It all started with a bag of vibrant green Anaheim chilies from the Cute Gardener that had been calling my name from the refrigerator all week. Bountiful this year, these particular chilies were fickle and had a sense of humor in that they never hinted at how hot they were until they ended up chopped raw in a salad or cooked into a dish on your plate. Sometimes they were mellow and other times biting and it has been a fun season trying to figure out how to incorporate them without knowing their fate in taste. I was waiting for a dish that I could throw them in for heat and spice as a blistered and chopped, full skin and seed mix.
I have always been inclined to follow the medicine of the natural world rather than rely on the convoluted chemical compounds of the Western medical and pharmaceutical industries. Because of this, I have been perpetually attracted to the garden where herbs and plants are plentiful and food grows when it should to provide the most conducive vitamins in the moment. This year I finally decided to make my passion a pursuit and am currently enrolled in an extensive course in herbology. One of the most interesting things I am learning right off the bat is how to simply balance the meal plates to create an optimum way of eating that supports a healthy system and how far off whack we’ve come in this world of preservatives and packaging from the most basic ways to bring nutrients in and out of the flesh.
I am really inspired by the way of the Chinese and East Indian culinary traditions wherein this basic premise for a daily diet is found: 20-30% whole grains, 20-30% protein with a heavy emphasis on beans and legumes, 30-40% seasonal vegetables geographically available and abundant, 10-20% dairy, fruit and eggs and 2-5% fat in the form of olive and sesame oil or ghee. Using this guideline to come up with my meals in a normal week has already improved many things within my body from circulation to digestion to energy.
This past weekend I spent two blissful days in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, mostly obsessed by the Fuk Yin Tong Herbs Trading Co. where jars of every herb and root lined shelves absent of the English language and patrons walked in complaining of ailments and then out again with curious bags full of things to combine and ingest. Shark cartilage for the skin, lotus tea for the mind, astragulus for the liver – you name it, they had it. For a dollar a minute, I also received the best fifteen-minute chi flushing massage of my life by a 60-year-old man who was more spry than a 15-year-old.
I was thrilled when I stumbled upon bags of mung and azuki beans so that I could practice some of my new herbal recipes at home as those two varieties were apparently king of the proteins and could be used in a variety of healing ways.
I chose the azuki bean first as it is a small and sweet red bean that would be a nice contrast to the hot chilies that laid in wait. After soaking the beans for a day, I then boiled them in chicken broth to cover and then simmered for one hour. The nice musky and rich soup that ensued was an ideal base for the chopped up roasted chilies to accompany a plate of short beef and fresh grilled vegetable leftovers. Washed down with a glass of iced cold tea made with fresh sprigs of thyme, it was the perfect example of the food percentages on a plate that I am learning not only nourishes our physicality but makes sure all the parts are working at their highest potential.