Your guide to COOLING and WARMING ingredients in Chinese Soups

Your guide to COOLING and WARMING ingredients in Chinese Soups

Your guide to COOLING and WARMING ingredients in Chinese Soups

Did your parents or grandparents ever tell you that you’re too “yeet hay” (heaty) and would make you a cooling soup or tea or drink, such as watercress soup or winter melon and then go on to explain that it was good for you and would help with your heaty body?  This was me!  And you grew up understanding this term called “yeet hay”, but it wasn’t easily translatable in English, but yet… you know.  And now it comes back in full circle, understanding the principles in Traditional Chinese medicine, why there’s this re-balance in our diets!

One guiding principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the yin yang theory.  In the natural world, there exists a balance between 2 opposing and co-existing forces and yet, they also exist in each other.  Our bodies, minds, and souls are designed the same way in that to be healthy, we need to be in harmony between these 2 bipolar states.  Yin is receptive and passive, calm and slow, embodying cold and damp qualities (when we are sleeping).  Yang is its exact opposite in aggressive and active, embodying heat, dryness, and movement (when we are awake).

One of our mission at The Chinese Soup Lady is to bring these principles into the foods and drinks we consume in order to support harmony.  

How to use this guide:

  • This is purely a reference guide on what to consider as your soup ingredients
  • Most Chinese soups have a combination of protein, vegetables or roots, and some simple herbs (such as dried longans or dried red dates)
  • It’s not as easy as a mix and match!  Although I wish it were.  I would really suggest doing some research on the combinations available, such as existing recipes out there or ask friends and family.
  • Do consult a physician if you’re unsure of your health and what to consume 

Tips and examples:

  • Consider the complimentary tastes of ingredients (it’s not really a mix and match at random!).  There are pairings that have worked for the TCM principles above such as balancing yin and yang.
  • For example, the Cantonese dessert of silky tofu pudding (tofu fa) is usually combined with a ginger brown syrup.  This is because the tofu is highly cooling and the ginger will offset that.
  • For example, winter melon is best combined with pork rather than chicken (although I have tried that) to maintain the cooling effects of the soup.  Winter melon is promoted as a summer soup for this very reason, so making it with warmer protein will reduce that effectiveness.
  •  The external environment also has an impact to your yin and yang balance.  In the winter, we nourish the yang more to stay warm and in the spring, we want to reduce the yin to dispel moisture from the body.
  • For example, chicken soups and especially double-boiled soups are recommended in the winter to keep us warm.  Ginger is a great add to soups, including dried longans, which are all warming.  The same applies to summer and hot weather where the Chinese lean towards watercress, gourds, and melon soups.
  • Our internal state is probably the most important in determining which soup to make and how this principle helps.
  • For example, postpartum is an important moment for women in recovering their balance for the long term.  In postpartum, the body is in need of yang nourishment due to blood and fluid loss of childbirth.  This is why all the foods, soups, and teas created for confinement are hot or warming and tend to be packed full of ginger.
  • For example, the scratchy, bumpy, and inflamed tongue is a great example of too much heat (or yang) in our bodies.  This is common when we have lack of sleep (remember how yang is active) or eat too much fried food (another source of heat into our bodies), so having cooling teas or soups will help relieve the excess yang. 

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Double-boiled Whole Winter Melon Soup

Double-boiled Whole Winter Melon Soup

Double-boiled Whole Winter Melon Soup

I’ve always been in awe with the restaurant-styled whole winter melon soups – I mean, how on earth did they do that? They must have some giant double-boiler inside and it always taste so yummy! It’s a true favourite of mine when I go to Chinese restaurants to be able to drink it – especially with all the yummy insides that go with it! So I did manage to find a baby whole winter melon – which will fit into my soup pot, so here’s the recipe for it. You can actually use this on a whole winter melon, but you’ll need to just cut off whatever amount doesn’t fit into your pot and go from there. This is a pretty labour intensive soup with many steps, but so worth it!

Soup Name:

Double-boiled Whole Winter Melon Soup

Traditional Chinese Name:

冬瓜盅 (dōng guā zhōng)

 

For soup and recipe videos, visit us on YouTube.

You’ll need: 1 whole winter melon, dried shrimp, dried conpoy, fresh shrimp, fresh pork, dried mushrooms, straw mushrooms, salt, cornstarch, oil and chicken broth.  In actuality, this is a quick boil soup first and then double-boiled within the winter melon – or at least, that’s how this recipe goes. The thicker the winter melon, the longer it will need to be double-boiled, but at least you make the soup base first.

To start, soak all your dried Chinese goodies for 10-15 minutes – this includes the mushrooms, the conpoys and the shrimp.

Cut up the mushrooms. We don’t need the mushrooms ends, so you can discard this. Cut the mushrooms into tiny cubes. The idea is to use consistency across all the soup ingredients so they are the same size.

You can start working on “emptying” the winter melon. Start by slicing the top straight across, these beautiful parts can be used in your soup (less skin). Using a sharp, thin, knife, cut about 1 inch away from the edge and completely remove all the middle. You can discard the seeds first and keep the flesh to be added back into the soup. Go deep and leave about 1-inch from the bottom, you’ll have to be careful here and just eyeball it. Try really hard not to puncture the winter melon!  Using any parts of the leftover winter melon, cube that into the same size as the mushrooms. This will be used for your soup later.

Same with your meats. Cube the raw shrimp and raw pork. After this, you can mix them together with a bit of salt, oil and corn starch, in preparation for frying.  In a pot, add a tiny bit of oil and pan fry the dried shrimp and conpoy. This makes the fragrance and all the flavours are ready to come out in the soup. In Cantonese, there’s a term called “exploding the fragrance” of the ingredients.

When cooked for about 3 minutes on medium-high heat, throw in the raw shrimp and pork and stir that around a little bit for another 5 minutes.

You will then have a beautiful and very fragrant medley of your meats for the soup. Good enough to just eat on its own – for sure! But don’t!! You need it for the soup!

Here’s where it gets tricky. I made a giant pot of soup – so much that it doesn’t fit into the winter melon, which is OK, because you can still drink the quick boil as a quick boil soup any way. I used 1 part chicken broth and 2 parts water – this is because I don’t like soup too salty, and you can always add more salt or chicken broth after.
So now, throw everything into your pot. The broth and the straw mushrooms (which are also diced) and the diced winter melon.

Let that boil on medium heat for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in your double-boiler, set it up so that you have a the winter melon sitting on a metal low dish (to catch any soup just in case) and add hot water to the outside double-boiler.

Once it’s set up, you can turn up the flame to a medium-high to get the water boiling. Once your other quick boil soup is read, scoop in generous amounts of the meats and “stuff” (fill about half) and then fill the rest with the soup. It won’t all fill, but tis is life sometimes!

The idea is that the heat will soften the winter melon bowl and the flavours of the soup will just seep into the flesh and make it so deliciously yummy! Boil on a medium heat for about 30 minutes, or until you see that the winter melon has softened and turned translucent. This means, it’s ready!

Finally, serve! Use a hardy soup ladle and scoop the soup meats, the soup itself and don’t forget to go for the outer winter melon flesh – that’s why it’s cooked in the double-boiler!

This was one awesome soup and I was super proud that it was a huge success on my first attempt! I’ve also had requests to try it with a larger winter melon, so that will be my next project. There are so many variations you can make on the soup though, like including Chinese preserved ham, ham, go vegetarian?, carrots, onions – whatever!

What’s involved?

Prep time: 1 hour

Cook time: 30 mins pre-boil on soup + 2 hours in double-boiler (or until the whole outer melon softens)

Total time: 3 hours and 30 minutes

Serves: 4-5 bowls

Ingredients

  • 1 small whole winter melon (that has to fit in your double-boil pot) – emptied and cube the flesh
  • 7 fresh shrimp, beheaded and peeled
  • 1/2 pound of fresh pork
  • 5 dried conpoys (or scallops)
  • 1 tablespoon of dried shrimp
  • 10 small dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 5 fresh straw mushrooms
  • salt (for taste as needed)
  • oil (for frying the ingredients first)
  • cornstarch (to thicken the soup as needed)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Soak your dried Chinese ingredients in warm water for 10-15 minutes (Chinese mushrooms, conpoys, shrimp)
  2. Empty out the middle of your winter melon – keeping in completely intact with the exception of the top. Keep to 1-inch of melon left from the edge. Throw away the seeds.
  3. Cut all your ingredients into cubes – Chinese mushrooms (removing the stems), straw mushrooms, any left over winter melon, fresh shrimp, fresh pork
  4. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, cornstarch and oil to your fresh shrimp and pork and mix
  5. In a pot, add a tiny bit of oil and fry (drain water) the dried conpoy and dried shrimp for 5 minutes on medium heat
  6. Throw in the raw shrimp and pork and fry for another 5 minutes
  7. Keep on medium heat, add in 1 part chicken broth and 2 parts boiling water
  8. Add in the remaining winter melon flesh and straw mushrooms
  9. Boil on medium for 30 minutes
  10. In your double-boiler, raise your winter melon (in a metal deep dish) and add hot water.
  11. Once your soup boils, scoop in enough stuff and soup to fill the winter melon.
  12. Boil on medium high for 30 minutes – or until the winter melon flesh is translucent.
  13. Serve all, including scooping the winter melon flesh and enjoy

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The “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” of Chinese Confinement

THE DO’s and DON’T’s Of Chinese Confinement

It all starts with one key principle in Traditional Chinese Medicine:  Re-balance the Yin and Yang in the body.

The energy in the body post birth is normally in an increased yin (cooling) state due to the loss of blood and fluids during childbirth.  This means there is more yin in the body than normal and the yang (warming) needs to be strengthened (or replenished).

This is the basis of the traditional DO’s and DON’T’s of Chinese Confinement.  Keep in mind that historically, without technology, heating, or the luxuries we have today, some of these traditions held very true.  However, my guidance is for you to take the principles and tweak it so it fits your lifestyle, your environment, and whatever your resources allow.  For example, DO NOT WASH YOUR HAIR is one that you will hear very often.  The wet hair induces dampness into the body and as it air dries, it becomes cold, which also increases yin into the body through the head.  However, modern technology allows for heated spaces and hair dryers.  So if you do wash your hair, be sure to do so in a heated room and then blow dry your hair on medium to high heat until it is fully dried.

Don’t be exposed to windy or cool conditions

 

 

Yang itself is the warming and dry element of the two and is difficult to replenish if the external environment doesn’t allow it.  In fact, it may be the opposite in that more Yin is going into the body if it’s too cool, too damp, or too wet in and around the healing body.

This is why you’ll see pregnant women wearing wooly hats in the summer in Hong Kong.  At all costs, eliminate any opportunity where any parts of your exposed body are to cool, cold, or wet conditions.  Here are some examples:

  • If you’re breastfeeding and have your shoulders exposed, use a towel, shawl, or wrap to cover them
  • If you must have air conditioning on, turn the vents towards the ceiling or walls and have the cooler air circulate on the outside edges
  • Wear thicker socks or slippers if you’ve got tiled or colder floors.  The feet are one source where yang can easily leave the body.
  • Exercise in moderation, paying attention to sweat rate and exposure of sweaty skin to the cold air.  I find gentle yoga or light stretching where you aren’t sweating buckets is good (but pay attention to which muscle you’re stretching, will explain further down).
  • This goes on to support the DO NOT WASH YOUR HAIR or DO NOT TAKE BATHS (with normal water) traditions, however, you still can if you’re able to keep the room warm and dry off immediately, including drying your hair thoroughly after you wash it.

 

Don’t overexert the body

 

This has more to do with the use of energy in the body and how it’s being resourced.  The priority of your energy should be on allowing the body to fully heal during confinement.  This is where confinement gets its terminology.  Traditionally, it’s basically the woman lying in bed, pretty immobile for a whole month.  This is highly impractical and unlikely in modern times, but some of the concept of energy preservation still apply.

This includes:

  • DO NOT LIFT HEAVY THINGS.  The exertion applies very similarly to when you’re pregnant in that you don’t want any muscle strain to the uterus at all.  As these parts of the post partum body are healing, use the same principles.
  • IF YOU MUST, EXERCISE LIGHTLY AND IN MODERATION.  If you must exercise, although some TCM’s and Pui Yuets (Chinese Confinement Ladies) will frown upon this, do it in a way that’s minimal exertion.  Light stretching of legs and arms, but avoid the core area (unless you’re doing it wrapped) because that’s where the tradition of wrapping helps pull the stomach and core muscles back into place.
  • DO NOT DO HOUSEHOLD CHORES.  I wish!  Haha… however, this is the traditional way of managing confinement.  You usually had your mother, mother-in-law, or a Pui Yuet who can support you, but that’s a far ask in modern times.  It’s definitely easier in countries where hired help is more economical, but that’s where some planning will help you manage.  Pre-bought and prepared meals ahead of confinement will save you many trips to the grocery store and the prep work.  Source healthy food delivery or food preparation vendors.  Enlist the help of neighbours, family, or friends, including other children.  Recognize and accept trade offs.

 

As my second post partum began, we let go of my helper in Hong Kong.  In my head, I had my mom fly over and I was a strong empowered woman, so I could do it!  Right?  I was so wrong!

I was trying to do it all.  I was trying to be the great mom to my first daughter, the helpful daughter to my mom, the great wife to my husband, and the super housewife, but every time I see a Chinese doctor now, they always ask me to have a third baby so I can go through confinement again and do it properly and fix all the wrongs in my body!  It’s that crazy?

My lessons learned is that there have to be trade offs.  So what if you have a messy house?  So what if you’re wearing the same clothes for 4 days straight?  Protect your body.  It’s only 30 days.

Lisa

Do consume warm and drying (yang-nourishing) food and drinks

 

e of the most important part of confinement is the food and drinks you consume during this important period of your healing.  The key principle here is that anything (from a TCM perspective) nourishing the yang, mainly characterized by warming ingredients. 

Warming ingredients include:

  • GINGER, GINGER, GINGER.  The best type is to start with raw ginger and then find uses for its peel and the root itself.  You can find this in many (if not all) confinement recipes.
  • SESAME SEEDS.  Black is best, but white are also OK.  Sesame seeds are warming and can nourish yang nicely.  I’d suggest buying a bucket of these and sprinkle over white rice, dishes, stews, and even into your soups.
  • SESAME OIL.  Similar to above, this is best used in stews and dishes and all of your cooking.
  • BLACK VINEGAR.  Perfect for confinement and found commonly in the Pig’s Feet Vinegar Soup.  This is a great condiment to have as part of your confinement garnishes.  One favourite dish I like is the stewed pork ribs in black vinegar with sugar.
  • This also means avoiding foods that are deep fried, hard to digest, raw, considered toxic (goose, beef) or cooling (seafood, watermelon, ice cream, bubble tea)

For a selection soups for confinement, check out our CONFINEMENT SOUPS.

You can also explore our selection of CONFINEMENT FOODS.  Here we explore all the CAN and CANNOT eat ingredients.

  • Maintaining a dry environment is also important.  This is because the principle includes dispelling both cold and moisture from the body to replenish the yang and avoid retention.  Water itself is a cool element and associated as yin.

 

 

Do create a warming environment for the body

 

Beyond the DO NOT’s of sitting in front of the air conditioning or exposing parts of your body to the air, what you want to do is be conscious and intentional with creating a warm space and moments for your body.  In some instances, ginger is your friend here as well, which is weird, but stay with me!

This includes:

  • DO OVERUSE GINGER.  Here’s how you can get creative with ginger.  The peel (along with a mix of other Chinese herbs) can be dried and used to soak your feet (a great way to get yang into the body), wash your hair, and bathe in.  I would suggest using a soup bag to store all the dried ingredients so you can take it out easily and dispose of.  You can use the peels as large dried pieces into a foot soak at least once a day.  I did this before bedtimes and it helped me sleep so well!
  • DO KEEP EXTREMETIES AND HEAD COVERED.  This means, hands, feet, head, back of neck, shoulders, elbows crease, back of knees, back of ears, and ankles are sufficiently covered and not exposed to cold or air.  You’ll notice that all these body parts have pressure points when it comes to TCM and acupuncture.  There is no such thing as overdressing.  Actually, my Chinese doctor says, there is no such thing as over-nourishing during confinement!
  • DO COOK OR HEAT UP EVERYTHING THING FIRST.  This means food or drinks, too.  This is part of the warming environment, which is just as important in terms of what you put into your body.  DO NOT EAT RAW FOOD.  This is part of principle in staying with warm and cooked foods and drinks.  And I know sometimes you get so thirsty when breastfeeding, especially if you’re in an Asian country (where it’s humid and hot), so I ended up making a dried herbal tea of longans and red dates and let it cool to room temperature.  That’s how cool as I’ll drink.  Nothing with ice.  Nothing colder than body temperature ideally.

 

TCM FACT

Children are naturally energetic and full of yang.  They are constantly moving, running, on the go, and vibrant.  As we age, we lose that ability to hold that yang in and our energy decreases and as we become older, we become more yin and actually prefer to slow down.  This is very natural.

Knowing this, in general, it means that younger mothers can hold more yang and replenish it easier than older mothers.  It is encouraged to replenish yang as you age (regardless of whether it’s post partum or not).  This will also help reduce hot flashes (during menopause) and con conserve their Qi in later parts of their lives.

I’ve started consuming a cup of dried longans and red dates tea midday since I turned 40!  I may need it even more now that I’m in Canada and definitely feeling the cold.

 

FOLLOW OUR Confinement STORIES

A selection of confinement Chinese Soups

What is confinement and confinement stories

Baby 5 & 6 Confinement story

Some confinement foods for your tummy!

The DO's and DON'T's of confinement

GIVE YOUR LOVE OF SOUP.

FOLLOW US AND SHARE.

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Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer!

Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer!

Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer!

Soup Name

Chicken Wintermelon Soup for Summer!

Traditional Chinese Name:  

冬瓜雞湯 (dōng guā jī tāng)

 

For more videos, visit us on YouTube.

Here is a variation on the wintermelon soup using chicken as the protein instead of pork.  It’s slightly cooling, helping to repair your yin energy and release heat from the body. 

I used a new root that I normally don’t put into this soup, which is the Japanese gobo root.  It’s has earthy, dark, and rich tones, so only use 3-4 pieces of it.  Add in your Chinese herbal base of dried red dates, dried longans, dried scallops, and dried goji berries to lighten it up and you’ve got yourself a beautiful summer soup for the whole family!

 

 

What’s involved?

Prep time: 30 mins

Cook time: 30 mins on stove + 4 hours in thermal pot

Total time: 5 hours 

Serves: 8-10 bowls

Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

  1. Boil 1 separate pot of water to blanch your protein
  2. You can also begin to boil your pot of soup water in the thermal pot with the 3L of cold water
  3. Prepare your chicken any way you’d like.  I tend to quarter it and reserve the breast for another meal, using only the legs and bones.
  4. In your blanching pot, drop in the chicken bones and meat into the boiling water and blanch for 5-6 minutes, or until the water re-boils.
  5. Slice the wintermelon into large pieces, keeping the skin on.
  6. Using gloves, peel the Chinese (or Japanese) Yam and cut into large 2-inch thick pieces
  7. Cut the gobo root into 2 inch long pieces, keeping the skin on
  8. When your soup water boils, transfer the meat, add in the dried herbal ingredients, and all the roots and wintermelon
  9. Boil on high for 30 minutes
  10. Transfer for a thermal pot for another 4 hours to let it finish cooking
  11. Serve and enjoy!

For more videos, visit us on YouTube.

 

 

 

Chef tips:

  • Keep the skin on the wintermelon to prevent it from disintegrating into the soup
  • Use gloves when handling the Chinese or Japanese Yam root as it is slippery and can make your hands itchy
  • When using a whole chicken, you can save either the breasts or legs for another meal and use only the bones
  • Use a thermal pot to conserve energy and make the technology work for you!  

 

Vegetarian Lotus Root with Chestnuts and Carrots Chinese Soup

Vegetarian Lotus Root with Chestnuts and Carrots Chinese Soup

Vegetarian Lotus Root with Chestnuts and Carrots Chinese Soup

Soup Name:

Vegetarian Lotus Root with Chestnuts and Carrots Chinese Soup

Traditional Chinese Name:

蓮藕栗子素湯 (Lián’ǒu lìzǐ sù tāng)

 

This is a great, earthy, slightly nutty light soup great for the whole family and vegetarian friendly!

I’m using dried mushrooms to replace pork bones and trying to honour the flavour profile of the lotus roots and carrots.  Slightly sweet, slightly earthy, that hint of nuttiness, but in a light broth that’s savory and smooth.

You can explore more vegetarian substitutes for meats in Chinese soups and get creative!

 

What’s involved?

Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 2 hour and 30 mins

Total time: 2 hour and 45 mins

Serves: 8 bowls

Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

  1. Pre-soak your dried Chinese shiitake mushrooms in a bowl for 2 hours until they soften
  2. Remove the stems from the mushrooms
  3. Prepare your soup water on high heat with the 2 L of cold water in your thermal soup pot
  4. In a shallow pan, add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil and on medium heat, pan fry the mushrooms with a bit of salt until fragrant and slightly browned on both sides
  5. Wash & peel the lotus root, cutting into large pieces
  6. Wash, peel, and cut carrot into large cubes
  7. Wash, peel, and cut corn into large pieces 
  8. When the water boils, add all the ingredients together
  9. Boil on medium to high heat for 30 minutes
  10. You can continue to boil on low heat for another 2 hours or put into your thermal pot 
  11. Serve and enjoy!

Any benefits?

  • A neutral soup ideal for the whole family
  • Better for dryer, cooler weather as chestnuts are known to be a little bit wet and warming in nature
  • A versatile soup where you can change it up a bit and add other vegetables such as Chinese Yam, chayotes, or potatoes
  • Be sure to buy good quality Chinese dried mushrooms

For videos, visit us on YouTube. 

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