I recently discovered a documentary series on imperial Chinese cuisine in the 15th century. It was immensely intriguing: the best of many regional culinary traditions made their way into the royal palace in the Ming dynasty, prepared by a group of women chefs. Some of them were not only well versed in the culinary arts, but also had a keen sense of art, music, and poetry.
Food was the canvas for their artistic expression. I was particularly fascinated by one woman who effortlessly infused the idea of medicine and food, adjusted for the different seasons and bodily constitutions of those she cooked for; handcrafted, delicious and well considered meals fit for kings and queens, literally.
You’d think the ingredients used were rare and costly but what struck me was that the humblest ingredients were used and the knowledge behind them cannot be separated from centuries of recording, trial and error, and application.
China was peaceful and prosperous in the 15th century, advancements in travel enabled people to visit as far afield as Ethiopia; you can imagine the expansion of ideas at that time. There were also many natural disasters and flooding in particular, which gave birth to water control systems. Various food preservation methods were also invented. My takeaway is that there has never been such a thing as “medicinal food”; rather, all ingredients have medicinal properties, depending on what you eat and in which season.
As an avid student of traditional Chinese medicine, in my self-motivated studies and work with The Postpartum Pantry, I strive to use intentional ingredients in my menu catering to the health of women, especially the postpartum woman. I find this new knowledge exciting. It has invited me into a new world of thinking about ingredients differently — how to use all ingredients, in both the culinary and healing sense.
Money bag dumplings, an auspicious dish of old, shaped like the purse that once held gold and silver, signifying the welcoming of wealth in many senses. Dumplings themselves can hold any virtually any filling, so why not ingredients that are not only delicious but also have healing properties?
For the filling, I used jujube dates, shiitake mushrooms, gammon ham, sweetcorn, all finely chopped then pan-fried, some salt added, with a generous splash of ginger and cumin spice to create a subtly sweet, savoury, and spicy mix. Jujube dates and ginger together are known to help circulation — a natural body warmer — while cumin/jeera aids in digestion. Jujube for the sweet, mushroom and ham for the salty. Besides incorporating medicinal ingredients, my personal brief was to make the dish delicious. Im happy to report it is!
Ingredients: makes 20
- 1 pack wonton wrapper
- 6 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and finely chopped
- 6 jujube dates, pipped and finely chopped
- Cooked kernels of one sweetcorn
- 70g or one slice of gammon ham, finely chopped
- 2 stalks of spring onion, finely chopped
- 20 pieces of coriander, make sure it’s at least 8cm long, leaves removed, to prep as a “ribbon”
- 1 egg
- 2 tsp cumin spice
- 2 tsp ginger spice
- Salt to season
For the filling:
- Heat oil in pan, add the chopped ingredients together, pan fry on low heat until mushrooms appear slightly crispy.
- Add cumin and ginger spice, salt to season, then let cool
- Add egg to cooled down filling mix
For the “ribbon”:
Blanch coriander in hot water for about 20 seconds, place in cold water immediately, then gently squeeze the water out, handle with care, so they don’t break
To fold the dumplings:
- Place dumpling wrapper in palm of hand
- Place a spoonful of filling in the centre of the wrapper
- Gently closing the dumpling by pinching the edges together into a bundle
- Gently tie a coriander strip around it
- Repeat until filling is finished
Boil water in pot, place steamer on top, dumplings in steamer when water is boiling, steam for about 18 minutes