Cooking in Shanghai with Shiyin!

One of many great things about living in Shanghai is the availability of cooking classes. I recently attended a plant based Chinese cooking class by Shanghainese American chef Shiyin Wang . He taught some very eager students how to make Sichuan eggplant, Dongbei salad and cauliflower dry pot! Cauliflower dry pot is one of my favorite Chinese dishes but it isn’t as healthy as it sounds. This dish is usually cooked in pork fat (but you wouldn’t know unless someone told you) and may have bits of pork in it. This rings true for many Chinese dishes. Whether you are vegan / vegetarian, celiac, have allergies or simply want to avoid something detrimental to your heart health, learning to cook your own Chinese food is a great idea. As I’ve written here before, cooking at home gives you complete control over your ingredients and calorie content of meals.  Chinese restaurant food may taste fabulous, but the chefs are often making up for a lack of quality ingredients or old vegetables by adding loads of salt, MSG and other mystery ingredients. Having quality ingredients allows you to use less of the “bad stuff” and reduce the oil content without compromising flavor.

Spices used in Chef Shiyin’s class

One of my favorite ingredients was Chef Shiyin’s chili oil.  The oil is flavored with various spices that added a lovely flavor to the cold vegetable and tofu salad. I am looking forward to a class on using Chinese spices and creating your own sauces!

Vegetables used in class.

Shiyin’s classes; part hands-on cooking lesson and part dinner party; bring together a community of Shanghai expats who want a tasty and sustainable way to eat healthier. Shiyin teaches Chinese dishes that bring great flavor to whole foods (mostly vegetables) made from natural, quality ingredients. Moderation is key to this way of cooking.  While the focus is on healthy veggies, it’s ok to include small indulgences as part of a balanced and happy diet. These classes are not about feeling anxious over weight or size, but rather about being happy about tasty, nourishing, nutritious food.  Classes cater for a maximum of 8 people. Expect to cook and eat three dishes. Ingredients are all from Fields, so they are fresh, local, and safe. Wine pairings are included. Future planned classes will feature vegan Chinese food, healthier dumplings and noodles, cooking with ayis, and more! Add Shiyin on WeChat (ID: swangyin) to join a class.

Mushrooms, Chinese celery and bamboo.

Ingredients Used in Class

Oils: Chili oil – Shiyin’s homemade chili oil contains canola oil, Sichuan red chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon – and that’s it!. Use it to spice up stir fries or dressings.

Sauces: Light soy sauce –the everyday variety used for most cooking. It is salty and rich. Be aware that it contains gluten!

Dark soy sauce – it’s thicker, sweeter, and smokier due to longer aging and the addition of molasses. Use it sparingly for marinades, braising, and sauces. It burns easily due to the sugar content, so don’t overcook it!

Doubanjiang – also called broad bean paste – it’s a core sauce of Sichuan cooking. It’s salty, spicy, and pungent, and it’s made from fermented fava beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and spices.

Laoganma – sometimes called Old Godmother, this venerable sauce is famous in China and abroad. It was created by Tao Huabi for her noodle shop in Guizhou, and soon took on a cult following. The fiery sauce, a combination of chili oil and “chili crisp,” is made with Sichuan pepper and a variety of spices.

Plant Protein: Yuba (Fuzhu) – a “tofu skin” made by skimming off the dense, top layer of soymilk during the making of tofu. It provides calcium, protein and a small amount of iron. It is a traditional meat substitute in Chinese Buddhist cuisine. It usually comes dehydrated, and needs to be soaked for two hours before cooking.

WeChat id for chef Shiyin: swangyin

Eat, Drink, and be Healthy!

Finally time for another blog! I haven’t written anything in around 5 months. I wrote my last blog shortly before the birth of my first child. Having a baby has brought on many new challenges in my life. For example, breastfeeding has been much more challenging and time consuming than I had anticipated. This new chapter, of being a working mom, has redefined what I thought busy meant.  While this blog isn’t about babies, I must say that I have a whole new appreciation for moms!

Eat, Drink and be Healthy (Harvard Medical School)

This blog is about a nutrition book called “Eat, Drink, and be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating.” I rarely recommend nutrition books because I feel the author often has an ulterior motive. The research and facts can be distorted to gear the reader towards what the author wants them to believe (or to purchase!). For example, poorly done research can be presented as promising evidence to promote a new fad. However, I find this book to be a very refreshing take on healthy diet. It isn’t trying to sell you on any type of diet trend. The advice is practical and based on current research. It dives into detailed information on a range of topics including macro / micro nutrients, glycemic load / glycemic index, grass fed vs. grain fed beef and bottled vs. tap water. I will hopefully write about some of these in future blog posts. It also does a great job in explaining why we hear so much conflicting research in the field of nutrition. While I may not agree 100% with everything in this book, I would still recommend it for those interested in detailed nutrition information. I would also recommend visiting the Harvard School of Public Health’s website (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/).

Healthy Eating Plate (Harvard Medical School)

Becoming more informed about nutrition information can help with avoiding fad diets and other dietary pitfalls. The most important thing to remember is that a diet must work for you. There are genetic, environmental, and psychological or social factors that affect us all differently. Choose a diet that has plenty of food choices (diets should not have huge restrictions), is sustainable, healthy for your body, and doesn’t include many expensive foods and supplements. One resounding theme for a healthy diet is to balance healthy proteins with fruits, vegetables (in abundance!), whole grains and healthy fats while reducing sugar and processed foods. I’ve posted a few photos of what I enjoy eating for lunch here in Shanghai (lotus root, amaranth, soy beans etc.), Hopefully,  they can show it’s possible to eat well in Shanghai or elsewhere!

Until the next time! – Jess W.

Lotus root
Amaranth, daikon radish and soybean
Tofu & veggie salad
Bean salad

Home Cooking in Shanghai – TCM Style

I had the pleasure of meeting Shanghai based Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) food therapist Anna Na during the recent annual Shanghai vegan challenge.  While I am not a practitioner of TCM principals of eating, I agree that the TCM plant based style of eating is very healthy.  Anna has expert knowledge of local ingredients and how to prepare them.  From memory alone, she can name every type of produce available at a Chinese market along with price, seasonal availability and pesticide usage.  Quite a feat when you consider the variety in the local wet market.  I wish I could do the same!

Cooking With Anna Na

I recently received a one-on-one cooking class from Anna. She brought to my house a plethora of interesting ingredients including; purslane, spring bamboo, yam, black mushroom and broad beans.  I have seen these ingredients in Chinese restaurants but trying to prepare them at home has been a huge challenge. Restaurants in China often use lots of additives (including MSG) to create an intense flavor that is difficult to replicate. When cooking at home, I don’t want to use mystery ingredients or chemical additives. I was blown away by the food that Anna created. It was way better than restaurant food, with no chemicals used.

Delicious Tofu

How did Anna do this in my kitchen? She used some flavorful – and healthy – spices.  These included black sesame paste, soybean powder, salt with dried bamboo, soy sauce, red rice wine, chili paste, black vinegar and Chinese miso. Anna purchased all these ingredients from the local Chinese farmer’s market.  She taught me that the best vinegar is from Shaanxi province and not to buy Shanghai soy sauce or vinegar because the Shanghainese often add sugar to it! Shanghai people are famous for their love of sweet flavors and will even add sugar to their stir fried bell peppers.  Anna added miso to our potato and bean dish –something I would never have thought of; it provided a very intense and delicious flavor.

Another “trick” she uses to ensure her dishes are flavorful is to be mindful of vegetable combinations.  She uses the different flavors of vegetables (sweet, sour and bitter) to complement each other.  One of the most interesting ingredients to me was the purslane. It’s a deep green succulent with yellow flower buds that looks like an inedible weed. However, it’s indeed edible and has a bitter peppery flavor similar to arugula. Anna explained that this vegetable is extremely healthy (as many deep green vegetables are) but is unpopular & therefore good value in Shanghai due to its bitter flavor.

Broad-beans & Vegetables

We made five giant dishes that cost very little. It took me three days to eat what we made! For those of us wanting to eat a healthy and cost effective plant based diet in Shanghai, learning to use local ingredients and cooking methods is invaluable. Even if you can afford weekly Kate & Kimi or Epermarket deliveries, it seems a real shame to come to China and not learn any of the local food culture.  If you are concerned about pesticides, get a weekly veggie box from Goma Greens (RMB 159 weekly for a box of local veggies) and get creative in the kitchen. Good luck!

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W.

 

5 Ways to Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

I have recently taken on a new challenge when it comes to eating well in Shanghai.  Eating healthy while pregnant!  Nutrition during pregnancy is critical no matter where you are but there are additional challenges here in Shanghai due to concerns about food borne illnesses and elevated levels of potentially harmful substances in some foods.  All in all, it makes being pregnant in Shanghai very challenging from a nutrition perspective!

Enjoying the March sun in Xintiandi, Shanghai.

I never really appreciated what pregnant women go through – the food cravings, the aversions – until now.  It’s a constant battle between what I want to eat and what I should eat. When it comes to food cravings let’s be honest – it’s very unlikely you are yearning for a certain food because of a nutrient deficiency.  For example, white beans and chocolate are both rich in iron but chocolate is what we seek out.  Scientists are uncertain what causes our pregnancy cravings but believe that elevated hormones may be to blame.  It could be a mix of psychological and physiological factors as we could also be longing for certain comfort foods to offset some of the discomforts of pregnancy.  While the true reasons for our cravings are unknown, everyone can agree that it’s important to eat healthy during pregnancy.  I recently gave a nutrition presentation to several expectant ladies here in Shanghai.  It was organized via Marie & Jey’s ‘Belle Maternity’ program – providing fabulous prenatal yoga and postnatal pilates.  See link at the end of the post.  Here are my five simple tips from that talk.

  1. Eat lots of Nutrient dense foods:  It can be easy to overeat during pregnancy, especially with all the cravings and an increased appetite. Sticking with nutrient dense foods not only provides all the proper nutrients for you and your growing baby, but will help keep you fit and full. In summary, try to eat less junk. 😉
  2. Avoid nutrient deficient foods:  Reduce unneeded extra calories by cutting down on foods high in fat and added sugars such as sugary drinks, sweets, refined carbohydrates, and fried foods.  That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but don’t go crazy.
  3. Optimize Iron Intake:  During pregnancy, iron needs increase since you’re making more red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through both you and your baby’s body.  Make sure you’re eating enough iron rich foods, such as legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas, black beans, white beans and lentils), vegetables / dried fruit (spinach, peas, dried prunes, dried apricots) and grains (quinoa and fortified breads and cereals).  Even dark chocolate is packed with iron!
  4. Make sure you get all your Folic acid:  Folic acid is needed for long-term health and to prevent neural tube defects such as spina bifida.  Make sure to take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid and eat foods rich in folate, such as green leafy vegetables, asparagus, legumes, sunflower seeds and fortified grain products.
  5. Up your fiber intake:  A fiber rich diet is always important for good digestion, and since pregnant women are prone to constipation, we may have to increase our fiber intake to avoid problems such as hemorrhoids. Replace white rice, bread and pasta with brown rice and whole grain products for an added fiber boost.
    Colorful fruits and vegetables

    Whole fruits and vegetables are a great source of fiber. Prunes are particularly good for keeping things moving. If you are constantly struggling with morning sickness and nausea (like me!), consider tossing everything in a blender for a quick healthy smoothie.

Until the next time – Eat Well Shanghai! – Jessica W. 😉

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