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. 😉

WeChat Search: JeydancePilates

Herbs and Spices For Flavor

Seasonal spices

Flavor or lack thereof, is a common complaint when trying to switch to a healthy diet. While there isn’t any way to make broccoli taste like chocolate or cabbage taste like macaroni, there are ways to add flavor without adding calories. One option is to use spices! Spices will help you to skip adding piles of cheese on top your next dish, frying in large amounts of oil, or adding salty or canned / bottled sauces.

Cooking with herbs and spices can boost flavor without adding fat, salt, and sugar. They also have great health benefits due to their antioxidant properties, maybe playing a role in reducing inflammation and disease prevention. However, keep in mind that many herbs are not well researched: therefore, it’s unclear if many of their claimed health benefits are true.  Dietitians / nutritionists may not have ample evidence to recommend herbs and spices for specific health benefits but they can be recommended for their antioxidant properties and as flavorful substitutes for sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.

Wondering what antioxidants are? Antioxidants are substances that may protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals, thus reducing oxidative stress in our bodies. We can get a variety of antioxidants by eating a wide variety of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and spices. Science is just beginning to understand the variety of antioxidants in plants and how they benefit our bodies.

I have listed some spices and what we know about their potential benefits. Additional information is available at the links below.

Ginger: Ginger is abundant in China and is also very good value! Ginger contains several compounds that may provide health benefits. Ginger is rich in the antioxidant 6-gingerol which studies have found may reduce nausea (particularly in pregnant women).  Ginger also provides vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.

Cinnamon:  There are different varieties of cinnamon.  The cassia variety is native to China and is the type most commonly sold in the US.  Cinnamaldehyde is an antioxidant compound found in cinnamon which may have more potent anti-oxidant effects than spinach, chard, or cabbage.

Turmeric

Turmeric:  Turmeric is often used in curries and can add flavor to a side dish of vegetables. It has the antioxidant compound Curcumin which is bright yellow. This herb has been the focus of intense research. Preliminary studies have found that it may as effective in controlling knee pain from osteoarthritis as  ibuprofen.

Oregano:  This herb can add flavor to a variety of Western flavored dishes, particularly soup for the chilly Shanghai winter.  It’s rich in antioxidants such as thymol and rosmarinic acids. A teaspoon of dried oregano has as many antioxidants as a cup of sweet potatoes!

 

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

Links

NCCIH – Herbs at a glance

Today’s Dietitian – Winning Herb and Spice combinations

 

Whole Of The Mooncake

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! Wednesday, October 4 2017 marks the start of the holiday, which celebrates that big, beautiful full moon, which we should hopefully see through the clouds. This is one of the four major holidays in China, where families get together to celebrate under the moon, hope for a good harvest, and yes, eat mooncakes! And if you see the lines forming in the bakeries around Shanghai this September, you know that the mooncake business is booming; to such an extent that multinationals like Starbucks and Häagen-Dazs are piling into the market! Indeed, many businesses including department stores, hotels and restaurants have a very large (and sometimes very expensive) display of ornate gift packs with a huge variety of fillings, from the traditional to the downright crazy (McDonald’s mooncake anyone?) So, what’s up with the mooncakes?

Mooncakes traditionally consist of a round pastry, filled with a sweet, dense filling. The decorations on top of the cakes often represent Chinese characters for longevity or harmony.  In Chinese culture, the roundness of the cake symbolizes completeness and togetherness.

Transformers ice cream mooncake on sale in Shanghai. Definitely not traditional.

Unfortunately, mooncakes are not very healthy, especially the crust, which is typically made with lard. Calorie count varies hugely per cake, from 200 to 1000 calories, with most closer to the 500 mark. Vegan mooncakes are now available to meet growing demand; check out Jen Dow Vegetarian on Yuyuan Lu, Fortunate Coffee on Songhu Lu and TRIBE on Fumin Lu for some vegan options.

Here are some of the more popular, traditional types of mooncake:

  • Lotus seed paste (lían róng): Considered by some to be the original and most luxurious filling.  Salted egg yolk is often inserted into this and other pastes.
  • Sweet bean paste (dòu shā): A number of bean pastes are commonly used. Red bean paste, made from azuki beans, is the most common but mung bean and black bean are also used.
  • Jujube paste (zǎo ní): A sweet paste made from the ripe fruits of the jujube (date) plant. The paste is dark red and can have a slightly smokey / sour taste.
  • Five kernel (wu rén): A filling consisting of 5 types of nuts and seeds, coarsely chopped and held together with maltose syrup. Recipes differ from region to region, with walnuts, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, peanuts, sesame, or almonds being popular options.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! May the round moon bring you a happy family and a successful future. – Jessica W. 😉