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Healing Kitchen

The Yin and Yang of Chinese Cooking

Asians traditionally classify foods as yin, yang, or neutral, depending on the energy they impart to the body. Yin, or cooling, foods are said to have a calming effect, whereas yang foods are warming. Neutral foods, such as rice and other whole grains, provide balance. Westerners tend to overindulge in yang foods, such as french fries and meat. The aim is to maintain health through a proper balance of yin and yang.

Hot day? Try a warm drink
Whereas Americans would reach for a glass of ice water or iced tea on a sweltering (yang) summer day, most Chinese would never do that because an ice-cold drink is thought to tax the body’s energy and shock the system. They’d have warm water or, even better, hot chrysanthemum tea or warm winter melon soup--both of which contain yin ingredients that will cool the body.

A soup for the change of seasons
Late September into October is an ideal time to drink mustard green soup. Its balance of pungent-smelling mustard greens (yin) and sweet potato (yang) is thought to fortify the system and prevent flu. To make the soup: Bring 1 1/2 quarts water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add 1 pound rinsed and drained broad-leaf mustard greens, cut into 1-inch pieces, and a large, peeled sweet potato, cut into 1/2-inch chunks. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer 3 hours. Serve piping hot, no more than 1 1/2 cups per person. [Adapted from Grace Young, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, Simon & Schuster, 1999]

A southern tradition
Americans in the deep south traditionally saute mustard greens in springtime and drink the juice at the bottom of the pan (called the liquor) as a restorative tonic. Mustard greens are rich in calcium, folate, and beta-carotene.

Autumn grocery list
To counter dry fall weather, Chinese physicians recommend foods such as sesame that moisten the lungs. As the temperature shifts from warmer to cooler, you should also add yang foods.

Yin (cooling) foods:
Steamed, poached, or boiled foods.
Bok choy, bean sprouts, cucumber, eggplant, tofu, seafood.

Yang (warming) foods
Deep fried, stir-fried, or roasted foods.
Meats & poultry.
Garlic, ginger, spices, carrots, onion.

For more on healing meals, visit the Healing Kitchen.

Date Published: 03/27/2000
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