Friday, May 11, 2007

My Favourite Traditional Chinese Medicine Books

Here's a peek at some of my favourite herb books on my bursting bookshelves! Many of these books can be bought or sourced from any good bookstore like Borders, Popular, Kinokuniya and MPH.

I refer to these books a lot as they're full of information and one read cannot glean them all. Books by DK (www.dk.com) or Dorling Kindersley are fantastic - they come with colour photos and that's always helpful when I am trying to figure out which herb is which!

Slowly build up your books on TCM and herbs as there are plenty out there. Get them with hardcover if you can - they're sturdier and last longer because you will be referring to them a lot in your study of herbs off and on.

I started collecting these books about 5 years ago and am still slowly building up a collection. I cross-refer when I am unsure (and refer online when I am really stumped!). But books, unlike websites, can be picked up anytime for a quick perusal. Switching on my laptop takes much longer!

If you have a good book on TCM, please share with me!

Secrets of Chinese Herbal Medicine
By Penelope Cody (2001)
Published by DK Books
*Small and compact, easy to refer to. Full of colour photos and quick for a refresher on popular herbs. Bought this in Kinokuniya KLCC many years ago!

Chinese Herbal Secrets
By Stefan Chmelik (1999)
Published by Avery Group
* A large book but again, full of enjoyable colour photos. The illustrations are good too.

Practical Chinese Medicine
By Penelope Cody (2000)
Published by Godsfield Press
* Always a handy reference, Cody writes well and explains in detail. Much recommended.

Chinese Food System for Health & Healing
By Henry C. Lu (2000)
Published by Pelanduk
* A bit complicated and hard to understand. Needs some mental workout but good list of hot/cold food categories.

The Chinese Way to Healing: Many Paths to Wholeness
By Misha Ruth Cohen (1996)
Published by Perigee Books

New Cantonese Cooking: Classic and Innovative Recipes from China's Haute Cuisine
By Eileen Yin-Fei Lo (1988)
Published by Viking Group
* An old book I found at a garage sale going for a song! Full of real Cantonese recipes.

Longevity: The Tao of Eating and Healing
By Aileen Yeoh (1989)
Published by Times Books
* My first book...a bit pricey but a good reference, always. Aileen is Malaysian by the way.

Herbal Secrets for Total Health
By Letha Hadady (1996)
Published by Vermilion

Braised Chicken with White Radish

I know this is not a soup BUT it does taste so good and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. It has a bit of a gravy that goes well with plain rice.

White radish is a versatile root vegetable. You probably have eaten radish in its other forms in Japanese or Korean cuisine. In Korean food, you probably have eaten radish as a spicy kimchi. In Japanese cuisine, you would have been familiar with "daikon" used in Japanese stews or even as a white shredded pile of mush you usually add to the dipping sauce for tempura.

But a word of caution, if you have taken herbal soups such as ginseng a few hours before, you should NOT take anything (soup or otherwise) that is cooked with white radish. White radish detoxes the body of all the goodness that you have just eaten. I once heard that if you have food poisoning, taking white radish is good as it helps flushes out the unwanted from your body.

Anyway, white radish is a vegetable you should eat if you want a clear complexion. Perhaps that's why the Japanese and Korean girls look so radiant and pretty.

This recipe comes from Karen Mok's recipe book. While I am not a big fan of Karen Mok, this recipe is a knockout success each time I've made it. And it has become my husband's favourite dish, among the other favourite dishes like ginger chicken.

You'll need:
2 chicken thighs (remove skin if you're on a lowfat diet, otherwise keep it on; chop into bite-size chunks)
1 medium size white radish, wash, peel skin and cut into chunks
2 slices young ginger
1 cup water
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soya sauce
1 sliced red chili (for garnishing)

Bring a pot of water to boil. Put in the white radish. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

In a separate pan, heat oil. Saute ginger until fragrant. Add chicken and radish. Stirfry for a few seconds before adding water. Add in the fish sauce, rice wine and soya sauce. Bring to a fast boil. Then turn the heat down so that chicken simmers gently for 25 minutes or so (don't let the gravy dry up, add more hot water if you find the gravy disappearing!). Once chicken is tender, dish up and garnish with red chili. You should have a bit of gravy with this dish.

That's it. A quick dish you can make even if you think you don't have time.

Try it and tell me how it went! And of course thanks to Karen Mok for such a simple, delicious dish.

By the way, radish soup is also really good and simple. Just throw some chicken carcasses into a pot of boiling water with some chunks of radish. Add a slice of ginger and some red dates if you want. Simmer 2 hours or so and season with salt at the end of the cooking time. I prefer to add some chicken feet to this soup as I am a chicken feet lover! Radish is also good for the lungs and clearing heat.

Dong Quai Soup

This is one of my favourite blood tonics!

I have grown up with this herb because my mom used to boil dong quai for my sisters and me especially when our menses are over. Mom used to emphasise that women benefit most from this herbal soup/tonic.

Now that I've married and left home, I still make this dong quai tonic for myself each month. Not many people like the smell of dong quai - but I do. The smell of dong quai simmering in the slow cooker for a few hours is out of this world.

Again, I am one of the many odd ones out. Many people I know will run at the smell of chinese herbs but not me. I enjoy going into Chinese medicine shops, and the smell of herbs is divine!

Dong quai is really a woman's herb because it helps to correct women's problems such as painful periods, irregular periods, PMS, hormonal imbalance, anaemia, fatigue, high blood pressure, postpartum conditions and menopausal symptoms. If you're a woman and feeling blah most of the time, you should take dong quai. In fact, dong quai helps to make women's reproductive system better!

Scientifically, dong quai does effect the uterus positively. It strengthens and normalises uterine contractions due to the ferulic acid and lulgutilide in this herb.

Dong quai or angelica polymorpha var sinensis is one of the most popular Chinese herbs with a warm character. The part that's used is the root which affects the liver, heart and spleen.

Like I said, it is traditionally used to nourish blood and invigorate blood circulation and as a laxative. A typical dose is about 3 to 12 grammes.

I usually make this tonic a few days after my period ends. Put a few slices of dong quai into a slow cooker with a piece of chicken drumstick/thigh. Add 3-4 dried red dates. Remember to remove the skin from the chicken; otherwise your tonic will be very oily!

Pour boiling water into the slow cooker - enough water for one small bowl of soup. Cover pot, switch on electricity and turn the dial to Auto. Let it simmer for 4 hours.

Just before I drink this soup, I add in some salt. Take the soup/tonic, eat the softened slices of dong quai and of course, eat the tender chicken meat. The soup will be a clear yellow, somewhat like a light tea colour.

I take this soup just before I go to bed. It does tend to be a bit heavy on the stomach but the wonderful aroma of dong quai is simply too irresistible.

One more tip: Do not drink water after you drink this soup. You want the full benefits of this herb which you have just boiled for 4 hours. The next day, do not take Chinese tea or whatever tea for a full 12 hours. As with all chinese tonics and herbs, drinking tea will prevent the goodness of the herbs from being absorbed by the body.

Dong quai is also good for coughs but you should avoid taking this herb if you are pregnant, having diarrhoea or abdominal fullness/congestion.

And men, well, men have often been advised NOT to take this herb. It is after all a women's herb.

My husband won't touch this soup, no matter how tempting it smells like. He's worried his hormones will change!

Note: Another blood tonic to try is Ba Zhen Tang or Eight Precious Soup. This is another women's herbal tonic concoction. Simmer in a slow cooker with some chicken (like the dong quai recipe) but this tonic is really black when it's done. The taste is somewhat strong too. If you don't like putting chicken with Ba Zhen Tang, use a hardboiled egg. Drop a peeled, hardboiled egg into your Ba Zhen Tang as it is simmering. Eat the egg later when you drink the soup.