It's LaBa 臘八 festival (the eighth day of December in Chinese lunar calendar). It's time to have our eight treasures porridge.
There are several legends about the origin of porridge eating on Laba: some claim it is of Buddhist origin; some say the porridge, made of red beans, has the power to exorcize evil from little kids; my grandmother told me the porridge is in memory of a poor couple.
The custom of porridge eating has been well-known throughout history, from the royal court to common people. The most “authentic” porridge is made in Northern China, especially Beiping (北平). Laba porridge is mostly made of rice and sticky rice, but can also include sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, roseleaf and other “treasures” (hence its other name, “eight treasure porridge”).
Almost every region in China has its own local recipe for Laba porridge. Eating hot porridge is great in cold winter, and the grain and nuts are considered healthy winter fare.
Here is a wonderful video on how to make it:
A soup to regulate menstrual period, ease menstrual pain, and tonify Qi and Blood.
10 Jujube dates 大棗with no pits, cut into small pieces
Small bunch of dried Longan fruit (long yan rou, 龍眼肉)
10 g of Yi Mu Cao 益母草
3 slices of ginger生姜
10 g of raw cane sugar (or black or red sugar)
1. Wash jujube dates, Longan fruits, Yi mu cao. Then leave in cold water for 30 minutes
2. Add all ingredients in a clay pot with water and black sugar.
3. Bring to boil and the simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Enjoy it while it’s warm.
黑糖，紅糖： raw sugar before refined white sugar. Usually Mainland China called it red sugar紅糖, Taiwanese called it black sugar 黑糖. Brown sugar unrefined or partially refined soft sugar with the 4.5%-6.5% presence of molasses.
Special kind of black sugar from Okinawa is called Kurozato. It contains molasses, potassium, iron, calcium, and other minerals. Similar to sea salt or rock salt, black sugar is relatively alkaline ingredient. Since Taiwan was at one point colony of Japan, the name black sugar 黑糖 is preferred.
Yi mu cao 益母草: acrid, bitter, slightly cold, enters HT, LV, UB, (KD, PC, CHONG, YIN WEI, REN). It invigorates the blood, dispels stasis, regulates menstruation, and reduces masses. It also promotes urination, and reduces swelling and edema. Lastly it clears heat and resolves toxicity internally and topically like in sores, abscesses.
Jujube dates: tonify Spleen and Stomach, augments Qi, nourishes Blood, and calms the spirit.
Longan fruit: tonify and augments the Heart and Spleen, nourishes the Blood and calms the spirit.
1. Jujube dates, goji berries are rinsed. If Jujube dates have pits, cut it in half to take the pits out.
2. shiitake mushrooms usually comes in dried form. They need to be soaked in water and washed to get the little dirt out from the gills. Then cut them into half or quarters.
3. carrots, ginger, and garlic peeled and cut
4. All ingredients are just a handful. Traditional Chinese home cooking has no measurements. Your handful is just right for you.
5. For a pot of soup for 4, half of whole chicken is enough. This chicken with bones, wings etc. Not just the chicken breast.
6. Put them all together, add water, bring to boil then simmer about 60 - 90 minutes. Add salt to taste.
7. If you would like to enhance the flavour of the chicken add some sea kelp as well.
This dessert is one of my favourites. It's called Jiang Zhuang Nai (姜撞奶). It's fusing of milk with fresh ginger juice. Two important parts are 1) get the milk temperature right otherwise it would not firm up like silky tofu, 2) fresh ginger juice is required.
Use full fat milk is best because the fat helps to set this dessert like siiky tofu. After warming up the milk, add some crystal rock sugar for sweetness. Depends on how spicy you like, you can add more or less fresh ginger juice. It can be eaten warm or room temperature.
In Chinese medicine, milk is sweet and cold (taste sweet with cold property 味甘性寒) and has tonify, balance function. Ginger is spicy warm (辛温) can expel cold, warm stomach, relieve nausea and direct stomach Qi downward.
The story of this dessert goes like this: long ago, an elderly woman was coughing really bad. She heard that ginger juice can help relieve coughing. But she couldn't drink pure ginger juice because it's so spicy. One time by accident, she knocked some warm milk into the fresh ginger juice. To her delight, the milk firmed up became like silky tofu. That's how this dessert came about.