Chinese cooking is not only delicious and visually beautiful, but masterfully incorporates the Taoist principles of yin and yang. This concept is based on the idea of opposites set in balance to create harmony at the table and in the body. If this balance is not achieved, the Chinese believe the body becomes vulnerable to illness. There are multiple ways yin and yang are balanced, and here are just a few examples of how the Chinese incorporate these principles into a meal.
Cooking techniques are classified into yin and yang methods. Steaming, poaching and boiling are said to be yin methods while deep-fat frying, stir-frying, pan frying and roasting are yang methods. Balance is created in a meal by using a mixture of yin and yang methods. Consider the fact that Western meals seldom incorporate a steamed or poached dish and you realize the preponderance of yang in the Western diet. Easy yin-style dishes to cook at home are Steamed Sole with Black Bean Sauce, Pork Dumplings and White Cut Chicken.
Ingredients are also classified as having yin or yang properties. Typical yin ingredients are bok choy, bean sprouts, eggplant and tofu which are said to have a cooling nature. Yang ingredients like carrots, lamb, garlic and ginger have a warming nature. In order to create balance yin and yang ingredients are traditionally cooked together as in Stir-Fried Bok Choy and Ginger, or Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, or in the summertime cook a purely yin dish like Shrimp with Spinach and Tofu.
Yet another method the Cantonese have for creating balance in the diet is to drink special soups to harmonize the body. The most common problem people suffer from is overconsumption of yang elements such as fried foods and fatty or rich foods in the diet. A soup like Chayote and Carrot Soup, Family-Style Winter Melon Soup, or Soybean and Sparerib Soup, is traditionally drunk at the end of a meal to remove toxins from the body and restore balance. Throughout the year, special soups are drunk to harmonize and nourish the body for the needs of every season.
Grace Young is the author of Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen (Simon & Schuster, 1999).