Book Jacket: @Random House; Ginger photo: cc by ideowl
I love the flavor and textural contrast of meaty mushrooms and crisp snap peas, particularly when drenched in a sumptuous oyster sauce.
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Excerpted from A Spoonful of Ginger by Nina Simonds. © 1999 by Nina Simonds.
I was seated in front of Mr. Li Lian Xing, a Chinese herbalist who was trying to diagnose my malady. I complained that I had no appetite and that I was constantly cold. He checked the pulse of my right hand; it was weak and slow. He inspected my tongue and noticed that it was pale and slightly white. He made his diagnosis. “You are too yin,” he solemnly pronounced.
This was no ordinary herbalist’s office, although I was surrounded by Chinese herbs. We were seated at the front of the Imperial Herbal restaurant in Singapore, where Mr. Li is the resident herbalist. From the day it first opened five years ago, the Imperial Herbal has drawn praise from its local and international clientele for its masterful marriage of herbs and Chinese haute cuisine. And Mr. Li has acquired a devoted following of customers who come to the restaurant for treatment. I had come to be treated for a minor ailment and to sample the legendary food.
The idea of treating illness and disease with food and herbs is not new to Asians: Different foods have long been prescribed and eaten as a form of preventative therapy. Ginger is believed to stimulate the stomach and intestines. It is also reputed to have warming properties. Bean curd, or tofu, is eaten to increase body energy, produce fluids, and lubricate the system. It is said to have yin, or cooling properties.
Disease occurs, Chinese doctors believe, when there is an imbalance in the system. All foods are classified as yin, yang, or neutral, depending on their effect on the body. Yin foods have a calming effect, while too much yang can trigger hyperactivity. Generally, yang foods–which include eggs, fatty meats, and pungent spices–are strong, rich, and spicy, while yin foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, and many types of seafood, are bitter, salty, and light. Neutral foods, such as rice, peanuts, and bread, provide balance.
The Imperial Herbal restaurant offers dishes that are both delicious and beneficial. It is the brainchild of Mrs. Wang-Lee Tee Eng, a forty-one-year old Singaporean businesswoman, who visited an herbal restaurant in China in the mid-1980s and became fascinated with the concept. She was determined to refine herbal dishes and elevate them to haute cuisine, broadening their appeal. She brought in from northern China two gold-medal master chefs and an herbalist.
Mrs. Wang felt that with today’s pressing concerns about health and the widespread appreciation for fine food, a marriage between a Chinese doctor and a master chef was a natural.
Wild Mushrooms with Snap Peas in Oyster Sauce
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Snap peas, snow peas, and snow pea greens have similar tonic qualities: Chinese doctors feel not only that they are rich in iron and vitamins, but also that they promote urination and counteract the effects of ulcers.
Shiitake mushrooms are especially effective in bolstering the immune system, while oyster mushrooms are credited with inhibiting tumors.
I love the flavor and textural contrast of meaty mushrooms and crisp snap peas, particularly when drenched in a sumptuous oyster sauce. If snap peas are unavailable, use snow peas and decrease the cooking time briefly.
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed and lightly rinsed
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, stems trimmed and lightly rinsed (if unavailable, substitute shiitake mushrooms)
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, stems trimmed and lightly rinsed
2 1/2 teaspoons canola or corn oil
1 pound snap peas, ends snapped and veiny strings removed, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
Oyster Sauce (mixed together)
3 1/2 tablespoons good-quality oyster sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken broth or water
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1. With a sharp knife, cut all the mushrooms into quarters, depending on the size.
2. Prepare the Seasonings and set by the stove.
3. Heat a wok or heavy skillet until very hot, add 1 teaspoon of the oil and heat until hot. Add the snap peas, minced garlic, rice wine or sake, and salt, and toss lightly over high heat about 1 ½ minutes, until the peas are just tender (snow peas will take slightly less time). Remove from the pan and arrange the peas around the outside of a serving plate.
4. Reheat the pan and the remaining 1 ½ teaspoons oil until very hot. Add the Seasonings and stir-fry about 10 seconds, until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and toss lightly with a spatula over high heat about 1 minute. Add the premixed Oyster Sauce and toss lightly to thicken it, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Scoop the mushrooms and sauce into the circle inside the snow peas. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from A Spoonful of Ginger by Nina Simonds. Copyright © 1999 by Nina Simonds. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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