[Ancient Wisdom, Modern Wisdom]
The Color Purple Yam Dessert & Breathe Easy Fritillaria Pear
by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, Mika Ono
While Chinese mountain yam (Dioscorea opposita) is a key herb in traditional Chinese medicine, Dr. Yuan Wang, co-author of Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life (Da Capo Lifelong Books, March 2010), notes that other types of yam have also become popular in East Asia to promote health. These include the purple yam (Dioscorea alata, also known as “water yam” or “winged yam”. Although unassumingly tan-brown on the outside, once you cut it open you can see the inside is a vibrant purple. The purple yam is featured in Philippine sweet desserts, Vietnamese soups, Indian dishes, and Hawaiian cuisine, as well as Chinese recipes.
This Chinese recipe using purple yam blends the smooth texture of the yam with sweet rice flour, accented with a sweet, nutty filling. The dessert also happens to be wheat-free, dairy-free, and vegan. We found purple yams at a local Asian supermarket, helpfully but discretely labeled “purple yam,” among the many other similar-looking varieties of yam being sold.
The Color Purple Yam Dessert
(Makes about 12 pieces, serving 6)
1 medium-size purple yam (1 pound), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
¾ cup sweet rice flour (also known as “sticky rice flour” or “glutinous rice flour”)
½ cup raw unsalted walnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons goji berries
1 tablespoon honey or barley malt
1 – 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (such as olive or canola)
1) Steam (or boil) the pieces of purple yam for about 15 minutes, until soft.
2) Allow the yam to cool for a few minutes, transfer it into a mixing bowl, and mash it with a fork until smooth. Gradually add the sweet rice flour to the yam, kneading the mixture together with your hands to form a smooth dough. (If the dough starts to get too crumbly, stop adding the rice flour; if you have already overdone it, you can compensate by adding a little water.)
3) Mix together the chopped walnuts, goji berries, and honey (warm the honey first if it is too solid to mix easily).
4) Make a “cup” out of a piece of dough, fill it with the stuffing, and close the dough around it to make a ball. Flatten the ball with the palms of your hands to form it into a 3-inch round pancake shape. (Or improvise your own method for surrounding the filling with dough.) Repeat until the dough and the filling is used up.
5) Heat a skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the oil, then cook the pieces until both sides are brown and the center is warm, 5 to 10 minutes. Cook in batches if necessary. Serve warm.
Recipe Themes and Variations
Any dried fruit can be substituted for the goji berries. Dried apples, for example, are lovely. Also, other seeds or nuts—such as pumpkin seeds, chopped almonds, black sesame seeds, pine nuts, or chopped peanuts—offer other possibilities instead of walnuts.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine
The basic yam recipe is good for counteracting general weakness, fatigue, lack of appetite, and constipation. Goji berries help the vision and walnuts are believed to contribute to longevity. For those familiar with the language of traditional Chinese medicine, the purple yam strengthens the Spleen qi and counteracts Blood stasis. With goji berries, this dessert helps to nourish the Blood and the yin, increase the essence, and improve vision; with walnuts, it helps strengthen the Kidneys, warm the Lungs, and moisten the Intestines.
Excerpted from Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life (Da Capo Lifelong Books)
Breathe-Easy Fritillaria Pear
About 1 tablespoon (10 grams) fritillaria (chuan bei mu)
1 large ripe pear, any variety
2 teaspoons honey, or to taste
1) Place the fritillaria in a coffee mill, spice grinder, or food processor and whir into a powder (this may take some time).
2) Wash (but don’t peel) the pear. Cut off the top third of the pear and reserve. Cut out the core of the bottom part of the pear, making a hole but leaving the bottom and outside intact.
3) Place the fritillaria powder in the hole, then add the honey. Replace the top of the pear.
4) Transfer the pear to a steamer and cook, covered, for about 40 minutes, or until soft. (If you don’t have a steamer, steam the pear in a glass or ceramic bowl placed in a covered pot containing an inch of water.)
5) Serve warm as a dessert or snack.
Themes and Variations
1) The pears can be baked instead of steamed. Preheat the to 350 degrees and bake for about 40 minutes or until soft.
2) Try this dish with an Asian pear – a delicious variation.
Especially Good for anyone suffering from a dry cough, dry throat, bronchitis, asthma, or allergies. If you are eating this dish for therapeutic reasons, we recommend eating this dish once a day for three to seven days.
Fritillaria (a.k.a. Fritillariae Cirrhosae or chuan bei mu, which literally translates from the Chinese as “shell mother from Sichuan,” grows in China and Nepal and produces a white bulb that is bitter and sweet. In addition to its uses to clear the lungs, in China the bulbs also have a tradition of use against breast and lung cancer.
For Those Familiar With Chinese Medicine
This dish moistens the Lung, clears Heat, and transforms phlegm.
Yuan Wang is a member of the teaching faculty of the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego and practitioner at The Source Chinese Medical Clinic in Poway, California. As a girl in China, she learned to cook by helping her mother and grandmother prepare meals for the extended family. She went on to earn her Bachelor’s of Medicine from Chengdu College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1983 and her Master’s from Tianjin Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine. During her time at Chengdu, Dr. Wang was a lecturer, researcher, and physician-in charge for the Departments of Medicine, Kidney Diseases, Digestive Diseases, and the Research Institute of Blood Diseases at the Chengdu Traditional Chinese Medicine Hospital. The author of several articles on Chinese medicine, she has also participated on research teams investigating stroke, cancer, diabetes, and menstrual disorders. For more information on her practice, see www.acusourcesandiego.com/
Warren Sheir is chair of the Department of Oriental Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in San Diego and supervisor at a busy college clinic there. He is passionate about the connection between health and food. Licensed by the state acupuncture board of California, and certified in acupuncture and herbal medicine by the National Commission for the Certification of Acupuncturists and Oriental Medicine, Warren holds a master’s degree from the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, as well as from the Cleveland Institute of Music/Case Western Reserve University. His recent honors include the Pacific College Award for Clinical Supervision, and the Acupuncture Faculty Leader Award from the University of California, San Diego, (UCSD) Free Clinic Project.
Mika Ono is a writer and editor who is fascinated by issues in health, science, and society. Mika, who grew up in a rural area outside of Toronto, Canada, earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Reed College and a master’s in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She is currently director of communications at The Scripps Research Institute, one of the largest independent biomedical research institutions in the world. Her work—from magazine articles to web content—has won awards from organizations including the International Association of Business Communicators, the Communicator Awards, the Mercury Awards, and HOW Design. For more information, see www.mikaono.com