Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to balance the Five Flavours perfectly in a meal

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.
The five flavours in fruit and vegetable form.

In Chinese Medicine we class every food according to its temperature, affinity with different parts of the body and its flavour.

There are five key flavours and a food may fall into more than one category. Each flavour has a different effect on the body, as follows:

  • Bitter (Fire element): drying and downbearing. Bitter foods are good for promoting excretion of excess fluids (dampness) and stimulating digestion.
  • Sweet (Earth element): warming, strengthening and moistening. Sweet foods give us fuel for energy and are particularly useful in times of weakness. They also nourish our body fluids.
  • Pungent (Metal element): aid circulation and promote sweating. Pungent foods help to move stagnation and tension in the body, as well as improving blood flow. These foods also push ‘upwards and outwards’ promoting a sweat which is why they are also used during acute colds and flu.
  • Salty (Water element): cooling, softening and moistening. Salty foods can alter fluid balance in the body and in some cases may promote bowel movements. They soften hardness (think of epsom salts in the bath).
  • Sour (Wood element): astringe and preserve fluids. Sour foods close the pores and promote an inward movement to nourish our body fluids and subdue anger.

While all of the flavours need to be consumed in moderation and then increased or decreased according to each person’s current health condition, sweet and salty foods should be particularly used sparingly in modern diets, unless a person’s health condition suggests otherwise. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can guide you in this area.

In the modern diet, bitter foods are eaten rarely and there is usually cause for most western people to increase their intake of bitter foods.

For a person in a good state of health we usually recommend a consumption of all of the flavours in moderation. Cooking in Asian cultures often pays close attention to the seasoning of dishes to represent a balance of flavours. A classic example is ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) which is served with fresh chilli and mint (pungent), lemon/lime (sour), carrot and mung bean sprouts (sweet), green leafy vegetables (bitter) and fish and/or soy sauce (salty).

Here’s a western recipe (that I have blogged about before) which brings together these five flavours perfectly:

Mediterranean eggplant salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggplants, cubed, salted, drained and dried
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon currants
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, quartered lengthways
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 red chillies, sliced finely
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, discard flesh and slice rind finely
  • a few handfuls of green leafy vegetables: baby spinach, cress and/or rocket leaves

Method:

  1. Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
  2. In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden.  Add tomato and oregano until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. Add fried eggplant, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, preserved lemon and spinach to the tomato mixture.  Season with black pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Here is the breakdown of this recipe according to the flavours:

  • Bitter: oregano, parsley and green leafy vegetables.
  • Sweet: eggplant, currants, cumin, tomato and almonds.
  • Pungent: cumin, garlic, oregano and chilli.
  • Salty: preserved lemon, eggplant (once salted and rinsed).
  • Sour: tomato, lemon juice and preserved lemon.

Perfect balance. Enjoy this recipe. It’s delicious!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Chocolate beetroot cake: gluten and dairy free

choc-beet cake sliceJust prior to undergoing the knife for my hip operation I went crazy (rather, had a ball in the kitchen) preparing meals for the post-op recovery phase. I put a lot of thought into the ingredients that I would and would not use, and as promised earlier, I will blog about this sometime soon.

But for now please enjoy this delicious chocolate beetroot cake recipe from the post-op phase. I wanted it to be nutritious (for a cake) containing lots of nuts and beetroot (to promote tissue healing) without foods that disagree with my body – gluten and dairy. I also opted for maple syrup over refined sugar as the sweetener. It’s even iced with a chocolate and cashew icing made without refined sugar. This was to give me a sweet treat to brighten my days in recovery.

Here are some of the Chinese medicine properties for some of the key ingredients:

  • Cocoa: neutral temperature, sweet and bitter in flavour, cocoa is considered to be strengthening and stimulating.
  • Beetroot: neutral temperature and sweet flavoured, beetroots nourish the Stomach, Spleen and Heart and move Liver Qi and Blood, promoting blood circulation.
  • Almond: neutral temperature and sweet flavoured, almonds are moistening and benefit the Lung, Large Intestine and Spleen.
  • Walnut: warm in temperature and sweet flavoured, walnuts tonify the Kidneys and reduce inflammation.

This cake is rich and moist, and still delicious after I took it out of the freezer (where it was frozen individually piece by piece). The cake is still sweet overall so keep serving sizes small and be aware that a high daily intake of sweet foods is not recommended – moderation is the key!

Find the chocolate beetroot cake recipe here. (I shared it on my clinic’s website first.)

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

Diet, food, food allergy

Chocolate cream-filled biscuits: gluten & dairy free

choc cream biscuitsThis Mother’s Day just gone, I baked these biscuits for my Mum.

Mum, like many of you out there, has trouble finding tasty gluten and dairy free biscuits, that are also soy and nut (almond and cashew) free – she has a few food intolerances. As you know, I love to rise to a food intolerance baking challenge! These biscuits aren’t really in the healthy sphere (high sugar content alert) but they are a great treat for people with the food intolerances described above.

These biscuits passed my mother’s taste test, so I thought I’d share the recipe:

Chocolate cream-filled biscuit recipe

Makes 12 (or 24 unfilled biscuits)

Biscuit ingredients:

  • 115g coconut oil (solidified)
  • 100g sugar (I used a sugar/stevia mix so halved this amount)
  • 105g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 170g brown rice flour
  • 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Filling ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (solidified)
  • 3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease or line two biscuit trays.
  2. In a medium bowl combine flour, cocoa, salt and baking soda and mix well. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, use electric beaters to cream coconut oil and sugars, until changes colour.
  4. Add egg and vanilla extract, mixing through.
  5. Gradually add the flour mix into the wet ingredients. Mix until completely combined.
  6. Roll mixture into heaped teaspoon sized balls and place on baking trays. For flatter biscuits (than pictured), flatten the balls slightly.
  7. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  8. Cool on rack. choc cream biscuits rack
  9. For filling: in a small bowl cream coconut oil, and then gradually add in sifted icing sugar, mixing thoroughly. Add vanilla extract and mix through to give even colour.Choc cream biscuits filling
  10. Sort cooled biscuits into pairs of similar size/shape and spread a teaspoon of filling on the flat surface. Place another biscuit on top. And you have a chocolate cream filled biscuit!choc cream biscuits gift box

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Almond, ginger and blueberry slice

ginger almond blueberry slice plateAs regular readers of this blog may be aware I am a big fan of ginger. Aside from its myriad of therapeutic properties, I value it just because it so delicious!

So here is a slice based on ginger that I baked for our wonderful team of ladies I work with at the clinic in West End: The Acupuncture and Natural Therapies Centre. We have an excellent team of health professionals at this thirty year old health centre: three acupuncturists (Nicola Macdonald, Amber Fulton and me), another massage therapist (Sia Carlyon) and two lovely ladies at the reception and dispensary, Shelley and Jane.

So this recipe’s key ingredient Chinese medicine properties are:

  • Ginger: Warm, pungent and sweet. It benefits the Lung, Stomach and Spleen.
  • Almonds: Neutral in temperature and sweet, they benefit the Lung, Spleen and Large Intestine.
  • Blueberries: Cooling, sweet and sour. Blueberries benefit the Liver.

Even though the sugar is reduced in this recipe, overall it is still sweet in flavour and so tonifies the Earth element and Qi, and nourishes the Spleen and Lung. It is high in fibre and protein (for a sweet snack) but should still be only consumed in moderation.

The recipe is adapted from this one and I have altered it to be lower in sugar, gluten and dairy free with added blueberries.

ginger almond blueberry slice

Ginger, almond and blueberry slice

Ingredients

  • 175g coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar & stevia combination (equivalent to 1 cup caster sugar)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 100g almond meal
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 125g ‘naked’ uncrystallised ginger, chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 70g flaked almonds

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 190°C.
  2. Grease an 18 x 28cm rectangular baking tin. Line with baking paper.
  3. Beat coconut oil and sugar together until light in colour and well mixed. Beat in egg, then alternate the additions of coconut milk and flour.
  4. Add almond meal, ground ginger and uncrystallised ginger and mix thoroughly.
  5. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and press down evenly with a clean fist.
  6. Evenly distribute blueberries on top of mix, pressing in gently.
  7. Evenly sprinkle flaked almonds over the top of the slice.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden.
  9. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes in pan, then cool on a rack.
  10. Cut into small squares or fingers.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Quintessentially autumn: cauliflower, butter bean & dill soup

cauliflower soupCarrying on from my post about everything you need to know to be “Living well in autumn“, I prepared this delicious soup that sums up the essence of the season in one bowl.

Chinese medicine five element theory assigns autumn to the metal element. The colour associated with the metal element is white. The flavour is pungent. Although we can add a nice mix of bitter and sour to this. We use cooking methods that take a little longer but preserve fluid content (such as soups) to benefit our Lungs, Large Intestine and skin. Foods that are neutral to warming are ideal depending on how far through autumn you find yourself. This concept is further explained in the living well in autumn link above.

The dish that pops into my head as quintessentially autumn is cauliflower soup. It is white, creamy and nourishing, which a slight pungent and warming quality. It was a childhood favourite for me. Perhaps this is because as a dairy-free child, cauliflower soup offered a soothing, ‘creaminess’ not found often in the rest of my diet. In addition to the texture, I also think I just enjoyed the flavour. Fans of cauliflower cheese will know what I’m talking about.

Some of the key ingredients in this soup and their Chinese medicine properties  are:

  • Cauliflower (of course) –  Neutral-cooling and nourishes Yin. It is said to be sweet and slightly bitter, benefitting the Stomach, Spleen, Lung and Large Intestine.
  • Butter beans – Neutral-cooling and sweet, these beans nourish Yin and benefit the Liver, Lungs and skin.
  • Onion and garlic – Garlic is hot and onions are warming. They are pungent and may also be sweet. They benefit the Lung, Large Intestine, Stomach and Spleen.
  • Dill – Warming, pungent and slightly bitter.
  • Nutmeg – Warming and pungent.

Here is the recipe for cauliflower, butter bean and dill soup. You’ll be eating in about 30 minutes – it’s quick to cook. I used one and a half tablespoons of fresh dill rather than the dried herb. I do love dill. And for those with food sensitivities, it is free from dairy, gluten and eggs. It’s a good meat-free dish too as the beans add some protein and contribute to satiety.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

emotional health, food, food allergy, recipe

For the love of chocolate

I've made this several times and this is the best photo I have so it'll just have to do!
I’ve made this several times and this is the best photo I have so it’ll just have to do!

A great friend who I have not seen in a very long time texted me yesterday and said she had a dream where the two of us found a secret stash of chocolate. Ah! The perfect dream.

So, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Which has really become a commercial occasion – but hey, it’s still nice to celebrate love. So instead of buying some sort of generic gift, why not make your loved ones a chocolate heart from your secret stash? There’s nothing like presenting a chocolate heart with a blunt knife to someone close to you and saying “go on, break my heart.”

I found the basic idea for the chocolate heart in a book and adapted it a little for a gathering I was going to – it was my job to bring a finger-food style dessert. And then, a stroke of genius hit me: instead of pouring the melted chocolate into a boring old square tin, why not use a heart shaped one? It was a hit. Even with the non-chocoholics in the group. (Yes, there is such a thing as a non-chocoholic apparently.)

So here’s the recipe. It’s not dairy-free if you use the small amount of white chocolate – so vary the types of chocolate as you wish. The white chocolate just makes it look pretty but definitely is not essential.

Two things I will say is:

  • Use fair trade chocolate – it’s worth paying the real price for what it costs to produce ethical chocolate,
  • And, good quality dark chocolate has quite a few health benefits when eaten in moderation.

The Chocolate Heart

Ingredients:

  • 300g dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa & dairy-free)
  • 1 cup of mixed fruits and nuts (I used crystallised ginger, toasted blanched almonds, dried blueberries and goji berries)
  • 100g white chocolate

Method:

  1. Line a heart-shaped tin (or whatever shape you’d prefer – about 15-20cm²) with plastic wrap. Make sure to have as few creases in the wrap as is possible.
  2. Melt dark chocolate (70% +) in a heat-proof bowl over a saucepan of gently steaming water. (Make sure that the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl).
  3. When melted, mix fruit and nuts into the dark chocolate.
  4. Pour chocolate mix into the prepared tin.
  5. In another bowl, melt the white chocolate.
  6. When melted, spoon the white chocolate on top of dark chocolate in the tin and muddle it with a skewer to create a marbled effect.
  7. Refrigerate for an hour or so until set.
  8. Peel the plastic wrap away to serve.
  9. You will end up with a thick block of fruit and nut chocolate. Serve it on a wooden board with a blunt knife to break it up.

Happy Valentines Day! May you all enjoy a piece of  broken heart. 🙂

And as a side note, if you are struggling with a real broken heart you might like to read this.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe

The joy of omelettes in pictures

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.
The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.

My great friend and naturopath colleague Kathleen Murphy recently wrote this excellent post about some new research regarding how eating the right type of breakfast can reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome.

I’ve written before on my love of the popular breakfast meal, the omelette, and I’ve shared my dairy-free omelette recipe. I don’t consider them to be only a breakfast food. Omelettes also make excellent, quick and easy lunches and dinners. And oh boy, by varying the ingredients you add to the egg mix you can create a range of tasty delights.

The ingredients you can add are endless, but here are some I like:

  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Sweet potato
  • Pumpkin
  • Mushrooms
  • Capsicum
  • Zucchini
  • Harissa chilli paste
  • Fresh chilli
  • Fresh herbs

And here are some omelettes I’ve made lately:

Cherry tomato, Spanish onion and fresh basil leaves
Cherry tomato, Spanish onion and fresh basil leaves
Pumpkin, harissa, cherry tomato and mixed fresh herbs
Pumpkin, harissa, cherry tomato and mixed fresh herbs
Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and dill
Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and dill
Sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin and parsley
Sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, pumpkin and parsley

On looking at these photos I’ve realised I seem to have a great fondness for cherry tomatoes. I promise that they aren’t in every omelette I make, just the ones I photograph apparently!

Have you got a vegie omelette combination that’s a winner? Share it in the comments.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.