The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen

Overview

The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, with its 150 recipes culled from a lifetime of family meals and culinary instruction, is much more than a cookbook. It is a daughter's tribute — a collection of personal memories of the philosophy and superstitions behind culinary traditions that have been passed down through her Cantonese family, in which each ingredient has its own singular importance, the preparation of a meal is part of the joy of life, and the proper creation of a dish can have a favorable influence on ...

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The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing

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Overview

The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, with its 150 recipes culled from a lifetime of family meals and culinary instruction, is much more than a cookbook. It is a daughter's tribute — a collection of personal memories of the philosophy and superstitions behind culinary traditions that have been passed down through her Cantonese family, in which each ingredient has its own singular importance, the preparation of a meal is part of the joy of life, and the proper creation of a dish can have a favorable influence on health and good fortune. Each chapter begins with its own engaging story, offering insight into the Chinese beliefs that surround life-enhancing and spiritually calming meals. In addition, personal family photographs illustrate these stories and capture the spirit of China before the Revolution, when Young's family lived in Canton, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
The first part, "Mastering the Fundamentals," provides instruction on the arts of steaming and stir-frying; the preparation of rice, panfried, and braised dishes; the proper selection of produce; and the fine arts of chopping and slicing. Part Two, "The Art of Celebration," concentrates on the more elaborate, complex, and meaningful dishes — such as Shark's Fin Soup and West Lake Duck — that are usually made with rare ingredients, and sweets such as Water Chestnut Cake and Sesame Balls. The final part, "Achieving Yin-Yang Harmony," explores the many Chinese beliefs about the healing properties of ginseng, gingko nuts, soybeans, dong quai, and the many vegetable and fruit soup preparations that balance and nourish the body. The stories and recipes combine to demonstrate the range of Cantonese cooking, from rich flavors and honored combinations to an overall appreciation of health, well-being, and prosperity.
In addition to the recipes, Young provides a complete glossary of dried herbs, spices, and fresh produce, accompanied by identifying photos and tips on where to purchase them. Unique traditional dishes, such as Savory Rice Tamales and Shrimp Dumplings, are also illustrated step by step, making the book easy to use. The central full-color photo section captures details of New Year's dishes and the Chinese home decorated in celebration, reminding one that these time-honored traditions live on, and the meals and their creation are connections to the past.

Winner of the 2000 IACP Cookbook Award.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Chinese Family Recipes

Traditional Cantonese cuisine is a subtle, refined way of cooking that not only takes into account the health-giving and balancing properties of ingredients but also matches countless auspicious foods prepared in special dishes to celebratory occasions. Grace Young took this way of eating for granted, growing up in San Francisco on the Cantonese dishes her family had brought with them from China. Now, recognizing that the traditions of Cantonese cooking are dying out in her extended family, Young has dedicated herself to preserving not just the techniques and recipes but also the philosophy behind this complex cuisine. The result is an enchanting book, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. It is an eminently practical book—with step-by-step instructions, glossaries of ingredients, listings of mail-order sources, and a series of full-color photos that identify the many exotic Chinese fresh and packaged foods called for in the recipes—but it is also a highly personal one, full of family photos, culinary lore, stories from the time before the revolution in China and from the years after emigration to the U.S., and anecdotes about trips to the market, celebrations, and mealtimes. The recipes range from everyday home-style cooking to ritualized, labor-intensive dishes prepared for celebrations to health-giving tonics, soups, and teas. The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen offers a window onto a way of thinking about food and a way of life that is as fascinating as it is unfamiliar to most Western cooks. But what makes the book especially rewarding is the sense permeating every page that it was truly a labor of love.

From the Publisher
Amy Tan A cookbook of family secrets that the Kitchen God's Wife would have been proud to write for her daughter.

Ken Hom author of Easy Family Recipes from a Chinese-American Childhood Grace Young's The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen is a poignant, touching look at her Chinese-American past. Each page is filled with delicious recipes written straight from the heart. This is more than a cookbook; it is a social history that deserves a place in every American library.

Paula Wolfert author of Mediterranean Grains and Greens It's so rare to come across a cookbook that I fall in love with at first sight. I heartily recommend The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen for its terrific recipes, intimate view of how Chinese-Americans eat, and charming writing. The sections on yin-yang harmony and shopping like a sleuth are worth the price alone!

Library Journal
Although Young, a food writer, grew up in a traditional Chinese American home in San Francisco, until quite recently, she says, she took her culinary heritage for granted. She realized she knew more about other cuisines than the Cantonese cooking of her own background, and so she decided to set down her family's recipes. In the process, she learned much more about her parents, her ancestors, and her extended family than she'd expected, and the result is this lovely, very personal book. The first part includes recipes for the everyday dishes prepared for the family by both her mother and father, introduced by reminiscences such as "Going to Market with Mama" or mini-essays on topics like "The Meaning of Rice." The next section focuses on celebration, specifically the traditions and dishes of the Chinese New Year. The final part is devoted to "Cooking as a Healing Art," with recipes for tonics and soups. (This is the shortest section; Nina Simond's recent A Spoonful of Ginger, LJ 4/15/99, has more on Chinese holistic healing.) Some of Young's recipes are elaborate or require unsual ingredients, but she was interested in the authentic versions, not Americanized Cantonese food, and her instructions are clear and thorough. Well written and absorbing, Young's cookbook/memoir is highly recommended. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684847399
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 5/5/1999
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 606,287
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Richardson is an award-winning photographer and designer whose work has appeared in Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Saveur, Food & Wine, and The New York Times Magazine. He has done the photography for countless cookbooks and is the co-author of The Four Seasons of Italian Cooking. He lives in New York City.

Grace Young is an award-winning food writer and the author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen and The Breath of a Wok. Her work has appeared in Gourmet, Metropolitan Home, Copia, Gastronomica, Eating Well, More, Fitness, Home, and Health magazine. For seventeen years, Young was the Test Kitchen Director and Director for Food Photography for over forty cookbooks published by Time-Life Books. She is now a consulting editor at Saveur.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION
In Chinese cooking, every ingredient and dish is imbued with its own brilliance and lore. When I was a young girl growing up in a traditional Chinese home in San Francisco, this knowledge was passed on to me through a lifetime of meals, conversations, celebrations, and rituals. I felt every food we ate in our home had a story. "Eat rice porridge, jook," Mama would say, "so you will live a long life." Or, "Drink the winter melon soup to preserve your complexion and to cool your body in the summer heat." Early on, my brother Douglas and I observed that the principles of yin and yang — a balance of opposites — were integrated into our everyday fare. For example, vegetables considered cooling, such as bean sprouts, were stir-fried with ginger, which is warming. Or stir-fried and deep-fat fried dishes were eaten with poached or steamed dishes in the same meal to offset the fatty qualities of the fried dishes. After a rich meal special nourishing soups were served to restore balance in the body.
Today, the brilliant harmony of Chinese cooking is gaining recognition. Chinese cuisine uses spare amounts of protein and a minimum of oil. Carbohydrates comprise essentially 80 percent of the diet and, in Southern China, this is primarily vegetables and rice, a nonallergenic complex carbohydrate that is one of the easiest foods to digest. Herbs and foods like ginseng, soybeans, gingko nuts, and ginger, which the Chinese have integrated into their diet for thousands of years, are now being accepted by the West as particularly beneficial for health. Many of the vegetables in the Chinese diet, especially greens like bok choy, are rich in beta carotene, other vitamins, phytochemicals, and minerals, and the favored technique of stir-frying preserves the vegetables' nutrients.
My parents have impressed upon me their love of food as they had learned it in China. l grew up to appreciate every aspect of cooking, from shopping to preparation to the rituals of eating. This lifelong influence led me to my career as a food stylist and recipe developer. My father, Baba, often warned Douglas and me about certain foods. Chow mein and fried dim sum, he said, were too warming, yeet hay, or toxic, if eaten in excess. On the other hand, most vegetables and fruits were cooling, leung, and therefore especially good to eat during the summer. He never actually explained to us precisely what "too warming" or "too cooling" meant but, somehow, we accepted it and allowed that he was right.
Still, my brother and I listened to our parents' stories with only half an ear. When Mann served Dried Fig, Apple, and Almond Soup and reminded us that it was "soothing for our bodies, yun," we didn't really care. Instead, we could hardly wait to sink our teeth into a pizza, a hamburger, or a Swanson chicken pot pie, foods that we somehow knew were yeet hay, but were too much a part of the all-American life we led outside our home that we craved them anyway.
Both my parents brought from China the traditions of food and cooking as they had practiced them in their homeland. To this day, they maintain one of the few traditional Chinese households among the members of our extended family in America, which numbers well over two hundred relatives. Although some of my relatives eat more pasta than rice, nay parents and the older uncles and aunties take pride in their expertise in classic Chinese cooking. They still center their diet around the principles of Chinese nutrition.
My family's kitchen was often fragrant with the aroma of homemade chicken broth simmering on the back burner of the stove. Invariably, bok choy was draining in a colander, while a fresh chicken hung on a rod over the counter to air-dry briefly before it was braised or roasted. Instead of boxes of commercial cereals, our kitchen cupboards were filled with jars of indigenous Chinese ingredients like lotus seeds, dried mushrooms, various soy sauces, cellophane noodles, and curious-looking herbs like ginseng, red dates, and angelica, or dong quai. Instead of milk and butter (dairy products are not part of Chinese cuisine), our refrigerator shelves were more likely to have tofu, ground bean sauce, ginger, and lotus root. In the pantry sat a 100-pound sack of rice.
Like many first-generation Americans, I didn't give my culinary heritage much thought until I was well into adulthood. Growing up in San Francisco, I ate Cantonese home-style food every day. These were not dishes found on restaurant menus, but rich, savory dishes with pure, simple flavors that are the hallmark of a home cook. Whether it was a simple weeknight supper or a more elaborate weekend meal, my parents wanted us to know why, in all of China, the Cantonese were considered to be the best cooks. Their cuisine is the most highly developed — it has the broadest range of flavors, yet the subtlest of tastes. Later I would learn that the concept of foods having "warming" and "cooling" characteristics is especially revered by the Cantonese and manifests itself in their cooking. All the special soups we drank for nourishing and harmonizing our bodies came from a distinctly Cantonese tradition, one not found in any other part of China.
Only recently have I realized that I had taken my marvelous Cantonese culinary heritage for granted. Even members of my extended family have, like me, expanded their diets far beyond Cantonese fare. My cousin tells me that his wife is an excellent Italian cook. When it comes to Chinese food however, she cannot surpass the quality of their local take-out. While the cousins of my generation and their children enjoy Chinese traditions, only a few of them seem to have maintained the knowledge of the traditional recipes they were raised with. Who has time to learn the family recipes and digest their meaning and importance? My Auntie Bertha, who cooked countless memorable meals for me when I was a child, tells me she has forgotten most of her Chinese dishes; she says it is easier to cook simple American-style meals.
On my visits to San Francisco, Mama's delicious cooking stirred my taste memory, and I began to notice how much healthier I felt after several days of home cooking. As I began to record my family's recipes, I realized there were huge gaps in my knowledge, having learned Chinese cooking only through casual observation and not from formal study. Even with my professional cooking experience and natural familiarity with Chinese cuisine, it required energetic detective work to decipher and understand some of the recipes. For Chinese cooking is as ancient as its culture, with layers of meaning and wisdom that cannot be easily explained. No one member of my family could teach me every recipe or answer all my questions. I acquired most of my knowledge from my parents, but relatives and family friends all offered little bits of information that I pieced together. The power and wisdom of Chinese cooking goes far beyond simply mastering the more complex cooking techniques or even knowing the ingredients. For me, the principles that govern Chinese cooking and nutrition are far more intriguing than the Western notions of nutrition, with its focus on cholesterol, vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and fits in the diet. It is a cuisine based on opposites, the yin-yang principles of cooking. This philosophy is so instinctively ingrained in my family that it was hard for them to articulate it verbally. I recognized that if I didn't begin questioning my parents, grandmother, aunts, and uncles, the wisdom of their diet and the lore of our culinary heritage would be irretrievably lost. It became clear that I needed to look to the past to understand the present.
I recorded my family's recipes without Americanizing the ingredients. There are those who offer substitutes for traditional Chinese ingredients, but this fails to acknowledge the genius of Chinese cooking. There is a reason for thousands of years of reverence for certain combinations. Recipes that offer, for example, Kentucky string beans as a substitute for Chinese long beans fail to grasp the Chinese nutritional perspective. While both vegetables have a similar crunchiness and might seem comparable, the Chinese long bean is the only vegetable the Cantonese consider neutral, neither too yin, "cooling," nor too yang, "warming," and is the only vegetable women are allowed to eat after giving birth. Cantonese believe most vegetables and fruits are "cooling" and, therefore, dangerous for a new mother, especially in the first month after she gives birth.
The recipes in this book include some that do not require exotic Chinese ingredients. Not every dish needs a specialty ingredient of labor-intensive chopping and shredding but, in all truthfulness, if you genuinely desire to cook Chinese dishes, you will need exotic ingredients, along with the time to properly prepare them. Some cooks will suggest using canned water chestnuts in place of fresh, but it is my feeling that if fresh are not available, the recipe is not worth making. For me, using canned water chestnuts is like using canned potatoes. In some areas, I've simplified recipes by calling for the food processor to puree ingredients. But, overall, I have tried to preserve the traditional ingredients and techniques as much as possible, preferring to hand-shred ginger and vegetables rather than feed them through a food processor.
The recipes reflect the range of mastery of the Cantonese home cook. The rich flavors of home-style cooking include basic stir-fry recipes, steamed recipes, rice dishes, braises, and soups; my family cooked these on most weeknights. Also included are the auspicious and more elaborate foods connected with New Year's and special occasions. Some of these recipes have an old-world quality about them, reflecting an era when people had more time to cook. Finally, the healing remedies are intended to restore harmony and strength to the body for proper yin-yang balance.
Chinese culinary healing, while essentially overlooked in the West, remains vital to Cantonese culture. To restore the natural balance in our bodies, my family countered the rich and delicious foods we ate regularly with what I call yin-yang concoctions, or special soups made according to a more than thousand-year-old tradition. I have written these recipes and explained their health benefits as my family practices them. All the recipes were eaten in moderation, and never considered a substitute for professional medical attention. Sometimes, the recipes or stories behind them vary slightly from family to family, and from village to village. I offer them here as they were taught to me.
My parents' approach to cooking is Zen-like: attentive to detail and masterful. They are not formally trained in cooking, yet they share a passion for food that is common among many Chinese. They have great esteem for the meaning and symbolism of food as well as respect for age-old remedies. The everyday rituals of properly selecting produce, slicing meat, washing rice, and presenting a meal, which I have inherited from my family, have given me an aesthetic insight into life. The slow emergence of these truths has allowed me to see the meaning of my own cooking as a metaphor for life.
Copyright © 1999 by Grace Young

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction
Notes to the Reader
Remember China, Nan Chung
MASTERING THE FUNDAMENTALS
THE MEANING OF RICE
Steamed Rice
Flavored Sweet Rice
Fried Rice
Tender Chicken on Rice
Tender Beef on Rice
Chicken Porridge
Stir-Fried Frog on Rice
Savory Rice Dumplings
Peanut Rice Dumplings
THE BREATH OF A WOK
Chicken with Cashews
Tomato Beef
Stir-Fried Chicken with Baby Corn and Straw Mushrooms
Stir-Fried Eggs with Barbecued Pork
Baba's Stir-Fried Butterfly Fish and Bean Sprouts
Stir-Fried Asparagus with Shrimp
Stir-Fried Squid
Beef Chow Fun
Singapore Rice Noodles
THE ART OF STEAMING
Steamed Oyster and Water Chestnut Pork Cake
Steamed Pork Cake with Salted Duck Egg
Steamed Egg Custard
Steamed Tangerine Beef
Steamed Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce
Steamed Spareribs with Plum Sauce
Steamed Sole with Black Bean Sauce
Steamed Chicken with Lily Buds, Cloud Ears, and Mushrooms
Steamed Rock Cod
Steamed Sponge Cake
SHREDS OF GINGER LIKE BLADES OF GRASS
Fried White Fish
Drunken Chicken
Braised Beef
Braised Sweet and Sour Spareribs
Nom Yu Spareibs
Lemongrass Pork Chops
Rock Sugar Ginger Chicken
Lemon Chicken
Seafood Sandpot
Sandpot Braised Lamb
Chestnuts and Mushrooms Braised with Chicken
Chicken and Corn Soup
Seafood Noodle Soup
Clear Soup Noodles
Fuzzy Melon Soup
Cabbage Noodle Soup
Family-Style Winter Melon Soup
Hot-and-Sour Soup
Sweetened Tofu Soup

GOING TO MARKET WITH MAMA
Shrimp with Spinach and Tofu
Braised Mushrooms
Braised Cabbage and Mushrooms
Sprouting Soybeans
Grandfather's Stir-Fried Soybean Sprouts
Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts and Yellow Chives
Lotus Root Stir-Fry
Stir-Fried Egg and Chinese Chives
Stir-Fried Five Spice Tofu and Vegetables
Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli
Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli and Bacon
Braised Taro and Chinese Bacon
Stir-Fried Long Beans with Red Bell Peppers
Long Bean Stir-Fry
Stir-Fried Amaranth
Stir-Fried Water Spinach
Stir-Fried Cloud Ears and Luffa
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Stir-Fried Bitter Melon and Beef
Vegetable Lo Mein
Stuffed Fuzzy Melon
Braised Fuzzy Melon with Scallops
COOKING AS A MEDITATION

THE ART OF CELEBRATION
THE GOOD OMEN OF A FIGHTING FISH
Poached Steelhead Fish
Stir-Fried Bok Choy
White-Cut Chicken
Stir-Fried Clams in Black Bean Sauce
Stir-Fried Snow Pea Shoots
Glazed Roast Squab
Shark's Fin Soup
Oyster-Vegetable Lettuce Wraps
Stir-Fried Garlic Lettuce
Pepper and Salt Shrimp
Sweet and Sour Pork
Eight Precious Sweet Rice
Stir-Fried Scallops with Snow Peas and Peppers
NEW YEAR'S FOODS AND TRADITIONS
Buddha's Delight
Turnip Cake
Taro Root Cake
New Year's Cake
Water Chestnut Cake
Nom Yu Peanuts
Candied Walnuts
Sesame Balls
Sweetened Red Bean Paste
A DAY LIVED AS IF IN CHINA
Fancy Winter Melon Soup
West Lake Duck
Braised Nom Yu and Taro Duck
Stuffed Chicken Wings
Savory Rice Tamales
Sweet Rice Tamales
Pork Dumplings
Won Ton
Pot Stickers
Shrimp Dumplings
Stuffed Noodle Rolls
Spring Rolls
Scallion Cakes
DUTIFUL DAUGHTER RETURNS HOME
Salt-Roasted Chicken
Soy Sauce Chicken
Chinese Barbecued Pork
Barbecued Spareribs
Roast Duck
Chinese Bacon
Uncle Tommy's Roast Turkey
Mama's Rice Stuffing
Turkey Porridge

ACHIEVING YIN-YANG HARMONY
COOKING AS A HEALING ART
Walnut Soup
Green Mung Bean Soup
Foxnut Soup
Sesame Tong Shui
Lotus Seed "Tea"
Sweetened Red Bean Soup
Peanut Soup
Almond Soup
Dried Sweet Potato Soup
Sweet Potato and Lotus Seed Soup
Dragon Eye and Lotus Seed "Tea"
Double-Steamed Papaya and Snow Fungus Soup
Double-Steamed Asian Pears
Homemade Soy Milk
Savory Soy Milk
Fresh Fig and Honey Date Soup
Soybean and Sparerib Soup
Dried Fig, Apple, and Almond Soup
Ching Bo Leung Soup
Green Turnip Soup
Four Flavors Soup
Chayote Carrot Soup
Watercress Soup
Yen Yen's Winter Melon Soup
Herbal Winter Melon Soup
Mustard Green Soup
Gingko Nut Porridge
Snow Fungus Soup
American Ginseng Chicken Soup
BABA'S MAMA'S DONG QUAI AND RESTORATIVE FOODS
Dong Quai Soup
Lotus Root Soup
Korean Ginseng Soup
Homemade Chicken Broth
Double-Steamed Black Chicken Soup
Chicken Wine Soup
Pickled Pig's Feet
Beef and White Turnip Soup
Shopping like a Sleuth
Glossary
Index

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Introduction

INTRODUCTION

In Chinese cooking, every ingredient and dish is imbued with its own brilliance and lore. When I was a young girl growing up in a traditional Chinese home in San Francisco, this knowledge was passed on to me through a lifetime of meals, conversations, celebrations, and rituals. I felt every food we ate in our home had a story. "Eat rice porridge, jook," Mama would say, "so you will live a long life." Or, "Drink the winter melon soup to preserve your complexion and to cool your body in the summer heat." Early on, my brother Douglas and I observed that the principles of yin and yang -- a balance of opposites -- were integrated into our everyday fare. For example, vegetables considered cooling, such as bean sprouts, were stir-fried with ginger, which is warming. Or stir-fried and deep-fat fried dishes were eaten with poached or steamed dishes in the same meal to offset the fatty qualities of the fried dishes. After a rich meal special nourishing soups were served to restore balance in the body.

Today, the brilliant harmony of Chinese cooking is gaining recognition. Chinese cuisine uses spare amounts of protein and a minimum of oil. Carbohydrates comprise essentially 80 percent of the diet and, in Southern China, this is primarily vegetables and rice, a nonallergenic complex carbohydrate that is one of the easiest foods to digest. Herbs and foods like ginseng, soybeans, gingko nuts, and ginger, which the Chinese have integrated into their diet for thousands of years, are now being accepted by the West as particularly beneficial for health. Many of the vegetables in the Chinese diet, especially greens like bok choy, are rich in beta carotene, otherir expertise in classic Chinese cooking. They still center their diet around the principles of Chinese nutrition.

My family's kitchen was often fragrant with the aroma of homemade chicken broth simmering on the back burner of the stove. Invariably, bok choy was draining in a colander, while a fresh chicken hung on a rod over the counter to air-dry briefly before it was braised or roasted. Instead of boxes of commercial cereals, our kitchen cupboards were filled with jars of indigenous Chinese ingredients like lotus seeds, dried mushrooms, various soy sauces, cellophane noodles, and curious-looking herbs like ginseng, red dates, and angelica, or dong quai. Instead of milk and butter (dairy products are not part of Chinese cuisine), our refrigerator shelves were more likely to have tofu, ground bean sauce, ginger, and lotus root. In the pantry sat a 100-pound sack of rice.

Like many first-generation Americans, I didn't give my culinary heritage much thought until I was well into adulthood. Growing up in San Francisco, I ate Cantonese home-style food every day. These were not dishes found on restaurant menus, but rich, savory dishes with pure, simple flavors that are the hallmark of a home cook. Whether it was a simple weeknight supper or a more elaborate weekend meal, my parents wanted us to know why, in all of China, the Cantonese were considered to be the best cooks. Their cuisine is the most highly developed -- it has the broadest range of flavors, yet the subtlest of tastes. Later I would learn that the concept of foods having "warming" and "cooling" characteristics is especially revered by the Cantonese and manifests itself in their cooking. All the special soups we drank for nourishin g and harmonizing our bodies came from a distinctly Cantonese tradition, one not found in any other part of China.

Only recently have I realized that I had taken my marvelous Cantonese culinary heritage for granted. Even members of my extended family have, like me, expanded their diets far beyond Cantonese fare. My cousin tells me that his wife is an excellent Italian cook. When it comes to Chinese food however, she cannot surpass the quality of their local take-out. While the cousins of my generation and their children enjoy Chinese traditions, only a few of them seem to have maintained the knowledge of the traditional recipes they were raised with. Who has time to learn the family recipes and digest their meaning and importance? My Auntie Bertha, who cooked countless memorable meals for me when I was a child, tells me she has forgotten most of her Chinese dishes; she says it is easier to cook simple American-style meals.

On my visits to San Francisco, Mama's delicious cooking stirred my taste memory, and I began to notice how much healthier I felt after several days of home cooking. As I began to record my family's recipes, I realized there were huge gaps in my knowledge, having learned Chinese cooking only through casual observation and not from formal study. Even with my professional cooking experience and natural familiarity with Chinese cuisine, it required energetic detective work to decipher and understand some of the recipes. For Chinese cooking is as ancient as its culture, with layers of meaning and wisdom that cannot be easily explained. No one member of my family could teach me every recipe or answer all my questions. I acquired most of my knowledge from my parents, but relatives an d family friends all offered little bits of information that I pieced together. The power and wisdom of Chinese cooking goes far beyond simply mastering the more complex cooking techniques or even knowing the ingredients. For me, the principles that govern Chinese cooking and nutrition are far more intriguing than the Western notions of nutrition, with its focus on cholesterol, vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and fits in the diet. It is a cuisine based on opposites, the yin-yang principles of cooking. This philosophy is so instinctively ingrained in my family that it was hard for them to articulate it verbally. I recognized that if I didn't begin questioning my parents, grandmother, aunts, and uncles, the wisdom of their diet and the lore of our culinary heritage would be irretrievably lost. It became clear that I needed to look to the past to understand the present.

I recorded my family's recipes without Americanizing the ingredients. There are those who offer substitutes for traditional Chinese ingredients, but this fails to acknowledge the genius of Chinese cooking. There is a reason for thousands of years of reverence for certain combinations. Recipes that offer, for example, Kentucky string beans as a substitute for Chinese long beans fail to grasp the Chinese nutritional perspective. While both vegetables have a similar crunchiness and might seem comparable, the Chinese long bean is the only vegetable the Cantonese consider neutral, neither too yin, "cooling," nor too yang, "warming," and is the only vegetable women are allowed to eat after giving birth. Cantonese believe most vegetables and fruits are "cooling" and, therefore, dangerous for a new mother, especially in the first month after she gives birth.

The recipes in this book include some that do not require exotic Chinese ingredients. Not every dish needs a specialty ingredient of labor-intensive chopping and shredding but, in all truthfulness, if you genuinely desire to cook Chinese dishes, you will need exotic ingredients, along with the time to properly prepare them. Some cooks will suggest using canned water chestnuts in place of fresh, but it is my feeling that if fresh are not available, the recipe is not worth making. For me, using canned water chestnuts is like using canned potatoes. In some areas, I've simplified recipes by calling for the food processor to puree ingredients. But, overall, I have tried to preserve the traditional ingredients and techniques as much as possible, preferring to hand-shred ginger and vegetables rather than feed them through a food processor.

The recipes reflect the range of mastery of the Cantonese home cook. The rich flavors of home-style cooking include basic stir-fry recipes, steamed recipes, rice dishes, braises, and soups; my family cooked these on most weeknights. Also included are the auspicious and more elaborate foods connected with New Year's and special occasions. Some of these recipes have an old-world quality about them, reflecting an era when people had more time to cook. Finally, the healing remedies are intended to restore harmony and strength to the body for proper yin-yang balance.

Chinese culinary healing, while essentially overlooked in the West, remains vital to Cantonese culture. To restore the natural balance in our bodies, my family countered the rich and delicious foods we ate regularly with what I call yin-yang concoctions, or special soups made according to a more than thousand-year-old tradition. I have written these recipes and explained their health benefits as my family practices them. All the recipes were eaten in moderation, and never considered a substitute for professional medical attention. Sometimes, the recipes or stories behind them vary slightly from family to family, and from village to village. I offer them here as they were taught to me.

My parents' approach to cooking is Zen-like: attentive to detail and masterful. They are not formally trained in cooking, yet they share a passion for food that is common among many Chinese. They have great esteem for the meaning and symbolism of food as well as respect for age-old remedies. The everyday rituals of properly selecting produce, slicing meat, washing rice, and presenting a meal, which I have inherited from my family, have given me an aesthetic insight into life. The slow emergence of these truths has allowed me to see the meaning of my own cooking as a metaphor for life.

Copyright © 1999 by Grace Young

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2004

    This book documents the cooking traditions and recipes of the author's family. Highly recommended

    Young not only tells you how to cook it, she also explains the context around the dish. You really get the feel these recipes where handed down in her family. This book documents the cooking traditions and recipes of the author's family and therefore exposes the reader to American Chinese cooking heritage. In addition to the Authentic recipes that are really good (any one i made so far was great) there is an explanation on each recipe and before each chapter there are a few pages of info as well. If you'r looking for good authentic recipes with a little bit more then just the recipe ¿ this is by far the best book I know of. Highly recommended.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2001

    Childhood Memories, Cherished Gift

    This book is filled with recipes for dishes I ate as a child, craved as an adult, but seldom cooked. I especially enjoyed the explanations of the healing properties of basic ingredients, bringing back memories of hearing the same from my mother and her friends. This book is a cherished gift from my mother-in-law, Elaine. The day after receiving this book, I went grocery shopping and purchased my first sandpot and cooked Tender Chicken on Rice...I used chinese sausage instead of Ham...Mmmmmmm :-)

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2000

    What a Great Book!

    This all-emcompassing book is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn about Cantonese food. It covers everything from homestyle dishes to banquet-style cuisine. It includes chapters about cooking techniques, family traditions and New Year's folklore, health benefits of yin and yang and tips on shopping for specialty ingredients. The recipes are very authentic and familiar, straightforward and for the most part, not too difficult. As a 2nd generation Chinese-American from San Francisco, I felt like the author was describing my own food-emphasized childhood experiences.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2006

    Hard to find ingredients from recipes in the book

    Recipes organized poorly and many recipes call for exotic ingredients you cannot find at your grocery store. Only buy this book if your town has a genuine Chinese market. On the plus side, the recipes do appear to be authentic and not 'americanized.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2002

    Organization of recipes a significant fault

    <p>Though the recipes are authentic and described by Chinese characters, pronounciation, and English descriptions, the organization of the recipes makes it difficult for a reader to build a menu or track down a favorite recipe. </p> <p>The author has sorted dishes by techniques/rice/produce, those for celebrations, and those for their traditional healing properties. </p> <p>Unfortunately these categories aren't helpful if you wanted to browse say for a chicken dish. Your only recourse is to turn to the index and look up chicken and hop to and fro from section to section as chicken recipes (along with others) are strewn about the different sections of the book.</p> <p>Check out the table of contents provided and you'll get a sense of what I mean. </p> <p> (Last point: I'm not sure if I'd agree with the accuracy of the Cantonese pronounciations of the dishes)</p>

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