From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Tea Time


Lately, I have had a lot of people asking me why I have directed so much attention to the healthy side of Asian Cuisine.  The bottom line is simply that the healthy alternative exists.  Their quick retort?  “Your recipes aren’t always the healthiest out there and they are contrary to your new platform of fast, fresh and healthy.” 
Here’s the deal.  Many high profile actors, musicians, politicians and their wives adopt pet projects to generate national attention to a specific cause.  There are many that I actually support, including the work done by Nancy Reagan to raise awareness to the drug crisis, and Laura Bush’s advancement of cancer awareness through the Susan G. Komen for the Cure.  Current First Lady, Michelle Obama, has embarked on a mission to raise awareness of the issue of obesity that is now plaguing our younger generation.  Part of her message includes the statistic that 1 in 5 teenagers is reported to have elevated levels of cholesterol, raising their risk of heart disease later in life.  She has gone as far as to describe the changes that she and her family had to make to correct the diets of her daughters, as their family physician expressed a concern that they might be overweight for their age.  At first, I was appalled that she would thrust her children into the limelight in a manner that puts them under such public scrutiny.  After some reflection, though, I came to realize that her message was more about what the healthy alternatives were for their diet than an attempt to bring negative attention to them because of their weight.  (Studies show that younger children who are put on diets due to weight related issues are more likely to suffer from bulimia and other eating disorders, which further worsens their self esteem.)
While Chinese food can be perceived as “unhealthy,” let me remind you that most of that which we consider to be “Chinese Food” is more of an Americanization of the cuisine. Authentic Chinese food is healthier because of its reliance on vegetables as a source of nutrition, whereas the American version is less many of the standard vegetables, over-portioned on the serving size, and is too often fried and drowned in sauce, thus loading it down with fat, cholesterol and sodium. 
Some of the basic restaurant ordering instructions that I have mentioned before can be augmented by remembering a few more key tips:
1.      Steam your dumplings or potstickers instead of ordering them fried.
2.      Pick seafood or chicken dishes, as they generally include more vegetables and are made with a light sauce, from chicken broth.
3.      Feel free to order your food with extra vegetables, no MSG, or even low sodium soy sauce.
4.      Forgo the soda, which is loaded with sugar (39 grams of sugar for a 12 ounce serving) and switch to hot tea.
Tea, the quintessential Chinese beverage, especially green, is an under-appreciated beverage that offers many beneficial properties to the dining experience.  It can serve as an elixir, invigorating, warming and refreshing you, in a calorie-free, lower-caffeine-per-cup-than-coffee manner.  In the summer, tea can dispel the heat and bring on the cool with a feeling of relaxation. 
Besides the memories of the Boston Tea Party, here in the United States, tea has caught the attention of many major pharmacological agencies as a subject of cancer research.  A relationship has been found, albeit a weak one, between the benefits of green tea and humans, whereas a strong relationship has been found when using animals as the research subject.  As recently as 1994, it was reported* that a reduced number of cases of esophageal cancer was related to an increased consumption of green tea.  (source: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Volume 86(11) page 885-8)
Aromatic teas, when consumed with a meal, help stimulate the metabolism, thus aiding your body in processing meat and resolving fats and promoting digestion.  (Ironically, most Chinese do not serve tea with the meal; it is generally served after.)

Tea drinking in China has become an inextricable component of living. It is honored as one of the seven necessities of daily life making it more than just an item for quenching thirst. It is a ritual and a means of communicating, welcoming, and showing respect.

But I digress…

My recipes are meant to hit you with a savory flavor profile as well as appeal to your sense of sight and smell.  They are by no means a suggestion for daily dining.  They are also examples of what we have made successfully at home, on a balanced budget and limited timeframe.  When done properly, you will get either something fast, something fresh, or something healthy, and as an added bonus, you may get any combination of the three element.  
Everything in moderation is acceptable.  (I of all people know the importance of moderating the caloric intake.)  If you are lucky enough to eat Chinese food on a regular basis, then adhering to these tips when choosing your menu options will help you stay on the healthy track.  I can only hope that my message makes a difference, even if it is only to a few at a time.  While I will continue to offer flavorful recipes and intriguing content, please remember that everyone needs to help remove the stigma that Chinese food is unhealthy.  This can best be done by making the right choices when ordering, or even while cooking at home.
Until then, Good Eating, Friends...

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