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Colors of health

By Pauline D. Loh | China Daily | Updated: 2011-10-15 10:49

Colors of health

As summer fades with the tans, it's time to booster up for winter with food that puts color in your cheeks and a sparkle in your eyes. Pauline D. Loh shares her recipes.

Got your flu shots yet? As the weather cools and the days alternate between cold and dry and cold and wet, the viruses are waking from their hibernation. This may be John Keat's season of mellow fruitfulness, but it's Beijing's season of sniffles and sneezes.

One way to avoid an uncomfortable transition into the winter cold is to make sure your body is equipped to fight off the bugs. That means making an extra effort to eat more greens, yellows and oranges.

Your shopping list should include lots of green vegetables like spinach, mustard greens and broccoli. Add color to the basket with bunches of yellow or red cherry tomatoes or huge globes of the bigger reds, and, finally, add a bunch of carrots and a large pumpkin.

Modern food gurus all agree that we should eat more vegetables and fruits, and use meat only sparingly. The Chinese have been eating healthily for the last 10,000 years, and our diet is based mainly on grains or cereals, plenty of vegetables and a supplement of meat that is used to add flavor and as seasoning.

Of course for us, it has always been a matter of economy and sustainability, even though that has suddenly become the trend all over the world as urban diseases pop up more and more. In China, thankfully, we are not yet so far removed from traditional cooking and eating, and if we keep our guard up, we probably will continue to be relatively healthy.

Green vegetables should be cooked, but lightly so. The best way is to do a stir-fry, a flash cooking method that uses hot oil infused with an aromatic that quickly cooks and flavors the vegetables.

Many Western cooks pile too much into a small pan and try to stir-fry. That will only stew the vegetables. You need a large frying pan, preferably a Chinese wok, and the vegetables must never be more than one-third of the capacity. That gives you the space and freedom to toss fry the food, a crucial element in stir-frying.

Another secret to stir-frying is the use of what I call the "aromatics". The most commonly used are chopped or minced garlic, finely shredded ginger and chopped shallots or small red onions.

Stir-frying is all about quick cooking in minutes, so the only requirement is to prepare all your ingredients waiting, stove-side. Vegetables must be thinly sliced, and of even lengths and thickness so the whole lot cooks evenly.

Heat up the wok, add oil and then toss in the chopped garlic, letting it bubble merrily until it starts to turn color. Add your vegetables and toss until the color turns glossy green. Quickly season with salt or soy sauce. It's ready, and you should remove it onto the plate. Remember, residual heat will continue to cook the greens.

Both carrots and pumpkins advertise their goodness with their color, and the bright orange indicates the presence of the antioxidant beta-carotene - a plant carotenoids that converts to vitamin A in the body. Research indicates that beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protection against heart disease, and some degenerative aspects of aging.

Pumpkin is also a good source of vitamins C, K and E, and includes minerals like magnesium, potassium and iron.

Here are a few recipes that will add color to your cooking, and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have if you email me at

Recipe: Roasted pumpkin wedges

Ingredients (serves 4):

400 g pumpkin, scrubbed and cut into wedges, skin on

50 g butter, or 2 tbsp olive oil

1 red chili, chopped

3-4 cloves garlic, skinned and minced

1 small bunch coriander

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Scrub the pumpkin, remove seeds and cut into wedges.

2. Pre-heat oven to 180 C.

3. Butter or oil a deep baking pan and place pumpkin wedges in it.

4. Dot with butter or drizzle with olive oil, scatter with minced garlic, cut chili and chopped coriander. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

5. Bake for 25 minutes until pumpkins are tender and slightly scorched around the edges. Serve as a side dish or a vegetarian meal.

Food note:

If your oven gets overly hot, sprinkle a tablespoon of water over the pumpkins to keep them tender and prevent them drying out.

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