Lesser Heat is one of the 24 solar terms in the Chinese lunar calendar, usually falling on July 7 or 8, which signals the start of the hottest days of the year. During this time, thunder storms frequently occur and the humidity in the air gradually increases, changing the climate from dry heat to a wet stuffiness. To keep fit, Chinese people prefer to eat fewer sweet and spicy foods, and try to avoid drinking cold water during this period.
Lotus root with glutinous rice.
Following Lesser Heat, Great Heat often comes on July 23, when the temperature in most areas of China can reach as high as 35°C to 40°C. Great Heat, just as its name implies, is when the hottest days of summer occur. With a blistering temperature, people sweat profusely under the blazing sun, consuming too much of their energy. Therefore, people eat foods that can enrich the blood and enhance energy, such as Chinese yams, lotus roots, Chinese dates, Chinese black fungus, sea cucumbers, and watermelons, as well as some bitter-tasting foods, including balsam pears, field sow thistles, and buckwheat.
Two dishes are recommended during the Great & Lesser Heat days. One is braised eel segments which help increase blood flow and nourishes the liver and kidneys; the other is lotus root which helps reduce the body’s temperature, assists in saliva production, and is also good for hemostasis, as well as strengthening the spleen and stomach.
Braised eel segments.
The braised eel segments dish is famous for its tender meat and nutritious thick broth. The main ingredients are 400g cleaned rice-field eels, 40g marinated dry mushrooms, and 40g winter bamboo shoots. Seasonings include soy sauce, cooking wine, salt, white sugar, white pepper, starch, chopped green onions, ginger flakes, garlic, vegetable oil, and chicken stock. Cut the eels into 3-cm-long segments and stir-fry in a pan until medium well, then add the mushrooms and winter bamboo shoots. Let them sweat until their colors change and scoop them out together with a colander. Add the chopped green onions, ginger flakes, and garlic cloves into the pan and stir-fry, adding the previously cooked eels, mushrooms, and winter bamboo shoots, and then pour in the chicken stock, adding some starch to thicken up the soup. The dish can be served on a plate, and brings with it both an alluring color and flavor.
Sweet lotus root with glutinous rice is a traditional dessert which can help people deal with the sweltering summer heat. Prepare two segments of lotus roots, 150g glutinous rice, 50g white sugar, and some sweet osmanthus water or honey. Peel the lotus roots, cut them into two down the middle, inject glutinous rice into the hollows of the roots, and use toothpicks to reassemble them. Put them in a steamer and steam for 30 minutes. Cool the dish and slice the lotus roots into pieces and arrange in a plate, spraying them with the sweet osmanthus water and white sugar, or add some honey. Glutinous rice helps replenish the blood, while lotus roots can soothe nerves and nourish the stomach. Honey, rich in various enzymes, which are good for digestion and metabolism, is the soul of this fragrant and refreshing dish.
TONG CHANGYOU is a Beijing Cuisine master and a member of both the China Cuisine Association and the Beijing Cuisine Association.