Saturday, March 10, 2012

5 Spring Seaweed Snacks for Health

Posh Spice eats laver seaweed and so do I. I remember reading about Victoria Beckham's sea vegetable consumption for weight maintenance in 2011. Not all Chinese Americans are exposed to kelp and laver sea vegetables but it was part of my childhood diet. Yes, I lived near Berkeley but it wasn't because of a macrobiotic food trend.

Photo Credit: Chenhai Laver
For me fungus as kitchen staples such as snow lichen and black wood ears were as common as having chicken, on hand, for dinner.

My grandma was known for her steamed chicken with light soy, shitake mushrooms, black wood ears, and ginger slivers. It helped warm my blood during winter when I ate this with jasmine rice.

How did our family get their supply of seaweed in the 1980s? Grandma traveled to San Francisco to buy groceries for my parents. She'd return laden with plastic Asian grocery bags full of fresh produce and discs of laver sea vegetables. In the 1990s, my parents moved closer to Oakland so the commute for Asian groceries became less difficult. 

If you are interested in seaweed to buy for cooking, you can find roasted nori in the ethnic aisle of most chain supermarkets. In 2012,you can find freshly packed seaweed salad at Whole Foods, dried sea vegetables at Sprouts and roasted seaweed at Trader Joe's. This is appealing to non-Chinese also who follow a vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free diet. 

If you don't know much about seaweed as food, you can watch a clip about a sea vegetable farmer on Chow's Obsessives. You may have already encountered seaweed as a snack at Trader Joe's if you've tried their 99-cent roasted seaweed snacks. You might have taken a sip or two of miso soup at a Japanese restaurant and tasted a hint of wakame sea vegetable. Maybe you are reading this because you are already a seaweed connoisseur and want another recipe for chucka salad.

If you believe in Chinese herbal remedies or follow Taoist dietary suggestions, seaweed is considered a cooling food. "Cooling foods" help rehydrate the body after consumption of too many fried or spicy foods. Some say this is a good diet after St. Patty's Day celebrations. 

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Trader Joe's Miso Soup
3. Miso Soup

Laver Tofu Eggdrop Soup

1/4 disc of dried laver
8 cups of water
10 oz tofu
2 oz green onions
chicken or vegetable bullion (optional)
1/4 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 egg whites 

1. Soak the dried laver in 4 cups in water for 8 hours. Swish and strain to remove sand. 
2. Set 4 cups of water in a stock pot to bill. Add the cleaned, softened laver. Season with bullion if desired. Add ginger and cubed tofu. Simmer for 45 minutes. 
3. Beat the egg whites in a bowl. Pour the egg whites in a stream while stirring the soup with a wooden spoon. Ladle into bowls and garnish with green onions. 

Note: You can omit the egg and chicken bullion to make this a vegan meal. You also have the option of selecting silken, soft, firm or extra firm tofu. Avoid the crispy, deep-fried tofu if you are making this dish as a cooling tonic. 

Happy Seaweed Snacking!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Almond Tofu Dessert: Easy Spring Desserts

Photo Credit: Renee Marchol's Kitchen Almond Tofu Dessert

Last night my husband came down with the sniffles so he requested gelatin for the next day. Specifically, he asked for Almond Tofu Dessert. He experienced this easy spring dessert during our dating years, at dim sum and at my family gatherings. It also goes by another name Chinese Almond J-llo but since it is not truly a product made by Jello, let's avoid calling it that.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons NicnakW Almond Blossoms
To me, Spring is the perfect season to consume almonds. Why? Because almond seems lighter tasting than vanilla. I usually associate vanilla with baked goods and sticky, eggy custards. In contrast to vanilla, I think of almonds as the perfect partner to fresh Spring fruit. Feel free to comment and tell me your opinion of almonds. 

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons Healthaliciousness Almonds
Here is my recipe for Almond Tofu Dessert:
10 oz evaporated milk
3 packets of unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup of sugar or sugar substitute
1 TB pure almond extract (do not use imitation)
8 oz cubed fresh fruit (optional)
3 cups water approximately

1. Boil a teakettle full of tap water.
2. Mix 3 packets of unflavored gelatin powder with white sugar. Pour boiling water into the heat-safe glass 8 X 8" dish about 2" high. Use a fork to make sure all the powder dissolves.
3. Add the evaporated milk to the gelatin water. Add almond extract. Chill for 3 hours.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons TurtleMom4Bacon Fruit Salad

Preparation Note: The prep process is quick. The waiting is 3 hrs.

Decoration Tips: Cut the almond tofu into attractive cubes. Decorate the dessert with fresh fruit such as kiwi slices or fresh peach. Be creative. You can even use gelatin as a canvas for Easter bunny scenes. How? Use cookie cutters or sculpt the Almond Tofu in a bunny mold.

Diet Notes: If you prefer canned fruit cocktail choose the one with pear juice instead of corn syrup. Also if you are allergic to cow's milk swap the dairy for a nut or soy-based milk. Contact me if you can share a Kosher substitute for gelatin.

I enjoyed some of this dessert as a light snack. I would like to learn how to make Almond Flan, next, as described in the children's book Esperanza Rising.

Read future tutorials on how to make DIY beancurd and almond nutmilk.

Welcome Spring!

Monday, March 5, 2012

3 Spring Chinese Herbal Remedies

Photo Credit: SmartyGirl's Kitchen Rock Sugar and Fresh Pears
"No spells," says my German Lithuanian husband when he hears me opening kitchen cupboards and muttering in Cantonese about rock sugar, barley, green mung beans and bean curd skin.

He is joking. However, I can understand how my tonic making can seem a bit like sorcery. Sometimes the smell of dong quai, a bitter root can be overwhelming in the winter. Other times, he is intrigued by my red bean dessert soup and asks me to if I'd be willing to freeze the red bean dessert into popsicles for him. I am an anomaly but so was my grandmother who taught me these holistic remedies.

Though she was the daughter of a Western-medicine trained surgeon, my maternal grandma took an interest in Chinese herbal remedies unlike her siblings who became conventional doctors, nurses and hospital administrators. Originally she was on the nursing track because of her parents' wishes but they allowed her to become a teacher and later a businesswoman instead because she became woozy at the sight of blood.

Photo Credit: SmartyGirl's Herbal Therapy Rock Sugar Poached Pears
Sivia, my grandma, was interested in preventative health and herbal therapy. When I had nosebleeds as a kid, she'd make a simple syrup out of Chinese rock sugar, barley grain and bean curd skin to help me rehydrate. I don't fully understand why but it was more hydrating than plain water and more natural than Gatorade or Pedialyte. I enjoyed the taste too. She would chill it in mugs for me to drink after school. While others drank juice or versions of Kool-Aid, I drank my grandma's tonics instead.

Photo Credit: Flickr Jon Mountjoy Barley
I didn't share this with my junior high peers but I had a fondness for snow lichen in and dried scallops in the winter. As an alternative to Midol, I drank my grandma's dong quai and red date chicken soup.

Photo Credit: Flickr Oncetherewasagirl Fries
Disclaimer: Please consult a traditional Western doctor before using these recipes to treat any illness or injury. I am not a graduate from natural medicine school. I am merely relaying recipes of Chinese herbal remedies I enjoyed as a child.  

If you've eaten many heavily salted and fried foods, you might feel very thirsty and irritable. When I want to "cool down" my system, I rely on rock sugar dessert soups. I am not a Taoist but I have researched that Taosists would agree that pears and rock sugar are "yin" or cooling ingredients.

Fresh Pears Poached in Simple Rock Sugar Syrup
3 cups of water
1 ripe fresh pear sliced
1" cube of rock sugar

Dissolve lump of rock sugar in water by boiling on high for 10 minutes. Slice a fresh pear, leave the skin on and simmer for 8 minutes in the syrup. Serve warm or chilled. How is this different from canned pears in corn syrup? I can't give you the food chemistry explanation. However, I can tell you that corn products are from the other spectrum of "yang" or warming ingredients. Processed foods are "yang" also.

Photo Credit: Flickr _e.t Green Tea Ice Cream
You may find ingredients for herbal therapy at 99 Ranch Asian grocery or smaller shops in Vietnamese or Japanese stores. You are not limited to visiting a Chinese herbalist for ingredients. I think it's just a matter of time before Sprouts, Whole Foods and Trader Joes begins to carry dried roots and seeds for tonic making since mainstream consumers have accepted BBQ pork buns and green tea ice cream.

Contact me if you'd like to share your childhood stories of herbal therapy. 

Two other dessert soup recipes and Chinese herbal remedies can be found below: