Beans cui­sine

China Daily European Weekly - - Front Page - By PAULINE D LOH paulined@chi­

To the Chi­nese, food is medicine. Ev­ery mouth­ful is ben­e­fi­cial in some way, and there are strict rules as to when to eat, what to eat and how to eat.

It is only in the past 30 years that an­i­mal pro­tein has played an in­creas­ingly large role in Chi­nese di­ets, a de­par­ture from the tra­di­tional daily meals where meat was frugally used as fla­vor­ing. The fat­ted pig, cow and lamb were killed only for ma­jor fes­tiv­i­ties.

Take a clas­sic Chi­nese stir-fry, with its base of aro­mat­ics like gar­lic and gin­ger, fol­lowed by vast quan­ti­ties of neatly cut veg­eta­bles and a few sliv­ers of meat. The meat plays a sup­port­ing role and serves only to en­hance the sweet­ness of the greens.

So Chi­nese house­wives have, over gen­er­a­tions, de­vel­oped in­ge­nious ways of mak­ing plant pro­tein taste good and com­piled a whole en­cy­clo­pe­dia of rea­sons to jus­tify why these are good for you.

Just as In­dian veg­e­tar­ian food de­pends a lot on lentils and pulses, the Chi­nese pantry can­not do with­out beans.

Red beans, green beans, soy­beans, black beans, speck­led beans — even beans with “eye­brows”. We eat these so of­ten they have be­come for­got­ten, part of the back­ground of everyday home-cooked food.

Yet they are in­dis­pens­able. We use them when we braise a pot of fra­grant stewed meats, we use them in a vast va­ri­ety of soups. We mix them into rice, deep-fry them as crunchy gar­nishes for noo­dles, we make desserts from them. The list is end­less.

They’re en­joyed equally by veg­e­tar­i­ans and car­ni­vores.

The ubiq­ui­tous red bean, or adzuki, is what moth­ers turn to when the fam­ily seems a lit­tle un­der the weather. A few hand­fuls soaked in wa­ter and added to the rice pot will “boost blood”.

In cases of more se­vere ane­mia, a course of red beans, aged cit­rus peel and dried Chi­nese ju­jube brewed as a drink will do the trick.

Red beans are also widely used in desserts, af­ter they are cooked down to a thick sweet paste that then goes into cakes and snacks.

Their slightly smaller cousin, the green or mung bean, is used in as many ways, and of­ten sim­i­larly. But while the red bean warms the blood, the green bean cools the body, so it is more of­ten eaten in sum­mer when the sys­tem eas­ily over­heats. Green bean soup, with a sprin­kle of the ap­pro­pri­ate dried herbs, will chase away thirst and sun­stroke, as ev­ery Chi­nese granny will tell you.

Of course, sprouted green beans are prob­a­bly the most fa­mil­iar form, a fa­vored mi­cro-veg­etable that is now equally beloved in in­ter­na­tional kitchens for its crisp sweet crunch, raw or lightly cooked.

And there is the soy­bean, upon which rests the foun­da­tion of all Chi­nese food.

We can prob­a­bly run a sep­a­rate se­ries on this most fa­mous of Chi­nese beans, but we only have space for a sum­mary of its uses in Chi­nese cui­sine.

Fresh, the bean is cooked in its pod and eaten as a veg­etable. Dried, it be­comes the mirac­u­lous starter to sauces, pastes, drinks, sea­son­ing and a whole cat­e­gory of in­gre­di­ents start­ing from the hum­ble bean curd and its huge ex­tended fam­ily of re­lated prod­ucts.

Ground soy­beans cooked in wa­ter be­come soy­bean milk. Soy­bean curds be­come tofu, which is then made into soft, hard, semifer­mented, fer­mented, salted and pre­served prod­ucts. It is al­most im­pos­si­ble to en­ter a Chi­nese kitchen and not en­counter the soy­bean in some form.

One rea­son for the pro­cess­ing was the em­bar­rass­ing ef­fect soy­beans have on the hu­man gut. But this in­con­ve­nience does not af­fect its pop­u­lar­ity. The whole beans are still widely used to sweeten stock, add body to braised pots of meat and cooked and deep-fried as a beer snack.

Apart from the soy­bean, other beans are equally pop­u­lar in var­i­ous re­gions.

For ex­am­ple, there is the black­eyed pea, which the Chi­nese call mei­dou, or the cream-col­ored bean with black eye­brows, re­fer­ring to the dark scar where the bean con­nects to its pod.

There is a rain­bow of beans, from grass-green broad beans to deep choco­late kid­ney beans to red and white speck­led beans. And ev­ery one is trea­sured.

The best way to show off the cre­ativ­ity with beans in the Chi­nese kitchen is to show­case some clas­sic recipes, from sta­ples to soups to desserts.


A Chi­nese pantry can­not do with­out beans, just as In­dian veg­e­tar­ian food de­pends a lot on lentils and pulses.

Red bean smoothie.

Green beans are of­ten eaten in sum­mer, as they cool the body.

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