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Persian Cuisine’s Health Concept Of Balancing Hot And Cold Foods

Like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, Persian cuisine also believes in the concept of duality where foods can be broadly classified as “hot” (“garmi”) or “cold” (“sardi”). Specifically speaking however, there is a third category – neutral.

This concept of duality extends beyond food, for instance, humans too could also be broadly classified as “hot” (aggressive) or “cold” (laid-back) natured.

This Persian culinary philosophy has its roots in Unani medicine.

With these principles in mind, Persian cuisine seeks to balance the two opposites to create a harmonious whole, for instance by balancing “hot” and “cold” foods and by making dietary adjustments based on whether a person is “hot” or “cold” natured. A “hot” natured person for instance may increase intake of “cold” foods and a “cold” natured person may increase intake of “hot” foods. Seasonal changes also dictate a change in foods to counter “hot” or “cold” imbalances precipitated by the change in season. So “hot” foods are usually served on the Persian food table during “cold” seasons such as winter, and “cold” foods usually appear during “hot” seasons such as summer.

The terms “hot” and “cold” here do not refer to spiciness or temperature of the food but rather the effects the food has on the human body.

“Hot” foods tend to increase internal body heat and metabolism. “Cold” foods on the other hand are the opposite, helping to neutralize internal body heat. During hot summer months when internal body heat tends to build, “cold” foods such as pomegranate help tone down this internal heat buildup, and thereby avert potential illness or bodily change such as the eruption of a rash for instance.

Within these two broad classifications, there are varying levels of “hot” and “cold” – some foods are “hotter” or “colder” than others. And for some foods, the classification of “hot” or “cold” is not unanimously agreed on.

“Hot” foods:

Nuts (such as walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts,)

Chocolate

Most spices (such as ginger, saffron, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, caraway, cumin, vanilla and nutmeg)

Some herbs (such as dill, basil, parsely, tarragon, thyme)

Some pulses (such as chickpeas, red beans, soybeans)

Animal fat

Poultry

Butter

Most meats (such as liver, lamb, camel, chicken)

Some seafood (such as shrimp, lobsters)

Wheat

Wine

Alcohol

Some fresh fruits (such as mangoes, bananas, peaches, oranges)

Most dried fruit (such as raisins, figs)

Some fresh vegetables (such as scallions, radish, bell peppers, leeks broccoli, carrrots, celery, eggplants, potatoes,

Most dried vegetables

Some oils (such as sesame oil

“Cold” foods:

Most dairy (including yogurt)

Most fresh fruit (such as watermelons, pomegranates, strawberries, pears, apricots)

Some vegetables (cucumbers, lettuce, spinach)

Some herbs (such as coriander)

Some seafood (such as fish)

Rice

Beer.

“Neutral” foods:

Onions

Tea

Tomatoes.

Generally, Persian cuisine aims to seek balance where “hot” and “cold” ingredients are married to create a “neutral” dish. Most traditional Persian dishes are balanced.

For instance, “khoresh fesenjan” خورش فسنجون,

a popular meat stew with pomegranates and walnuts is a classic Persian dish where “hot” ingredients (walnuts) are combined with “cold” ingredients (pomegranates) to create a neutral, balanced and harmonious dish.

Kebabs, which are “hot” are usually served with a dip of yogurt which is “cold” resulting in a balanced meal.

 

 

 

 

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The Benefits Of Storing Water In Clay Pitchers

A traditional Sri Lanka water pitcher for sale at a farmers' market in Sri Lanka.

Clay pitchers or jugs were traditional utensils for storing water in the olden days in countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The porous nature this clay-based vessel helps to slightly chill the water contained within it. Through the pores, clay absorbs water which evaporates keeping the surface and thereby the water within the vessel, nicely cooled. The science behind the clay water pot’s water-cooling properties is similar to the body’s mechanism of using sweat as a way to keep the body cool.

However, apart from being an environmentally-friendly water cooler, storing water in clay pots is also believed to have numerous health benefits.

Water is chilled to an optimum temperature depending on climate

When water is chilled in the refrigerator, it is the settings of the refrigerator that controls the temperature of the water. Water cooled in an earthen pot on the hand, pleasantly chills the water in harmony with the temperature of the environment. By maintaining water temperature in accordance with climactic temperatures, the water is believed to be healthier on the body – not too cold, not too hot. Water chilled in a refrigerator on the other hand, may well end up being too cold on the body on a very hot day, and subjecting the body to such sharp temperature contrasts is believed to have negative effects on human health. This climate-based water cooling feature is unique to clay pitchers.

Natural, environmentally-friendly materials

Some modern day storage vessels are made with un-natural, sometimes carcinogenic materials, which are detrimental to human health. Clay on the other hand, is 100% natural making it healthy for humans and environmentally-friendly too. The fact that it requires no electricity to chill the water makes all the more environmentally-friendly.

Enrich water with natural minerals

It is believed that natural, mineral water is ideal for human health. However, during the purification process, much of the water’s naturally inherent minerals and nutrients are stripped off. Earthen clay pots, which are crafted with nutrient-rich, natural clay, is believed to help replenish some of the lost minerals and restore the water as close as possible to its original state.

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TCM – The Medicinal Properties Of Chinese Red Dates

Known as “hong zao” 红枣 or “da zao” 大枣 in Mandarin, Chinese red dates, also known as jujube (Ziziphus jujuba) have been cultivated in China for over 3,000 years. There are two common types of dried red dates available in the market; “hong zao” which refers to the red variety while “da zao” refers to the black variety. Both originate from the same fruit, however the production process results in different colors. Fresh jujube fruits which are lightly blanched in boiling water and then dried sun dried produce the red variety Chinese date. Fresh jujube fruit blanched in boiling water, sun dried and smoked till blackened produce the black variety.

Dating back to the 5th century, the “Qu Min Yao Shu” 齐民要术 is one of China’s earliest and most complete agricultural texts. This agricultural encyclopedia identifies 42 kinds of fruit and ranks the jujube fruit first on this list. Jujube, along with peach, plum, apricot and chestnut are known as the “Five China Fruits”.

Chinese red dates are believed to have highly medicinal properties according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), earning the moniker “the king of fruits” (“bǎi guǒ zhī wáng” 百果之王) among Chinese. It is very rich in vitamins (vitamin C in particular) and other micronutrients such as calcium and potassium. This explains why it is one of the most popular health foods in China. However, like all good things in the world, even red dates should be eaten in moderation. Excessive consumption can result in bloating and additionally, since they are sweet, diabetics are usually advised to avoid red dates.

Nourish the blood and replenish “qi”

Red dates are believed to have blood nourishing and “qi” replenishing properties (the red variety in particular). According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, red dates are “warming” and thus consumption helps boost a person’s “Yang-Qi” which is the warm half of the Yin-Yang balance.

“Qi” in Traditional Chinese Medicine refers to the “life energy” that is an essential constituent in every living being, governing the fundamental processes that keep every living being alive, from organ function, blood circulation, growth, development, immunity etc. “Qi” deficiency is believed to lead to illnesses and Chinese red dates are one of the most popular recommendations to nourish “qi”. Thus, Chinese red dates are often recommended for people who are blood deficient and generally weak. Combining red dates with longan and goji berries for instance in the preparation of red date tea or red date porridge is believed to help stimulate blood production nourish “qi”.

Maintain youthfulness

Chinese believe red date help rejuvenate skin and help maintain its youthfulness, making it a popular food for women.

Soothe the nerves

Red dates are believed to calm the nerves and thereby help a person to relax.

 

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Natural And Nutritious Alternatives To Refined Sugar

Refined sugar and products containing refined sugars are generally accepted to be significant contributors to cavities and diseases such as diabetes. Here are some nutritious and natural alternatives to refined sugar:

Honey

Natural honey has been used as a sweetener, preserving agent and beauty treatment for centuries in numerous cuisines, healing and beauty practices around the world. Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda both teach of the healing properties of honey. For skincare purposes, honey helps nourish the skin and keep it moist. One of Cleopatra’s most famous “beauty secrets” is a regular bath of milk and honey and this combination of milk and honey for beauty is still used today.

There are several varieties of natural honey to choose from, depending on the variety of flower from which the pollen was harvested by the honeybee. Each honey type is rich with its own unique flavor, color, aroma, nutritional and medicinal properties.

To name a few:

Alfalfa honey

Almond honey

Basswod honey

Buckwheat honey

Avocado honey

Blueberry honey

Clover honey

Orange blossom honey

Eucalyptus honey

Linden honey

Sunflower honey

Sourwood honey

Fireweed honey

Sage honey

Lavender honey

Note: It is not recommended to feed honey to babies as natural honey may contain traces of botulism which is harmless to adults but harmful to young babies.

Unrefined Palm Sugar

This is a traditional and natural sweetener in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia (known as “gula melaka”, Indonesia (“known as “gula merah”), Philippines, Sri Lanka (known as “jaggery” in English or “hakuru” in Sinhalese), India (known as “jaggery” in English or “gur” in Hind), Brazil (known as “rapadura” in Portugese), and Mexico (known as “piloncillo” in Spanish).

A bowl of chopped Sri Lankan kithul jaggery.
A bowl of chopped Sri Lankan kithul jaggery.
In Latin America, fresh sugar cane is crushed using a machine and the resulting fibers are discarded or used as fuel, while the sugarcane juice is heated until it forms a thick liquid. This liquid is poured into molds and left to solidify.

The same process is used to produce Indian “jaggery”.

Sri Lankan jaggery, Malaysian and Indonesian “gula melaka” or “gula merah” undergo the same production process as well, except that more often it is the sap extracted from coconut flowers rather than sugar cane juice that is used as raw material.

These traditional unrefined sugars are not only uniquely delicious, offering an unpatrolled depth of flavor, they are also considered to be highly nutritious because having undergone limited processing, they retain micronutrients which refined sugars lose during the refining process.

Date Syrup or Date Honey

Dates are an integral ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine and these small, sweet fruits have been consumed for thousands of years in the region. Date syrup also known as date honey, has been the traditional sweetener in Middle Eastern and North African kitchens for generations. Known as “dibis ttamarru” دبس التمر  in Arabic (which means “date molasses” “dibis” دبس = “molasses”, “ttamarru” التمر = “dates”), date syrup is believed to have significant nutritional properties. It is one of the first foods fed to a baby and nursing mother.

Molasses

The most popular molasses worldwide are sugarcane molasses however in reality there exists a far wider variety in the world such as those derived from fruits (known as fruit molasses) which have been used since ancient times. For instance, molasses (made from grape juice known as “defrutum”), along with honey, were the main sweeteners in ancient Rome. In Middle Eastern cuisine, molasses such as carob molasses (made from carob pods), figs, pomegranates, mulberries are traditional sweeteners which have been used for generations and are still widely used.

Brown Rice Malt Syrup

Also known as rice syrup or rice malt, this is derived from wholesome brown rice. This is a traditional sweetener in Japan known as “mizu ame” and has been used for centuries in ancient Japan. One of the few remaining authentic brown rice malt syrup manufacturers in Japan is the Uchida Toka Company in Fukuyama. Organic barley grains are first soaked until sprouted.  They are then dried and crushed. Next, the brown rice is processed into flakes by passing the grains through two rollers which flattens the grains into flakes. These brown rice flakes are then soaked overnight. The next morning, the flakes are steamed with water added to form a thick porridge known as “kayu”. Next, the rice porridge and sprouted barley are combined. This sprouted barley provides the natural enzymes to break down the starch in the brown rice porridge and convert it into sugars. The porridge and sprouted barley are cooked at a certain temperature (which cannot be too high, else the natural enzymes are destroyed) for several hours during which time the enzymes in the barley break down the complex carbohydrates in the rice into simple sugars. After this process is complete, the cooking is stopped (if left to cook further, it ends up fermenting instead, developing alcohol). The porridge is then pressed to extract the syrup, a dark brown sweet liquid. This liquid is cooked, then steamed, filtered and ready for use.

Modern day Japanese rice malt syrups omit the natural enzymes from sprouted barley, instead relying on chemically produced enzymes. While these are faster and more efficient, true connoisseurs generally agree that they are no match to the flavor of rice syrup produced with natural barley enzymes.

Barley Malt Syrup

Barley malt syrup, is produced with just sprouted barley grains and water. Barley grains are left to soak, then left in a humid environment in optimum temperature which encourages them to sprout. The sprouted grains are then dried and cooked. The liquid is filtered and boiled down until it reaches a desired consistency, after which, it is ready for use. Barley malt and honey were the chief sweeteners in Chinese cuisine for centuries before cane sugar gained popularity.

Maple Syrup

Native Americans are credited with being the first peoples to produce maple syrup and this natural sweetener has been used in Native American cuisine for generations.

Birch Syrup

The process of producing this natural sweetener is more difficult and time-consuming and consequently this product is not only rarely available, but also considerably expensive compared to more commonly available syrups such as maple syrup. Birch syrup production is an emerging cottage industry, in particularly in Alaska where birch trees thrive in Alaska’s forests.

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Ayurveda Food Teachings For A Healthy Summer

Similar to the teachings in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda also believes that summer is a time for cooling foods (click here for a TCM guide on healthy eating during summer). Ayurveda also believes that summer is a time for cooling foods. Summer, is a “pitta season” according to Ayurveda. “Pitta” refers to the Fire and Water elements and during the “pitta season” these elements can overpower the other elements that make up the human body, namely Ether, Air and Earth. This results in an imbalance. An imbalance of these five elements Fire, Water, Ether, Air and Earth manifests itself as an illness, discomfort or pain.

Like TCM, to re-balance this imbalance, Ayurveda recommends adapting one’s diet and lifestyle to accommodate the change in season. How much one has to adapt, depends on each person’s body type which is referred to as “dosha”. Three categories of “dosha” can be identified: “vata”, “pitta” and “kapha”. A “pitta dosha” type person is more likely to experience an imbalance during summer (the “pitta season”), than a “vata” or “kapha” person and therefore may have to make more lifestyle and dietary adjustments to “pacify pitta” compared to people of the last two body types.

Fruits and fruit juices:

Fresh, juicy, fully-ripened, tree-ripened fruits and freshly juiced drinks consumed at room temperature or lightly chilled, not ice cold are cooling food choices during sweltering summer months.

Suggestions:

Eat ripe, juicy fruits such as watermelon, mangoes, honeydew and cantaloupe freshly plucked ideally or freshly squeezed into juice. Sip room temperature natural, coconut water.

Cooling vegetables:

Cooling vegetables such as cucumber and zucchini are good options during summer while vegetables with “heaty” properties such as turnips, radishes, tomatoes and hot peppers are not recommended.

Suggestions:

Eat cucumbers as a refreshing salad, or sip room temperature “cucumber water” – water with a few slices of cucumber.

Sweet, astringent and bitter flavors:

Ayurveda recommends sweet, astringent and bitter flavors during summer while reducing or avoiding salty, sour and spicy flavors. Sweet here refers to naturally sweet flavors. Refined sugars and foods heavily sweetened with refined sugars such as carbonated drinks are best avoided or reduced. Pulses, grains, milk and unrefined sugars such as jaggery fall under the “sweet” flavor profile. Refined sugars, sugary drinks and sugary foods should be avoided. Intake of certain sour foods such as vinegar and yogurt are recommended to be reduced during summer.

Suggestions:

Try “thandai” ठंडाई, a creamy drink of fresh milk, dried fruit, nuts which is sweetened with unrefined jaggery and flavored with cooling spices such as fennel and rose petals. This is a popular wholesome and cooling summer beverage in India. Click here for Culinary Connoisseur’s “thandai” recipe which uses no refined sugar. Click here for Culinary Connoisseur’s “thandai” recipe which uses no refined sugar.

Cooling spices:

Most spices tend to have “heating” properties however, there are a few that have cooling properties and these are recommended to help pacify “pitta” during summer. Fennel, mint, coriander, rose petals are considered cooling. “Heating” spices such as onions, garlic, chilies, black pepper, black mustard seeds and dry ginger could be reduced.

Suggestions:

Try a cooling fennel tea, sipped at room temperature.

Foods to Reduce Or Avoid:

Ice cold drinks, particularly during meals

Carbonated, sugary drinks

Processed, sugary foods

Oily, spicy, salty foods

Heavy meals

“Heaty” spices

“Heaty vegetables”

Alcohol and wine

Caffeine

Highly processed foods such as ready-to-eat instant meals, canned foods and “junk foods”

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Traditional Chinese Medicine – Food Guide For A Healthy Summer

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), humans (and all other living beings) together with the world make up one unified entity and changes in the surroundings bring about changes in the humans. These environmental influences can cause imbalances in the human body and steps can be taken to prevent such imbalances and maintain good health.
One of those steps is to alter the diet and eat according to seasons, thereby maintaining harmony with seasonal changes. As an example, the arrival of summer, a time of rising heat, could also result in a corresponding buildup of heat in the human body.

To re-balance this “imbalance”, foods that cool down the body (known as “cooling foods” or “qu huo” 上火 in Chinese) are popular during the hot summer season while “warming foods” (known as “shang huo” 上火) i.e., foods that increase heat in the body are generally reduced. How much cooling foods should be consumed depends entirely on the individual as some people are more prone to heat buildup while some are more not.
By adapting the diet to environmental changes, it is possible to restore balance between the yin and yang elements in the human body.

Summer is the season of fire, a time of rigorous growth and heat. During this season, cooling foods that dispel internal heat and nourish “yin” are preferred while “warming” foods which raise “yang” are reduced or avoided.

Mung beans:

Mung beans are believed to have very cooling effects on the body according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Mung bean soup or mung bean dessert soup with rock sugar are popular dishes during summer.

Cucumbers:

Cucumbers are abundantly available during summer and in most Chinese households, cucumbers are a popular food to stay cool during the hot season. A refreshing Chinese style cucumber , or cooked cucumber dishes such as cucumber soup are popular.

Watermelons and Cantaloupes:

Watermelons and cantaloupes are very hydrating and considered to be on the higher end of the “cooling scale” for fruit.

Green tea:

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, green tea is believed to have cooling properties (black tea on the other hand is believed to have warming properties), and a hot cup of green tea (not chilled) is a popular way to stay cool during summer.

Soups:

Soups are popular as they are hydrating, thereby helping to clear the summer heat. Nourishing winter melon soup for instance is very popular during summer.

Warming Foods To Reduce Or Avoid:

Intake of “warming foods” (foods that contribute to heat in the body) are usually reduced or avoided. The following foods are believed to be “warming”:

Red meat and chicken
Spicy food
Fried food
Peanuts
Alcohol
Fatty foods
Excessively sweet food

Heavy meals are also avoided during the summer months and instead light, frequent meals are preferred.