If you can't stand the heat, get into the kitchen

Chinese food therapy in traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes eating the appropriate foods suitable for the season and the body's condition.
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Chinese food therapy in traditional Chinese medicine emphasizes eating the appropriate foods suitable for the season and the body’s condition.

One of the diet themes in the hot summer months is clearing away the heat and detoxing the system through consuming natural foods that are cool in nature, such as chilled mung bean soup or bitter gourd salad.

When experimenting with new ingredients, it’s important to take personal conditions into consideration. It’s not about seeking foods with the most nutritional value, but those that can be good for each individual. And, as always, remember to drink more water.

Mung bean

When it comes to heat relief remedies, mung bean soup is the first to come to mind. The simple one-ingredient soup can provide hydration and fiber, and it doesn’t take long to prepare. If you are using dry mung beans, boil them in water for 20 minutes. If the beans are soaked in water in advance, they only take minutes to cook. The ideal texture of the beans is when they pop open.

There are lots of ways to customize mung bean soup, adding pumpkin, Job’s tears, lily bulb or lotus seeds can not only add more flavor to the soup, but also more benefits.

Traditionally, mung bean soup is served in its original flavor or with rock sugar as seasoning. In Cantonese cuisine, kelp is an additional ingredient. If you can accept the taste of this somewhat unorthodox pairing, both ingredients can fend off heat.

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Mung bean soup.

Mung bean popsicles, the frozen form of the sweet mung bean soup, are also very popular in summer. They can cool off heat on the go and can be found in most stores and supermarkets at a low price.

A lot of bakeries are starting to sell mung bean cakes, a favorite summer treat made of cooked mung bean powder (or boiled mung beans) and seasoned with sugar, candied fruit or osmanthus flower sugar.

There are two types of mung bean cakes in China, the kind popular in the north have no oil in the recipe and the texture is soft and fluffy, while the cakes more common in the south mix oil and lard with the mung beans to present a smooth and melting feeling in the mouth.

Mung bean cakes are a quite airy sweet dessert without overwhelming sweetness, and don’t stick to the teeth. You can pair a pot of green tea with a couple of them as an afternoon snack.

Without preservatives, mung bean cakes can last just two to three days in summer, so be sure to read the label when buying.

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Mung bean cakes.

Bitter gourd

Many people have a love-it-or-leave-it attitude toward this seasonal vegetable. While bitter gourd is listed as one of the 10 most disgusting vegetables online alongside fish mint and cilantro because of its bitter taste, some people can’t get enough of it.

Bitter gourd originated in India and was introduced to China from the 13th and 14th centuries, as documented in Zhu Su’s botanical illustration “Jiuhuang Bencao” (Famine Relief Herbal) in 1406. This vegetable from the same family as the cucumber and squash is also called lianggua (cool gourd) in some places.

Bitter gourd is generally cooked in simple stir-fries alone or with other ingredients such as scrambled eggs or meat.

To remove as much of the bitterness as possible, the first step is to thoroughly scrape off the white flesh/membrane on the inside of the vegetable. Then, slice the bitter gourd thinly and rub with some salt before letting it sit so the bitter gourd can soften.

In a pot of boiling water, add salt and oil, blanch the slices of bitter gourd till the color changes to a more vibrant green. Take them out immediately and cool in ice water. (The oil can make vegetables greener.) Next, you can prepare a stir-fry with any other ingredients and the bitter gourd won’t be as bitter as before.

A bitter gourd salad is a great start to a meal in summer. After slicing, blanching and chilling the bitter gourd, make a flavorful dressing with light soy sauce, salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorn oil and sesame oil.

There’s a more creative bitter gourd salad recipe. In a bowl, mix two slices of lemon, goji berries, honey and Sprite, then simply soak the blanched and chilled bitter gourd slices in it and put in the fridge for two hours. The Sprite can take away some of the bitterness and add a refreshing flavor to the dish.

Meat-stuffed bitter gourd is an upgraded dish that fills the holes of the bitter gourd rings with seasoned minced meat. After blanching the bitter gourd rings in hot water, prepare a delicious filling similar to those used in dumplings and stuff it into the rings, then pan sear both sides till the color turns golden and the shape becomes solid. Add water and soy sauce to braise and fully cook the dish.

If you are not afraid of the bitter taste, bitter gourd juice is a green detox drink to try. Pair the fresh bitter gourd with cucumber, pear, green apple or celery for more flavors. The juice can be sweetened with a little honey.

Bitter gourd can also be candied (cooking in sugar) to create a sweet snack that eliminates the bitter taste.

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Meat stuffed bitter gourd.

Job’s tears

Job’s tears, known as yiren in Chinese, is a very versatile grain with heat relief properties. In TCM, it’s noted for its sweet and mild nature and is used to remove swelling and dispel dampness. Because of its light taste and meaty texture, Job’s tears are used in both sweet and savory cooking.

Lemon and Job’s tears water is a simple and very popular beverage of the summer.

The dried Job’s tears should be soaked in water overnight, then boil in water for about an hour.

Let it cool down and add slices of lemon. The Job’s tears can tone down the sourness in lemon as well. This beverage is good for the skin as both ingredients have brightening properties.

Job’s tears can be added to the classic mung bean or red bean soups. If you are making a savory pork rib soup, adding Job’s tears not only increases nutrition, but also gives the dish an interesting texture.

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Pork ribs and job's tears soup.

Luffa

Luffa is a vegetable of the summer season that has heat clearing and detox properties. Its flesh has almost a meaty texture and the green skin is quite rough and thick.

You can find both long and short luffas in the market, depending on the place of origin. When cooked, luffa has a refreshing taste. Because the natural flavor of luffa is already very delicious, it doesn’t need too much seasoning.

The simple way to cook luffa is to slice the vegetable thinly and stir-fry with some garlic.

Luffa and egg is a classic pairing because they complement each other’s flavors to bring an umami taste, such as in luffa and egg stir-fry or luffa and egg drop soup.

Another quick dish to make is steaming luffa with garlic and soy sauce.

Raw luffa flesh with a bitter taste should be discarded, as it’s a sign of spoiling and can cause food poisoning.

The matured luffa can also be dried and used to clean dishes and pots instead of a sponge.

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Luffa and egg stir-fry.

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