Cooking Methods in Chinese Food Medicine: From Warm to Hot to Very Hot

One of the aspects of Food Medicine we pay attention to in Chinese Medicine is the cooking method itself. Each method of cooking adds relative values of heat to the dish being prepared. Steaming and boiling are the mildest. Then, in degree of heat imparting come croc-pot slow cooking/stewing, stir frying, baking, and finally, the hottest–deep frying.

That may explain in part why baked and deep fried goods are so satisfying–life is a process of warm biochemical or energetic transformations–qi and blood are warm, and baked/deep fried goods reinforce that warmth, although with the latter method there is the very serious negative side affect of pathological damp-heat production, not to mention the free-radical damage that occurs when you eat oil that has been reheated, as in restaurants.

If you are not convinced, as an experiment just steam or boil a potato and compare how warm that makes you feel, vs. a baked potato, vs. french fries. You probably only have to think about it.

Water is Cool Fire is Warm

There is a logic here. Water is inherently cooling–anyone who hikes in the desert knows what it feels like when you hit an oasis–the difference is the moisture. Because water has this inherent coolness, when you boil, although you heat, that heat is balanced by the cool nature of water. But when you bake, you add dry heat that pulls the water out of the food, removing that balancing agent, which is great for cold type folk and for most of us in cold, especially cold damp, weather.

This may seem nearly in the realm of alchemy, and, to be sure, cooking is alchemy, but, especially for cold Vata or Kapha types, in the cold weather baked hard squash is just so much more appealing than boiled. I should add that on the other hand, in summer, boiled hard squash and tofu are so nice with buckwheat soba, which is also cooling in energy.

Why Deep Fried Foods Are Bad for You

When you deep fry, not only are you adding very high heat, you are adding the concentrated caloric intensity of fat that coats the vegetable or meat keeping all its energy intact. Leaving out the issue of free radical damage, the result of this combination of hot energy with high fat, which itself is store heat (calories), is the creation of pathological dampness and damp heat in the body. This is terrible for acne, eczema, red psoriasis, certain menstrual disorders, and chronic yeast issues. Personally, I have vegetable tempura once a year in the winter, and maybe french fries, made at home, once a year. Once a year, in the winter, I make falafel, too.

Acorn, Kabocha, Butternut, Jewel, and other Hard Winter Squash

Did you ever notice that hard squashes are called winter squash and zuchinni summer squash? That makes sense, as zuchinni are blooming in summer, and are perfect then, full of moisture and almost cooling. Myself, I don’t like them much in winter. But hard squashes I start dreaming of by September: mild, sweet, slightly warm, easy to digest, a little bland. They are a perfect foil for beans, which are denser and have a completely different texture. This is an especially fortuitous marriage for people on gluten free diets, where the squash starts to take the place of a heavier grain.

As we move into the cold weather of late autumn and winter its natural to crave warming grounding baked foods, like root vegetables (turnip, parsnip, rutabaga, carrot, yam, potato) and hard squashes, such as acorn, butternut, jewel, kabocha and others.

Here is a recipe that combines the toasty warmth of baked squash with the more hydrating mildness of a soup. It is perfect for Kapha types if they make it their meal without adding any of the things that a Kapha will want to add to damage themselves, like sour cream or bread. I say perfect for Kapha because this dish is light, astringent (beans), bitter (turmeric) pungent (garlic and herbs), and low in fat. Kaphas might want to add some kind of chili powder or sauce to this dish.

It is also quite suitable for Pitta, since it is mildly sweet and only mildly pungent. A Pitta might leave out the pepper, but again, if they are Pitta Vatta or Pitta Kapha and not suffering any heat symptoms, it should be fine.

For Vatas who tolerate beans well, like a Pitta Vatta, it is also good. They may want to decrease the ratio of bean to squash, and add some olive oil or tahini, as below, to make it a bit heavier or more unctuous.

A Vata who is unbalanced, especially with intestinal issues,should not eat beans, but could make this dish as a soup without beans by adding some water, and even something creamy, like almond butter or milk.

Baked Butternut Squash and Black Bean Soup


4-5 cups baked butternut squash
1-2 cups cooked black beans, vary the ratio to your taste
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp crushed garlic
1-2 tsp cumin powder
3 tsp very finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp finely chopped dill or powdered dill
1-2 tsp wine or rice vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
tahini or almond butter or olive oil to taste, see below.


Bake squash in oven at 400 degrees till cooked through. I am lazy so I bake it whole, and when done, slice in half, scoop out the seeds, let cool and peel.

Place the squash in a pot on a low flame with a little water and all the spices and the vinegar. Mash with a spoon. This should be pretty easy, but if you want you can puree it in the blender.

Add the cooked beans and simmer for about 20 minutes. Add enough water to keep it from burning. More water if you prefer it as soup. You could also add a little tahini or almond butter or olive oil to make it creamier.

Copyright Eyton Shalom, San Diego, CA Oct 2011, All Rights Reserved, Use With Permission.

For more Ayurvedic Cooking recipes see my website at https://www.bodymindwellnesscenter.com

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