Continuing our exploration of recipes for summer, I went searching for something that would constitute a main course. I wanted a recipe that had distinctively summer ingredients, but that also exemplified the principles of cooking for this most active of seasons. You see, according to the Chinese traditional healing arts, we’re not only supposed to choose foods according to the season, we’re supposed to utilize preparation and cooking techniques appropriate to that season as well.
Each season has its own, specific approach to cooking. Summer exemplifies fresh, light and raw, or minimally and quickly cooked meals. This recipe fits the bill, and is definitely for the omnivores among us. It includes fresh snapper, green beans, snap peas, and red onion, seasoned with a spicy and lightly sweetened Asian-style vinaigrette, and garnished with fresh basil and peanuts. It’s cooked in a cast iron skillet on a grill. If you don’t have access to a grill, a cast iron skillet pre-heated on a hot stove should work fine.
The primary ingredients are snapper, green beans, snap peas, and red onion. Accents include peanuts and fresh basil leaf. Let’s take a look at the part each of them plays in the composition of this dish.
Proteins are the primary building blocks of the body. All tissues are built and repaired with this primary substance. And all processes and functions require amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to occur. Snapper, as with all fish, is high-protein. A three-ounce portion (about 90g) provides over 20g of protein. Snapper is also considered a good source of vitamin B-12 and selenium.
From the perspective of Chinese nutrition, fresh-water fish are considered neutral to warm energetically, while salt-water fish are generally considered neutral. Snapper is from the latter group. All fish have a sweet flavor. As such, they strengthen the Spleen/Pancreas, promote digestion, build energy. They are also mildly diuretic and can relieve symptoms of excess fluid buildup.
The recipe calls for six ounce portions of snapper (a bit less than 200g), which would amount to 40g of concentrated protein in a single meal. This would be considered extreme by most Eastern healing traditions. Animal proteins are considered very concentrated sources of nutrients. They should be used in very limited quantities, meaning no more than two to three ounces (60-90g) per day for the average adult. If I were making this recipe, I would cut the quantity of fish in half.
The unripe fruit and protective seed pod of various types of common beans, green beans are actually a member of the legume family. There are over 130 different varieties, and they’re a rich source of vitamins A, C, and K. From the perspective of Chinese dietary therapy, green beans have a neutral to warm thermal nature, and sweet flavor. The warm nature generates and raises metabolic energy, while the sweet flavor has several functions: it nourishes or tonifies, and it also harmonizes or balances.
Green beans “enter” the Spleen/Pancreas, Stomach, and Kidneys. So they gently nourish and warm these three organs specifically. They also generate fluids and nourish yin. They can be used to strengthen digestion, relieve symptoms such as chest fullness and discomfort, and alleviate back pain. They can also be used to treat diarrhea. However, if they’re over-consumed, they can worsen constipation.
Like green beans, snap peas are the unripe fruit and protective pod of a species of legume. In this case it’s a pea, similar to an English or garden pea, only with a much less fibrous pod. In the same family as snow peas, snap peas are a hybrid legume developed in the early-1950’s. Snap peas are a good source of vitamin C and folate.
With a neutral energetic temperature, and sweet flavor, they nourish the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach, reinforce digestion, lubricate the intestines, and promote urination. They’re also useful when digestive tract energy counter-flows, as in cases of nausea, vomiting, belching, coughing or hiccups.
Onions, including the red variety in this recipe, are warm, spicy/pungent, and they influence the Lungs. High in sulfur, onions promote warmth, expel coldness, and encourage the movement of both energy – called qi (pronounced chee) in the Chinese traditional healing arts – and blood. By encouraging the flow of qi and blood, they keep things within our physical and mental/emotional lives moving smoothly.
Onions facilitate digestion, particularly amino acid digestion, so they’re helpful for people who consume a lot of protein. They also promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora, and retard the growth of various pathogens such as viruses, yeasts, and ferments. Excessive consumption of onions can exacerbate “hot” conditions. Symptoms of heat include red face and eyes, aversion to heat or sensation of feeling too hot, or a desire for large quantities of cold drinks.
Neutral to warm thermal nature and sweet flavor, peanuts enter the Spleen/Pancreas, Stomach, Lungs, and Large Intestine. They reinforce digestion and harmonize the Stomach, and facilitate digestive flow by lubricating the intestines. Mildly diuretic, they can help to reduce edema. They’re great for nursing mothers as they promote milk supply. They’re also beneficial for people with high metabolisms. These individuals tend to be thin and high-strung, and capable of digesting large amounts of food quickly. But even for these people, over-consumption can greatly slow Liver function. So they should be avoided by those who are overweight, who have sluggish metabolisms, yeast infections, or cancer.
Native to India and tropical regions from Africa to Southeast Asia, basil is now grown pretty much worldwide as a result of human cultivation. Warm and spicy/pungent, basil harmonizes the Stomach, mildly induces sweating, and relieves seafood poisoning. It’s primarily used in cooking to strengthen digestion. And ’cause it’s delicious.
From the French word for vinegar, vinaigrette is perhaps the simplest of dressings for food. It’s composed of two ingredients: oil, and an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. However, depending on the use, it is often modified with salt, herbs, spices or other flavorings. Examples of vinaigrette can be found in nearly every cuisine known. Let’s take a look at these ingredients.
Oils, and fats in general, have been demonized for the last few decades in the West, and our society is now paying the price for this misguided attitude in the form of an epidemic of obesity. Fats are digested more slowly than protein or carbohydrates, and create a greater sense of satiation. So they make us feel fuller, longer. As a result, we actually consume less food. They’re also necessary for the assimilation of vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are fat-soluble.
Fats can be composed of saturated fatty acids, or unsaturated fatty acids. Fats composed of primarily saturated acids are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and are termed oils. Because olive oil is liquid at room temperature, it’s considered an unsaturated fat. And if it’s an extra virgin olive oil, it has been mechanically extracted from the olive fruit, as opposed to chemically extracted, and is considerably more nutritious. Olives have been processed for their oil since 6,000 BC.
From the perspective of the East Asian traditional healing arts, fats, including vegetable-based oils such as olive oil, strongly nourish the yin aspect of being. They create a sense of comfort, security, even heaviness. They help us feel grounded and safe. That’s why so many of what we call “comfort foods,” are high-fat foods. And because a high percentage of our entire nervous system, including brain and spinal cord, are compose of fat, their consumption is essential to our existence. They’re also an extremely dense source of energy.
Rice vinegar has a warm energetic temperature, and sour flavor. Some sources say it is also bitter. Warm and circulating, vinegar temporarily promotes qi and blood circulation. Vinegar also relieves “damp” conditions in the body. Such conditions are marked by being overweight, edema, excess mucus, or fungal infections such as athlete’s foot. The sour and bitter flavors relieve accumulation in both the Liver and abdomen from the over-consumption of fat and protein, or from a buildup of toxins in the system. Vinegar consumption is strongly cautioned by those who are weak or debilitated, who have weak digestion marked by loose or watery stools, or who have muscular injury or weakness. In vinaigrettes, vinegar assists with the digestion of oil.
Garlic is the most pungent member of the onion family, so it has all of the same functions/actions as those described above for red onion. And because garlic is energetically hot, it has the strongest action of all onions. It enters not only the Lung, but also the Stomach, Spleen/Pancreas, and Large Intestine. It’s good for counter-balancing cool ingredients by warming and strengthening digestion. It also prevents stagnation from cold or heavy foods, or the over-consumption of food in general. In a vinaigrette, garlic facilitates the digestion of oil. The same cautions apply to garlic as onions.
Warm and sweet, the healthiest cane sugar option is probably turbinado or raw, unprocessed crystals. White sugar and the common light- or dark-brown sugar found on supermarket shelves are all highly processed. When consumed in limited amounts, natural sugar tonifies digestion, lubricates the lungs and stops cough, and warms the body in general. Over-consumption can lead to significant weight gain, and a buildup of mucous.
Chili peppers are used in Chinese herbal medicine to strongly clear cold from the body and strengthen weakness. Spicy/pungent, with a hot thermal nature, they influence the Spleen/Pancreas and Stomach. They can relieve abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting that result from cold and deficiency of the digestive tract. Such symptoms often occur in those who are overweight, or have a sluggish metabolism. Avoid or use very sparingly with strong hunger, or blood in the stool. Also best avoided by very thin people, or those who tend towards hyperactivity, or insomnia.