It’s a yearly trick, one the Powers that Be in China play in collusion with Tengri, the Mongolian god of the sky. The first weeks of March go gentle and unseasonably warm. On the Ides of March (beware, indeed), just when we’re getting soft and complacent as westerners, the Powers turn off the central heating, and Tengri sends his frigid host howling south.
Oh, your wall-mounted heat blowers are of little avail. The bathroom and kitchen tile are still gelid as the cold hand of death. Your whole environment goes bipolar. One minute you’re sweating on a sunny stretch of road, regretting the long underwear, the next you’re in the Stygian gloom cast by a massive tower, Tengri slipping his icy fingers up your spine.
There are worse fates. We’re not here to gripe, so much as explain why a whopping vernal cold is an annual rite of passage in China. The hacking cough, the achy eyeballs, the gummed up works, all working in conjunction to make one yearn for the exposed beer bellies and non-stop construction noise of summer. You need liquid, hot liquid, in such times, and soup cures are a specialty in China, where hardly a soul knows the narcotic tang of Nyquil.
OK, maybe you’re the type who considers making instant noodles competent self-sustenance. You’re not going to chop carrots or get at the good part of watermelon rind, let alone peel them. Two things – ginseng and ginger. Buy them, pour boiling water over small chunks of them, steep and drink, maybe even with some lemon and honey.
Fair warning, though. Both of these are supreme yang foods, meaning they impart energy and heat. Generally a good thing when you’re under the weather. However, Tengri specializes in blowing away every trace of yin north of the Yangtze. Your sinuses and lungs dry up like phlegm on a summer sidewalk. Your liver turns into a furnace, baking away the last remains of your yin. In this case, the anti-kitchen are advised to eat pears, or pop round a Chinese pharmacy for some super-cheap, super ventilating, and pleasantly speedy mahuang – natural ephedra. You’re out of luck in the States; your government doesn’t trust you to use it responsibly.
Looks like Yanks will be making the following soup by default, leastways, if they can place their faith in food rather than pills as medicine.
Pork n’ Watermelon Soup
Once you’ve bought your watermelon and shared out the red part, you can get to the truly good stuff – the rind, a capital ingredient for boosting yin, to say nothing of its copious Vitamin C. Naturally, you want to get rid of the outer skin first, which will only take some creative chopping to get at effectively.
For two healthy servings, use 300g or so of your rind, along with half a liter of soup stock and 150-odd grams of lean pork, cut thin.
- Marinate the pork with a teaspoon each of soy sauce and cornstarch.
- Cut the rind into bite-size pieces.
- Bring the soup stock to a boil.
- Add the water melon peel pieces and lean pork slices
- Cook over high heat for 10 minutes
Season with a dash of salt.
You can’t do it, can you? Watermelon and pork – too weird. OK, then substitute winter melon for your watermelon rind. Winter melon will cool your lungs and get your spikey blood sugar under control.
One more, something a little heartier.
Western Meat n’ Potatoes with Chinese Characteristics Soup
300g pork ribs
2 tbsp goji berries, “wolfberries”, if you like
3 dried red dates, sans pits
2 liters of water
salt & pepper
- Parboil the pork ribs, drain, wash & trim off any excess fat
- Peel the carrots and potatoes, cut into bite-sized cubes
- Bring water to boil, add ribs, carrots and potatoes
- Simmer for one hour. Add salt and pepper to taste
Let stand for 5-10 minutes before serving
Remember, no less than one hour, on a low heat. You want everything soft and mushy, all the amazing properties of the goji and dates leached into the mix.