Feeling off kilter? You might need to think about the yin and yang on your plate. Ching-He Huang switched to plant-based eating after seeing how it could dramatically change people’s lives.
Her husband, Jamie Cho, started Ching on a “journey of self-discovery”, the 42-year-old chef and presenter explains. Within a month of trying it himself, Jamie noticed improvements in his asthma, eczema and psoriasis.
Of course, everyone’s body is different and may react differently – it’s worth checking with a medical professional if you’re considering big diet changes, especially if you have health conditions – but for them, Ching says it was “quite a revelation”.
It encouraged her to experiment with plant-based foods, which initially felt at odds with her background. “Being a Chinese chef, we experiment, and being a Chinese food connoisseur you’ve got to try everything,” she confesses.
However, Ching did find plant-based eating aligned well with the Chinese philosophies she’d been brought up on by her family in Southern Taiwan.
“I’ve always believed in ‘you are what you eat’, and a balanced diet,” she explains. “I grew up with my parents and my grandparents, and they eat seasonally.
“Think about yin and yang; balancing hot and cooling foods depending on your body, a little bit like the Indian Ayurvedic principle of eating. If you’re tired and stressed, your body’s very yang – if you’re always cold and shivery, then your body’s too yin, you’re having too many yang and fiery foods.”
So how do you balance this yin and yang? Firstly, Ching says: “You literally just need to listen to your gut” – then you’ll be able to properly judge what your body needs. She remembers her grandmother saying if “you eat too many vegetables, you need to have ginger because vegetables are yin and ginger is very yang – it’s fiery, so it balances your body. On a vegan diet, you need to have more garlic, ginger, chillies – more yang dishes,” she explains. “Mostly, yang ingredients are from meat.”
How you cook your meals also plays a part. “Steaming is more yin and stir-frying is more yang,” says Ching. “Overall, we’re trying to create the perfect balance. I think it’s really hard in the modern day to try and create this balance – to even understand it – but I think food is a conduit to that.
“We could be bombarded with all this technology and science, but you actually have to listen to our instincts.”
For Ching, it made sense to adopt a plant-based diet, saying it “aligns with who I am” – and the results make it worth it. Asked how she feels, she says: “Much healthier and lighter, I just have more energy – but obviously everyone should do what’s right for them.”
The chef doesn’t just think about the personal reasons for going plant-based, but the bigger picture as well. She says: “If we look at ourselves as an entity, then look at ourselves in a greater picture, in a way it is a reflection of what we’ve done to this planet – the way we pollute the planet and the way we over-consume.
“Everything is about balance, so if we’re out of balance, then we’re going to be ill. The same thing; if we over-pollute the planet, it’s not going to create the best environment for us.”
Ching’s personal journey led her to write Asian Green. It might be her first fully vegan cookbook but it’s her 10th overall, and stays true to her food ethos of getting “maximum flavour with minimum fuss”.
Her recipes are democratic, she says. “Not all of us are from the same background, but we all love food and we want it to be a simple process. If you cook something and it works and you feel happy and satisfied about it, then you’re more likely to cook again.
“Once people cook, it’s a way to express love, because you’re taking care of yourself. And once you learn how to cook and you’re confident, then you know how to cook for somebody else.”
For Ching, this is the ultimate way to show you care, and “if you choose to cook compassionately, then you’re looking after the greater and you’re extending your love to everything else”.
She might look at things very philosophically but she does so with a light touch – and without any judgement. She just wants to encourage people to “try it for yourself”.
If you’re thinking about a vegan diet, Ching recommends doing so with a group of friends, “so you’re not alone”.
She says simply: “Whether it’s for animals, or your health, or you just want to try something new, I think people should celebrate more veg.”
Vegan stir-fry with black bean tofu and baby pak choi
An ideal weeknight dish, this takes 15 minutes. It serves four as a side.
“As I grow older, I don’t want to be faffing around too much in the kitchen,” says Ching-He Huang. That’s why she loves a good stir-fry, which can transform veg into a quick and delicious dish – like this recipe with black bean tofu and baby pak choi…
- 1tbsp cornflour
- 1tbsp rapeseed oil
- 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1tbsp freshly grated root ginger
- 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
- 1 bird’s eye chilli, deseeded and chopped
- 1tbsp fermented salted black beans, rinsed and crushed
- 1tbsp yellow bean paste or miso paste
- 250g ready-fried tofu, quartered
- 1tbsp Shaohsing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 green peppers, deseeded and cut into
- 1.5cm chunks
- 200ml vegetable stock
- 1tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
- Cooked jasmine rice, to serve
For the pak choi:
- 200g baby pak choi, halved
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1tbsp Shaohsing rice wine
- 1tbsp tamari or low-sodium light soy sauce
- 1tsp toasted sesame oil
- 2.5cm piece of fresh root ginger, sliced into matchsticks
First, prepare the pak choi. Place a heatproof plate inside a bamboo steamer. Season the pak choi with salt, rice wine, tamari or light soy sauce and toasted sesame oil, then lay the ginger slices over the top. Place the lid on the steamer and set over a wok or pan of water. Bring to the boil, then gently steam over a low heat for three to four minutes.
In a small jug or cup, mix the cornflour with two tablespoons of water to create a slurry and set aside until needed. Meanwhile, place a wok over a high heat and add the rapeseed oil. When the oil starts to smoke, add the garlic, ginger and chillies and stir-fry for a few seconds. Then add the black beans and yellow bean paste and stir quickly.
Add the tofu and stir-fry for one minute, keeping the ingredients moving in the wok, then add the rice wine or sherry and the green peppers and stir-fry for a further minute.
Add the stock and bring to the boil. Season with the tamari or soy sauce, then add the cornflour slurry and stir to thicken.
Serve the black bean tofu and steamed baby pak choi with jasmine rice on the side and eat immediately.
Asian Green: Everyday Plant-based Recipes Inspired By The East by Ching-He Huang, photography by Tamin Jones, Kyle Books, £20
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