Yin and Yang Blend in Bolder Harmony
The Colorado Springs Gazette, by Teresa J. Farney
Boulder may be Ying Chang Compestine's home, but her career had its foundation in her Chinese upbringing.
Compestine grew up in Wuhan, China, during the country's repressive cultural revolution. Her father, a prominent surgeon, was jailed twice because her family was considered "bourgeois." Through a series o f unfortunate circumstances, she was sent to live with her grandparents at age 4.
She had no toys to play with, so she entertained herself by going to market with her grandmother, then watching her cook. Compestine learned about fresh vegetables, tofu and rice - and how to stretch the monthly ration of a pound of oil and a pound of meat to feed seven people.
Years later when she moved to Boulder to study sociology at the University of Colorado, she discovered how healthful the foods of her childhood had been. This led her to write her first cookbook, "Secrets of Fat-Free Chinese Cooking," in 1997. Her second book, "Cooking with Green Tea," touted the health benefits of green tea.
In her new book, "Secrets from a Healthy Asian Kitchen," Compestine focuses on six Asian ingredients: Ginger, soy, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, ginseng, and, of course, green tea.
"While people have long held these ingredients have health benefits, recent scientific evidence lends weight to those beliefs," she said. "For instance, shiitake mushrooms, prized by Asian cultures for over 2,000 years, are now being considered for their benefits in fighting cancer."
Compestine's mother, a Chinese-medicine doctor, influenced the author's recipes.
"Chinese divide their food into three categories: Yin, yang and neutral," she said. "In each dish, Asian cooks strive for harmony between the Taoist principles of cold (yin) and hot (yang)."
For instance, seafood, lemongrass and celery fall into the cooling category, while chili peppers, onions and red meat are considered warming. Broccoli, shiitake mushrooms and spinach are listed as neutral in her book. A harmonious recipe might include crabmeat (a yin food) with ginger (a yang food) and shiitake mushrooms (a neutral food).
"It's not that difficult to learn," she said. "A lot of it is common sense. The recipes in my book represent a kind of fusion of Asian cultures and tastes. Several have a distinct New World influence. A recipe for wild rice stuffing would make a wonderful Thanksgiving dish, and a recipe calling for avocado puts a new twist on Asian fare."
Extensive travel, with frequent visits to Asia and teaching workshops on cruise ships, keep her food ideas fresh. "When I travel to different countries, I love to eat," she said. "When I get home, experiment with the new dishes I've tasted and come up with new recipes."
In addition to her cookbooks, she has written a handful of children's stories, including last year's "Runaway Rice Cake," which is slated for an upcoming Public Broadcasting Service special. Each of the children's books has a recipe at the end.
Q: Who would you most like to "do lunch" with?
A: Martin Yan (PBS chef personality and host of "Yan Can Cook"). Because he paid for the last dinner we had together!
Q: What's your favorite dish to make at home?
A: I love to create dishes from leftovers and odds and ends. Then I announce to my family and friends, "Don't ask me for the recipe - we can never have this same dish again."
Q: What culinary gadget could you not cook without?
A: Chef's pan for stir-fry.
Q: What three ingredients could you not cook without?
A: Shiitake mushrooms, garlic and ginger.
Q: When it comes to eating, what's your guilty pleasure?
A: Pan-fried anchovies with chili pepper, a dish from my hometown, Wuhan. It uses a lot of oil and it's salty.
Q: What's your favorite restaurant?
A: The Taj in Boulder. It is a Tibetan restaurant with a wellprepared lunch buffet.
Q: What one cooking tip could you offer readers to make their time in the kitchen easier?
A: Be creative and have fun. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. If you do, read page 209, "Rescuing a Dish," and 218, "Do's and Don'ts for the Kitchen" from my book, "Secrets from a Healthy Asian Kitchen."
Q: What's the biggest mistake you ever made while cooking?
A: Mistook powdered sugar for flour when making pork chops. The puzzled look on my husband's face was worth it.
FRESH SPRING ROLLS
Yields: 12 rolls
2 tablespoons Savory Oil (see recipe)
- 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
- 8 ounces flavored, baked tofu (packaged), shredded
- 1 cup shredded fresh mushroom caps
- 4 green onions (green part only), cut into short thin slivers
- 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into short thin strips
- 1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- 12 (8-inch) round dried rice paper wrappers
- 1 cup Thai Sauce (see recipe)
Heat a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add Savory Oil, swirling to coat sides. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add tofu, mushrooms, green onions and red pepper. Stir-fry 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
TO MAKE THE ROLLS:
Soak a sheet of rice paper wrapper in warm water until soft, about 1 minute. Carefully transfer wrapper to a dry cutting board.
Arrange 2 tablespoons filling in an even horizontal mound just below center of wrapper. Tightly roll up rice paper to form a tight cylinder, folding in sides about halfway, as you would to form an egg roll or blintz. Assemble remaining spring rolls in same way.
Cut each spring roll in half on diagonally. Serve with sauce for dipping.
Nutrition information per spring roll with 2 tablespoons of dipping sauce: Calories 287 (45 percent from fat); fat 20 g (sat 2.2 g, mono 10.6 g, poly 6.5 g); protein 7 g; carbohydrates 22 g; fiber 1.56 g; cholesterol 3 mg; sodium 568 mg; calcium 66 mg.
Yield: 1/2 cup
- 1 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup canola oil
- 2 teaspoons loose green tea
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 fresh red chili peppers, minced
- 2 green onions (white part only), minced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
In small saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add green tea and cook, stirring, until tea is fragrant and crispy, about 1 minute.
Place tea, garlic, ginger, chili, onions and salt in short wide- mouth canning jar and mix to combine.
In same saucepan, heat 1/4 cup oil until very hot. Carefully pour hot oil over contents of jar. Partially cover jar and let cool. Seal jar tightly and store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Stir sauce before using.
Yield: 1 cup
- 1/4 cup brewed ginseng tea
- 1/8 cup reduced-fat, unsweetened coconut milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sliced or powdered ginseng
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup reduced-fat peanut butter
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/2 fresh red chili pepper, chopped
- 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
- 1/2 green onion (green and white parts), chopped
- 4 fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce, or to taste
Place all ingredients in blender. Puree until smooth. Store in refrigerator up to 1 week.