How to cook Chinese herbs
By Robert Wulforst
There’s a short and easy way, and a long and more detailed way of cooking Chinese herbs. Let’s start with the easy way:
Throw them into a pot and cook
Yes, it really is that easy. Let’s say you’d like to make chicken soup with Dāng Guī (Angelica root) and Huáng Qí (Astragalus root). Just throw everything in the pot with some vegetables and stew it for a long time. The flavor might be different because of the Angelica and Astragalus roots, but it will be just as tasty.
Let’s talk about the “other” way
In cooking with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), there are certain rules that need to be followed. First, if the vegetable/herb is very hard or doesn’t take on liquid very well, you will need to cook it first alone for about 30 to 40 minutes. Thankfully, this is rather rare, as you’ll be cooking with fresher ingredients. However, there is one exception to the rule.
Ginseng (Rén Shēn) should also be cooked alone for at least an hour, before any other herbs or meats are added. You want to extract as much of the nutrients of the ginseng as you can before you infuse it with anything else. This creates the main broth of the soup. Once the broth is done, then you can add the chicken and other herbs to the mix.
Second, add leafy and light herbs a couple minutes before cooking is done. Good examples of these are mint, basil, parsley, and cilantro. They break down in hot liquids very quickly and they’ll lose their flavor if you let them sit in the pot for too long.
Third, whenever you can, use filtered water. This isn’t an option for everyone, but it will possibly get rid of some bad tastes in the soup.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at a great TCM soup recipe for the winter. This is a soup made with lamb, ginger, and angelica called Dāng Guī Shēng Jiāng Yáng Ròu Tāng (Angelica, Ginger, Lamb soup - 當歸生薑羊肉湯).
What you’ll need:
8 cups of water
1 lb of Lamb (not ground), cut into stew size chunks
1 small piece of ginger, sliced
3 pieces of Dāng Guī (They can come in many different sizes, but you’re looking for about 15g worth)
3 tablespoons of basil, chopped
1 – Bring 6 cups of water to a boil and lower to medium heat.
2 – Add the lamb, ginger, and Dāng Guī, cover, and stew for two hours.
3 – After two hours, remove from heat and add basil.
4 – Serve and enjoy!
Use 6 cups of beef or chicken both for more flavor.
Add ¼ cup of scallions with the basil.
Add ½ an onion, chopped, with the lamb, ginger, and angelica.
Add ½ cup of barley, with the lamb, ginger, and angelica.
Add 20g of astragalus root with the lamb, ginger, and angelica.
Add 2 carrots, chopped, with the lamb, ginger, and angelica.
Note: Do not add ginseng to this dish. Ginseng can help warm the body, but lamb also does that. If you add both, you can make the soups warming function too strong and you’ll feel uncomfortable.