Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Hot and Cold Foods
It appears that Chad is not well yet, though he certainly feels much better; he'll try and go to the university today, and see how he feels. But he's still coughing and sneezing like there's no tomorrow. As is always the case, when Chad gets sick, we both take precautions - otherwise, I get sick, then he gets sick again, etcetera. My folks keep asking what pills Chad is taking for his illness; and are always surprised when we reply "ginger", or "curry", or "carrot soup". In fact, what you see above is the lunchbox Chad's taking to school today, with his vegetable curry and red rice.
The art of healing through food has been practiced for many ages in China, and it relies on a holistic type of diagnosis. Good Chinese medicine doctors do not just pay attention to the specific new symptoms the person tells them about - they "read the map" of the person's body to tell them about the overall situation, which is related to - but not encapsulated in - the present ailment. When you go to a Chinese medicine clinic, the doctor will usually look for a while at your face, finding your shen - the spark in your eyes - and letting her or him know how you are. He or she will then look at your tongue, which is a wonderful instrument for assessment, then take your pulses. That's right - in Chinese medicine, three pulses are measured on each hand, in different location; both shallow (on the skin) and deep (pressing in the hand) pulses are taken. Altogether, this produces twelve different bits of information, which help the doctor relate your ailment to the patterns of qi, blood and moisture in your body.
Your symptoms, general constitution and feelings, usually add up to a more general picture, telling the doctor whether your condition indicates deficiency or excess, yin or yang, cold or heat, moisture or dryness. There are many intricacies in these categories, some of which neatly map on Western medicine conditions and some don't. What we call a cold, or a flu, can be "cold" - making us feel cold, moist, inactive and weak - or "hot" - accompanied by fever, flush and unrest. The illness is traced to a certain energy path in the body, which indicates which points should be gently pressed, heated or punctured with a needle, and which plants and foods should be consumed to correct the imbalance.
One of the basic distinctions is between cold and heat. The logic of Chinese medicine requires that you consume cold, or cooling, foods when you are hot, and hot, or warming, foods when you are cold. The definition of "hot" and "cold" food does not refer merely to the food temperature, but to its energetic properties. It's important to look at the food and tell whether it is cooked or raw; what its color is; whether it's spicy or bland. In his wonderfully informative book, Healing with Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford lists several cooling and heating foods; here are a few examples from the list with some modifications from my studies at the Berkeley Acupressure Institute. You can look at the list and see if you get a feel for the foods' different energies:
all leafy greens
broccoli and cauliflower
soy milk, tofu and other soy products
all root vegetables
spicy leafy greens, like jale and mustard greens
We try to eat a diet that balances between warming and cooling foods, though we lean more toward the warming list, since we're both vegetarians and relateively thin. Folks who are larger, or eat a lot of meat, need more cooling, raw vegetables in their diet, though this is just a rule-of-thumb and can be modified to fit your own condition. So, these days, when we both feel a tad cold and weak, our diet includes more warming foods. Hence our carrot-ginger soup, and the following beautiful curry made by Chad yesterday.
Actually, the curry is a good example for how "cooling" vegetables can be matched with "warming" spices to get a generally balanced (a tad towards the warm) and satisfying meal. The types of vegetables and other ingredients can vary; you can add any root vegetables, eggplant, or tofu cubes if you so desire.
Vegetable Curry with Coconut Milk
4 garlic cloves
2 stalks of green onions
1/2 white onion
10 large forest mushrooms
vegetable oil (we're in the Middle East, so we use olive oil)
black pepper, powdered
red pepper, powdered
1 inch of ginger root
1 inch of galanga root
1 can coconut milk
5-10 inch long stalks of lemongrass
3-4 lemon leaves (we have a little lemon tree on our balcony)
5-6 large leaves of manguld, kale, collards, bok-choi, or any other leafy green vegetables
Start with a wok with some oil. In the oil, heat the ginger, garlic, and pepper. Be quite generous with the pepper. If you have a jar of curry paste, you can add a spoonful to the oil; if not, nevermind. When the spices are sizzling and aromatic, add the mushrooms and sautee a bit. Then, add about a teaspoon of coconut milk, and mix a bit so everything becomes nice and yellow. Then, add the rest of the coconut milk, and chop in the vegetables, the lemongrass, the galanga, and the lemon leaves. If curry seems too thick, add a bit of vegetable stock. Curry's ready when the vegetables are ready. Serve with brown or red rice.