Archive for January, 2008

Polyunsaturated fat: misunderstanding and myth

Posted in Food and Health on January 23, 2008 by yongtzetan

Nowadays everyone thinks that saturated fats are bad for you and can cause heart disease; and that polyunsaturated oils are good for us. Long time ago people used to cook with butter, lard, coconut oil and olive oil, which are either saturated or monounsaturated. Today, most of the fats in modern diet are polyunsaturated from vegetable oils derived mostly from corn, soy, sunflower and canola.

Despite of consuming these supposedly "healthy" oil, what happens to the health of the public? Heart disease cases always go up, people are getting fatter and fatter and more people are obese.

These "supposedly healthy" oil contain a preponderance of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Two polyunsaturated fatty acids found most frequently in our food are omega-6 and omega-3. They are also called "essential fatty acids" because our body cannot make them and we need them.

These fatty acids are highly reactive, especially the important omega-3 (which is necessary for cell oxidation, for metabolizing important sulphur-containing amino acids and for maintaining proper balance in prostaglandin production).

During the process of extracting these modern commercial vegetable oils, omega-3 tends to break apart. So what’s left is mostly omega-6. And research has revealed that too much omega-6 in the diet creates an imbalance that can interfere with production of important prostaglandins. This disruption can result in increased tendency to form blood clots, inflammation, high blood pressure, irritation of the digestive tract, depressed immune function, sterility, cell proliferation, cancer and weight gain.

What’s worse
: The extraction process of these vegetable oils. In modern factories, these oils are obtained by crushing the oil-bearing seeds and heating them to very high temperature.  The oil is then squeezed out very high pressure, thereby generating more heat. During this process, these oils are exposed to damaging light and oxygen. In order to extract the last 10% or so of the oil from crushed seeds, processors treat the pulp with one of a number of solvents—usually hexane. The solvent is then boiled off, although up to 100 parts per million may remain in the oil. Such solvents, themselves toxic, also retain the toxic pesticides adhering to seeds and grains before processing begins.

As mentioned earlier, omega-3 tends to break apart due to the heat, thereby creating free radicals – that is, single atoms or clusters with an unpaired electron in an outer orbit. These compounds are extremely reactive chemically and they attack cell membranes and red blood cells, and cause damage in DNA/RNA strands, thus triggering mutations in tissue, blood vessels and skin. Free radical damage to the skin causes wrinkles and premature aging; free radical damage to the tissues and organs sets the stage for tumors; free radical damage in the blood vessels initiates the buildup of plaque.

In addition, antioxidants, such as fat-soluble vitamin E, which protect the body from the ravages of free radicals, are either neutralized or destroyed by high temperatures and pressures. BHT and BHA, both suspected of causing cancer and brain damage, are often
added to these oils to replace vitamin E and other natural preservatives destroyed by the extraction process.

With all being said about these processed commercial vegetable oils, almost all nuts and seeds are, however, still great sources of natural unprocessed healthy fats. Eating them fresh and unprocessed is good for you because they are some of the healthiest fatty foods. And if you are lucky enough to find cold-pressed versions of these oil that made from nuts or seeds, use them for salad dressing or spread. DON’T USE THEM FOR COOKING – for good reasons.

More reading here.

Pock-marked Mother Chen’s beancurd – ma po dou fu

Posted in Chinese cuisine, Sichuan cuisine on January 14, 2008 by yongtzetan

Ma po dou fu is probably the most famous Sichuan dish. It is served in almost all Chinese restaurants you have been to. However many of them are just unrecognisable imitations. This is an authentic recipe slightly adapted from ‘sichuan cookery’ by fuchsia dunlop, as it claimed this is the way as taught at the Sichuan provincial cooking school.

This is absolutely rich and tasty. Just a note on the ingredient: You need to get the real Sichuanese chilli bean paste which has broad bean in it like the one shown in the photo (can be found in Chinese grocery on Russell Street) because there are many “chilli bean paste” brands which are totally different in taste.

Serve 2-3:

– 500g of soft beancurd, cut into 2cm cubes
– 5 spring onions, sliced at a steep angle
– 40ml peanut oil
– 250g minced pork/beef
– 3 tablespoons Sichianese chilli bean paste
– 1 tablespoon black fermented beans
– 2 teaspoons ground dried chilli
– a few whole dried chillies
– 250ml chicken chicken stock
– 1.5 teaspoons white sugar
– 3 tablespoons corn starch mixed with 4 tablespoons cold water
– 1/2 teaspoon ground roasted Sichuan pepper

1. Let the beancurd steep in very hot or gently simmering lightly salted water.

2. Add the oil in a wok or frying pan and heat over a high flame until smoking. Add the minced beer or pork and stir-fry until it is crispy and a little brown, but not yet dry.

3. Turn the heat down to medium, add the chilli bean paste and stir-fry for 30 seconds, until the oil has become red. Add the black fermented beans, ground chillies, and dried chillies and stir-fry for another 20-30 seconds until they are fragrant.

4. Pour in the stock, stir well and add the drained beancurd. Mix it in gently by pushing the back of your ladle or wooden spoon. Take great care not to break the beancurd. Season with sugar. The chilli bean paste and black fermented bean should provide enough saltiness but try it and season with some soy sauce and salt if needed. Simmer gently for 5 minutes until the beancurd has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.

5. Add the spring onions and gently stir in. And add the corn starch mixture in two or three stages, mixing well, until the sauce has thickend enough to cling glossily to the meat and beancurd. Don’t add more than you need or you might don’t even need it if preferred. Finally, pour everything into a deep bowl, scatter with the ground Sichuan pepper and serve.


pock-marked Mother Chen's beancurd - ma po dou fu

Chicken with chillies

Posted in Chicken dishes, Chinese cuisine, Sichuan cuisine on January 7, 2008 by yongtzetan

Chicken with chillies, originally uploaded by yongtze.

It’s been a while since I last updated this blog because of holidays and I felt the need to be lazy for a little while.

What’s good to eat in this hot summer? It might seem unsuitable but I love eating spicy food in summer. It makes you sweat even more but it really feels good.

This is a Sichuan, more specifically a Chongqing specialty. The chillies used here are to give fragrance and a gentle spiciness to the cooking oil, and are not usually eaten (however, we ate a bit of them because they smell so good.). Take good care not to burn the chillies.

This is a recipe adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s ‘sichuan cookery’. It is a great book specialising in the cooking of Sichuan.

Serves 2:

– 2 chicken breasts, cut into 2cm cubes or chicken on the bone cut into same size

– 2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
– 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
– 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
– 1/4 teaspoon salt

– about 50g dried chillies
– 2 teaspoons whole Sichuan pepperconr
– groundnut oil for deep-frying
– 3 cloves garlic, sliced and an equivalent amount of ginger, sliced
– 2 spring onions, white parts only, each cut into about 3 sections
– salt to taste
– a pinch of sugar
– 2 teaspoons sesame oil

1. Mix the marinade ingredients with the chicken and set aside for 20-30 minutes.

2. Snip the chillies in half with a pair of scissors and discard as many seeds as possible (if you like it spicier you can keep the seeds).

3. Heat oil for deep-frying to a very high temperature. Add the chicken and fry for 4-5 minutes until the pieces are cooked through, golden-brown and a little crispy on the outside. Drain well and set aside. Alternatively, you can saute the chicken so you don’t need to use so much oil, which was what I did.

4. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a wok over a moderate flame. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry until they are fragrant and just taking colour. Then add all the chillies and the Sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry for 20 seconds until the oil is spicy and fragrant, be careful not to burn the chillies, remove the wok from the stove for a few seconds if the oil seems too hot.

5. Add the chicken and spring onions and stir in. Season with salt to taste and a good pinch of sugar. Stir well so that the chicken is coated with the fragrant oil. Finally, remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and serve.