.5 hours simmering, all the kudzu goodness would've gone into the soup!

But the soup tasted absolutely divine due to the corn which imparted a delicate sweetness. The "tong sum" wasn't overpowering at all.

A soup that's worth making again!

Bust Firming and Enlargement...No Kidding!

Did you know that there's also pueraria tea?

And pueraria mirifica (wonder if eating pueraria lobata gets the same effects?) is also used in breast enlargement and bust firming creams, bust enlargement soaps, bust enlargement puddings and cookies.

Don't believe me? Google it up and see the kinds of stuff that has pueraria as a key ingredient!

Plus it prevents vaginal dryness. So kudzu really is a vegetable-herb that's good for women.

The Thais call this Kwao Kreu Kao and supposedly theirs is a much better specie than regular old kudzu. And it's used predominantly for bust enhancement skincare!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Open Sesame, Black Sesame, White Sesame

Happy New Year everyone!

I took a long break for Christmas and finally we all survived the Mayan prophecy but Nic asks in an almost sinister manner - How do you know if we're not all walking zombies? What if we all died in our sleep on 21 Dec and we're now in an alternate universe but we are unaware of it?

My retort to that is: if I were a zombie, I'm still a zombie with my old personality - that is, I still want to look good, age well and eat well.

Ah so.

But this zombie has promised to write about my other discovery on getting hair to become black.

See, vain zombie this is!

Of course besides dyeing my hair with henna (something which my hair stylist, Desmond absolutely does not like but hey, it's my hair OK and my brain and I certainly don't want chemicals seeping into my brain cells for an hour), I have attempted to adjust my diet to include more hair-friendly ingredients.

Just the other day when I was back home in Banting, my 34 year old sister was complaining that she can't stand her white hair and it's not just on her head! LOL. Lest I sound weird, yes, hairs down south can also turn white!

And of course my best friend who is my age (38) also started telling me that she has seen some white hair on her head.

So you see, call me vain or call my sister or best friend vain but white hair is quite ugly especially if they're popping up in places the sun don't shine!

Anyway, my recent discovery is black sesame seeds.

There's nothing new about them as they've always been highly regarded in Chinese food.

Every Chinese household has a bottle of sesame seed oil.

Every Indian household also would have a bottle of sesame oil.

But herein lies the difference. Chinese sesame seed oil is made for cooking. Indian sesame seed oil is made for slathering on the hair and body!

I found out one day when my other best pal, Jana, told me she wanted to do a body massage for me but she need oil. Sesame oil. So we actually drove all around George Town and stopping at each Indian Muslim roadside stall to ask if they sold Indian sesame oil for massage.

Indian sesame oil is made for massage because of its nourishing and detoxification properties. When I was in Kerala some years ago and was given a full body oil massage, I wish I had asked the tiny Indian girl if she was using warmed up sesame oil. The massage was wonderful but the oily residue wasn't (despite the powdered herbal wash I used afterwards to get rid of the oiliness!).

Now don't you go substituting with Chinese sesame seed oil because the Chinese cooking version is made from toasted sesame seeds. You will smell like Chinese food if you do!

Anyway, black sesame seeds are considered more potent than the regular beige sesame seeds (of which Chinese sesame oil is made with).

Black sesame seeds contain linoleic acid to lower cholesterol and Vitamin E to keep skin smooth and nourished. Plus it contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, phosphorous, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, unsaturated oleic, protein, and folic acid.

And if you can't stand drinking milk (like me), eating sesame seeds is a substitute for milk as it contains a good amount of calcium! (That's why I also like eating ikan bilis, another good source of calcium. So you see, you don't need to drink milk if you're not the milk-drinking sort.)

Eating black sesame seeds nourishes the blood, improves eyesight, prevents constipation, encourages milk flow in breastfeeding women, promotes hair growth and best of all, slows down aging!

If you are dizzy, have ringing in your ears, high blood, coughs, grey or dry hair, this humble looking seed is the food you should be eating regularly (as the seeds target the liver, kidneys and spleen). It is considered neutral unlike some foods which can be either warming or cooling.

That is why Chinese love their black sesame seed dessert or paste - now I get it. It's for nourishment of the body and hair and the elderly are encouraged to take this dessert from time to time.

For a couple of easy peasy recipes using black sesame seeds, go to Jodie's kitchen.

How to use 

Black sesame seeds should be toasted lightly without oil in a pan and cooled before you use them. However I've just eaten them raw. I chew them by the handfuls when I watch TV.

If you can't stand eating raw sesame seeds, you can sprinkle them over your salads or rice. Or you can whizz them in a blender and make tahini. I've never made tahini with black sesame seeds, only white. The white tahini can be used with garbanzo beans - just blend them with some olive oil and salt and lemon juice to make a luscious hummus. (Here's a great way to make a Chinese style white sesame paste.)

So there you go....I presume that eating black sesame seeds is part of the overall discipline but as all food tonics go, effects won't be immediate. Besides eating foods like these, I also buy herbal hair oil from the Indian shops in town and give myself a hair massage once a fortnight with the oils. And as you know I have recently turned to henna to dye the ugly white hair.

Speaking of hair, did you know that mint leaves and kaffir limes are great for scalp and hair? I could do an entire ebook on hair remedies, given my fascination with how to get my crowning glory looking spiffy and pretty without the artificial gels, sprays or fumes.

(Another food that is great for turning white hair to black is Korean ginseng. Potent stuff, that. My 94 year old grandma's hair started turning black when my aunt fed her minute amounts of Korean ginseng. And I could see the changes in her hair. That's how potent Korean ginseng is!)

What hair darkening remedies or folk remedies have you heard about? Do share ;-)