Served by the Finest Chefs

2020-06-25 23:46:37 |

"Inhale first that wondrous aroma of ginseng root so that the very first spoonful of this herbal soup will make your every senses reel with delight".

TAN BEE HONG, restaurant critic, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2001


 

In a Japanese cooking series named Iron Chef, the Kitchen Stadium hosted a duel that ranged across Western and Eastern cuisines. One of the secret ingredients is ginseng and the challenger, grandson of a famous Shanghai chef, used ginseng in a soup with flat, silvery tuna and bird's nest. The judges savoured their bites and gave the dish high marks, giving special mention to the ginseng taste.

A producer for the Food Network, Maggie Shi, had childhood memories of her mother brewing a pot of "bitter medicinal soup" and force her to drink it. "The only way to tolerate it is to gulp the liquid down as quickly as possible", she wrote, Yet still she posted the recipe on Epicurious.com. Her mother's dish mixed together one American ginseng root, one chicken breast, five slices of dried abalone, and five to six cups of water, and got high ratings from people who tested it. Some suggested adding dried dates or angelica root to cut the bitterness. Others said that good health just tastes bad.

In Asia, restaurants from Singapore to Seoul have built reputations on blending that unpleasant tang of good health with more appealing flavours such as astragalus, bird's nest, red dates.

Ginseng was used as a food before it gained currency as a health tonic. In China. tonic cuisine has a long pedigree in which it aims to balance yin and yang. Yin foods are those that cool such as grapefruit, melons, star fruit, bananas, and seaweed. And yang foods have a warming effect like pepper, dried ginger, soybean oil, cinnamon, and ginseng. Mildly yin foods are apples, mangos, eggplant, strawberries, wheat, and tomatoes. Mildly yang foods are asparagus, for example. And neutral foods are beef, milk, peanuts, pumpkin, string beans, abalone, pork, honey, and figs. In that tradition, a mother has a wide range of options for picking a dish for her sick child. If he's cold and wet, she might make a yang soup. If he's hot, a sweet yin dessert of poached pears, lemon balm, and honey might help.

Most traditional recipes call for Asian ginseng, but as experience with American ginseng has grown, many chefs have embraced it. Filipino recipes for chicken and pork soup advise you to toss in red dates and ginger. Indonesian recipe has ginseng and bird's nest. They make ginseng whiskey, combine in fish soup with red dates, add in turkey stuffing, bake ginseng-banana muffin, toss ginseng salads.

For most Western palates, though the root has a long way to go, energy shakes and smoothie are a step in that direction. There are also soft drinks and teas on the market such as an uncola counterpart: Ginseng Up! " This golden- coloured herbal beverage has a mildly spiced flavour and a nice bite", one ad notes, "plus it has the replenishing attribute of ginseng." Machado, a microbiologist and lab manager at the Ginseng Up!, had watched the drink's market grow steadily and leap the divide from marginal specialty shops to mainline grocery stores. Exactly how much ginseng actually went into Ginseng Up! was hard to say. The company imported its extract from Korea. Machado sampled the extract in her lab to check the quality and oversaw the mixing process which ginseng extract was blended with flavourings and water. The water was triple-filtered through charcoal, sand, and paper, and then carbonated.

Novelty drinks offer a starting point for Western palates, but adventurous chefs have taken the blend of East and West further. Ming Tsai, bestselling chef and Emmy Award winner for his first cooking show East Meets West, and host of Simply Ming on PBS. He and his wide own Blue Ginger, a stylish restaurant in Boston. He was an engineering student at Yale but then he realized that he had no desire to become an engineer but followed the love of cooking to study at Le Cordon Bleu, a famous French cooking school, where he discovered East-West cuisine. And there, he found ginseng in the city's blend of traditions and the Thirteenth Arrondissement's Chinatown, which is home to a large community of mostly Chinese, Cambodian, and Vietnamese in Paris. The ginseng roots were sold in stores, dried in powders, and in teas, and restaurants had ginseng sprinkled among their menu items, depending on the market price and the season.

Ming has cooked with ginseng most of his life and has a fine sense of how the root strike different palates. For years, Ming commuted from Massachusetts to New York to tape his TV series for the Food Network. He makes cooking fun as he shows how to make surprising dishes. He introduced viewers to his winter melon soup, a Shanghai-style tonic dish. He takes a whole winter melon and bakes it for hours. The soup forms slowly inside the melon, which he then stuffs with ginger, basil, Chinese ham, and ginseng. Then scrape the soup out of the melon and serve. Another ginseng dish is his repertoire is Beijing-style soup in which a whole duck is braised in lots of ginseng and red dates, which add a sweetness that balances the ginseng flavour.

Surprisingly, Ming has never heard of American ginseng. He says: "I would never have known that". He became more animated when talking about American ginseng and asked how Native Americans used ginseng. "And if the two species were separated by continental drift, does that mean there's American ginger as well?", he asked. As his restaurant is Blue Ginger, named of wild ginger in North America that has resonance for East-West cuisine. Ming is intrigued. American ginseng's existence seems to open up a new facet of a familiar ingredient for him.

 

Reference:

Taylor D. (2006). Ginseng the Divine Root: the curious history of the plant that captivated the world. Chapel Hill.


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