Yin, yang of Chinese cooking
Connie Midey The Arizona Republic Jan. 24, 2006 12:00 AM
Chock-full of vegetables, Chinese food must be good for us, right?
Not always, unless you know what to ask for in restaurants or control ingredients and preparation methods the way home cooks such as Lin Ling Lee do.
Lee, principal of the Chinese School in Phoenix and a committee member for Phoenix Chinese Week 2006 festivities that continue through Sunday, studied cooking in her native Taiwan.
"I was educated by the older generation," she says. "Nutrition is very important in Chinese people's daily life. They prefer to use natural and organic food to keep healthy. Even Chinese medicines are all natural herbs without any chemicals."
Prepared properly, Chinese food balances yin and yang, or plenty of vegetables (yin) with a little meat (yang), Lee says. It is healthful, flavorful and colorful, stimulating the appetite.
"Because people cook for you a good, healthy food, you eat it slowly, not rushed," the Phoenix resident says. "That's why we use chopsticks."
Prepare or purchase Chinese food without thought, however, and you could take in more sodium, fat, cholesterol and calories than are good for you, the Center for Science in the Public Interest says.
When the center tested dinner-size portions of takeout food from 20 midpriced Chinese restaurants in three cities, it found an order of House Lo Mein with as much salt as an entire Pizza Hut cheese pizza.
Other finds: An order of Kung Pao Chicken with almost as much fat as four McDonald's Quarter Pounders, and an order of Moo Shu Pork with more than twice the cholesterol of one Egg McMuffin.
"What we found would make your chopsticks splinter," senior nutritionist Jayne Hurley said at the time.
That was several years ago, but the advice offered then by the center holds true today.
If you're looking for healthful foods for a Chinese New Year celebration Sunday, these suggestions from the center and from Lee could make a difference:
Add one cup of rice to one cup of entree. This creates extra portions, with each lower in calories and any troublesome ingredients the dish may contain. Use brown or steamed rice, Lee suggests. If fried rice is impossible to resist, mix it with brown or steamed rice to reduce the damage. Share the extra portions with your dining companions or enjoy leftovers the next day.
Add a side order of steamed vegetables to the entree. Again, you'll have extra portions with less of the bad stuff but still enough sauce for flavor. Stir-fry vegetables can be OK in moderation, because they're usually cooked with just a little oil. Green vegetables are especially nutritious, Lee says, and black mushrooms and celery are believed to lower blood pressure.
Use chopsticks. Or use your fork the way chopstick-users do, to lift the food out of the sauce and onto the rice. This technique leaves behind excess sauce, nuts or other ingredients you want to avoid or limit. It also forces you to slow down. "Chopsticks can only pick up food little by little, just about a mouthful," Lee says. "If you take a lot of things into your mouth, it's not good for your stomach or digestion."
Avoid deep-fried dishes. If the meat is batter-fried or breaded, peel off the coating or ask whether the dish can be prepared differently.
Try lettuce wraps. With lettuce holding vegetables, meat, tofu or other fillings, you won't be adding unwanted calories, fat, salt, cholesterol or carbohydrates.
Customize your order. Chinese restaurants often can accommodate requests for no salt, no sauce, no MSG seasoning or warmed - not fried - tofu. Lee recommends requesting "easy on the sauce" if you're worried about it. With none, the dish won't be as tasty, she says. Besides, she says, "Chinese food sauces are considered healthy. They should contain no animal fat, no butter, no heavy cream and no MSG."
Taste before adding salt or soy sauce. Chinese foods require a long time to prepare and marinate and usually contain lots of flavorful ingredients. You may not even need that salty soy sauce.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or (602) 444-8120.
Phoenix Chinese Week 2006
Phoenix Chinese Week 2006, sponsored by the Phoenix Sister City Commission and Phoenix Chinese Week committee, offers several ways to celebrate Chinese New Year, which is Sunday. Here are some highlights (for a complete schedule, go to www.phoenixsister cities.org):
Culture and Cuisine Festival
The festival will feature Chinese food, cooking demonstrations, entertainment, souvenir and arts and crafts booths, and children's activities.
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: COFCO Chinese Cultural Center, 668 N. 44th St., Phoenix.
Cost: Admission is free. Parking costs $3.
Details: (602) 548-8398.
Chengdu Variety Show
Dancers, singers and other performers will present a show in traditional costumes.
When: 6:30 p.m. (pre-show) and 7 p.m. (variety show) Saturday.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams St., Phoenix.
Cost: $15-$25 for adults, $10 for kids 12 and younger.
Details: (602) 262-7272.
This is Lin Ling Lee's menu for a healthful celebration for Chinese New Year, which is Sunday:
Hot Pot. Green beans and other vegetables, tofu, meats, noodles and more cooked in hot broth. Represents unity, longevity and celebration.
Lettuce Wraps. Chopped vegetables and meat (or dry bean curd instead of meat) wrapped in lettuce. Represents prosperity and good health.
Chinese Greens With Black Mushrooms. The stir-fried dish is served with brown rice. Represents double luck and fortune.