Having read about some of TCM’s more unusual practices such as cupping and the fire treatment, your first reaction may be either “Magical! Gotta try them all,” or “Thanks, but sounds a bit cranky to me.”
The strange nature of the treatments may tempt you into believing that TCM is just another crazy Chinese pastime, like eating unappetizing parts of animals or walking backwards clapping.
But let’s get back to the facts. For most Chinese, TCM is a holistic system designed to describe and understand bodily functions, diseases and everyday diet. It’s an ancient discipline established more than 2,500 years ago that is still relevant today. The central tenets of TCM revolve around the need to balance yin and yang, as well as the relationship of changes in our natural environment to the human body.
With these beliefs deeply engrained in Chinese culture, it’s natural for Chinese families to decide their daily dietary choices by employing the principles of TCM, one of which is to choose your food in accordance with the season (顺时而食 shùn shí’ ér shí); for example, eating watermelons in winter or strawberries in autumn is common, but it’s also important to remember that TCM deems consuming out-of-season foods as detrimental to one’s health.
In keeping with this spirit, we’re going to pick out an in-season favorite: green mung beans (绿豆 lǜdòu). Harvested in mid-August, and dried under the sun, green mung beans are both tasty and help prevent heat-induced diseases. Originally sourced from India more than 2,000 years ago, green mung beans can now be found all over China and have become an integral part of the country’s diet.
Green mung beans are best eaten in high summer and early autumn because of their “cold” nature. The TCM bible, the “Compendium of Materia Medica”《本草纲目》, describes them thus: “Green mung beans are sweet, cold in nature and non-toxic (绿豆甘、寒、无毒 lǜdòu gān, hán, wú dú).”
Cold here is not so much a straightforward statement of temperature as a concept in TCM, which essentially revolves around the need for the human body to strike a balance between hot and cold. Put simply, when the temperature outside rises, the human body becomes more susceptible to surges in internal heat. Once this happens, and the balance between hot and cold is upset, conditions such as inflammations and ulcers arise, and the body is overcome by heat (上火 shàng huǒ).
The green mung bean is the perfect remedy, and as your designated TCM doctor for the day, I would prescribe several bowls of chilled green mung bean soup, which has the additional benefit of being a top cure for hangovers!
From the perspective of nutriology, green mung beans are high in protein and vitamins, and also contain calcium, phosphorus and iron, which are essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Now we’re clear on why you should be eating the beans, let’s get down to the how you should eat ‘em. Served whole or as bean paste, the Chinese are very resourceful when it comes to green mung beans. Their starch is made into noodles, and their sprouts into salads or as part of stir-fry dishes. They’re even commonly used as ingredients in various desserts. Here’s one you should easily be able to follow:
Green Mung Bean Paste Cake (绿豆糕 lǜdòu gāo)
200g green mung beans
10g vegetable oil
20g malt sugar
50g red bean paste
Step 1. Peel the green mung beans by soaking them overnight. Absorbed with water, their skin should be fairly easy to separate—simply by rubbing the beans gently in water. The skin will float to the top while the beans sink to the bottom. Drain the water with the floating skin to leave the peeled beans.
Step 2. Steam the beans to further soften them and use a food processer to finely blend.
Step 3. Place the blended beans in a large bowl, add sugar, malt sugar and oil, and stir until even.
Step 4. The mixture should now be quite thick and basically resemble bean dough at this stage.
Step 5. Divide the dough into smaller pieces, before digging a small hole in each piece and filling the depression with red bean paste.
Step 6. Cover the hole so the red bean paste sits snuggly inside and mold into whatever shape you desire – a moon cake mold would be perfect to celebrate the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival.
Step 7. Steam the cakes for four-to-five minutes. After they’ve cooled store them in refrigerator for three hours.
Step 8. Serve cold.
Bean sprouts are derivatives of green mung beans and are also a signature ingredient in many Chinese dishes. Here we offer a simple salad recipe you can put together to work up an appetite.
Bean Sprouts and Asparagus Lettuce Salad (绿豆芽拌笋丝 lǜdòuyá bàn sǔn sī)
150g green mung bean sprouts
80g asparagus lettuce
2ml sesame oil
5ml soy sauce
Step 1. Immerse the bean sprouts in boiled water for few seconds. Remove the sprouts before they get too soft and set in a colander to drain the remaining water.
Step 2. Shred the asparagus lettuce into thin threads and mix with the bean sprouts.
Step 3. Add the salt, vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce and sugar; mix until even.
Step 4. Serve cold.