Indigenous to western South America, tomatoes were likely grown by ancient Aztecs. Spanish explorers discovered them in the 15th century, and brought them to Europe where they were quickly adopted by Spanish and Italian chefs. Northern Europeans were a little slower on the uptake. They thought tomatoes were poisonous – probably because they’re a member of the nightshade family – and did not start cultivating them until the late-16th century. At present there are over 7,000 varieties grown worldwide.
This vegan-friendly summer salad recipe from Bon Appetit combines tomatoes and green cabbage with bulgur wheat, sweet onion, lemon vinaigrette, and fresh mint. You can get the original recipe here. In this post I want to look at the various ingredients from the perspective of the Chinese traditional healing arts. Many of us have at least a grasp of the nutritional value of the foods we eat from the Western perspective. But few of us have had exposure to the concepts of nutrition from the perspective of the East Asian healing arts. My goal with these posts is to help people see that there are other ways of looking at the foods we eat. So let’s get to it.
It just wouldn’t be summer without tomatoes. A good source of vitamin C, K, and folate , they are cool energetically, and have both sweet and sour flavors. They promote body fluids, relieve thirst, and moisten dryness. They reinforce Stomach function, and can be used in cases of weak appetite, indigestion, or constipation. Tomatoes also enter the Liver to clear Liver “heat,” purify the blood, and detox the body in general. They’re good for people with high blood pressure, blood-shot eyes, and short tempers. But for some people, particularly for those who are over-weight or have slow metabolism, caution must be exercised with cooling foods. Over-consumption can further cool metabolic function, leading to fatigue and tiredness.
Cabbage is also a good source of vitamins C and K. It has more vitamin C than oranges. Closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, cabbage owes many of its healing properties to its high-sulfur content. It’s likely that its slightly warm energetic nature is a result of this mineral. Sweet and pungent, it’s known to benefit the Stomach and improve digestion. As it enters the Lungs, it has the capacity to clear conditions of excess mucous, and has been used by many cultures to beautify the skin. In the Chinese healing arts, our skin is related to the Lungs. Cabbage also lubricates the intestines and can be used to good effect to relieve constipation.
Most often found in tabbouleh, bulgur is a whole wheat grain that has been cracked and pre-cooked. Originating in Middle Eastern cuisine, it is naturally high-fiber, low-calorie, and suitable for vegans and vegetarians. But it’s a definite no-no for individuals with gluten sensitivity. It is wheat after all.
Wheat has a cooling thermal nature, and sweet and salty flavors. It tonifies the Heart and Kidneys and nourishes yin – meaning it generates fluids. It is used in Chinese herbal medicine to calm the spirit and relieve emotional restlessness. It also restrains sweat. It encourages growth, weight gain, and fat formation, especially in children and debilitated people. However it should be eaten in small amounts, or not at all, by people who are overweight, or who otherwise have a “damp” constitution.
Onions are warm, spicy/pungent, and they influence the Lungs. Another high-sulfur vegetable, they promote warmth, expel coldness, move energy and course blood. They’re helpful for people who consume a lot of protein as they facilitate amino acid metabolism. They also clean the arteries, retard the growth of various pathogens such as viruses, yeasts, and ferments, and promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora. They inhibit allergic reactions, and are considered a remedy for the common cold. However, excessive consumption 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. In this particular recipe, onions are a good counter-balance to the cooling properties of both the tomatoes and bulgur.
Used in Chinese herbal medicine, mint has a cool energetic profile, and a pungent/spicy and aromatic flavor. It influences the Lungs and Liver. Mint clears heat from the upper body and is useful for issues such as red, blood-shot eyes, sore throat or headache. It also gently cools the Liver and relieves symptoms of stagnation such as chest or flank tension and pain, tension in the digestive system, and emotional instability.
Lemon juice, olive oil, pepper flakes, and salt make a vinaigrette dressing for this dish. Lemons have a cooling energetic nature, and a very sour, astringent flavor. They influence and harmonize the Stomach, regulate qi to aid digestion, and relieve bloating and gas. Lemons quench thirst and generate body fluids, and also resolve mucous. Because they influence the Liver, lemons encourage the formation of bile. This function is quite helpful for individuals who consume excessive fat or protein. If you have excess stomach acidity or ulcers, it’s probably best to limit lemon consumption.