[a medicinal cooking blog: using food as medicine to treat whatever may ail you]

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ramp(ing) up for Spring

(recycled from 4/22/2010)

Spring time is a yang time in Chinese Medicinal terms, while winter is a yin time. Many of you have heard and seen yin and yang theory thrown around loosely, adorned on tshirts, plastered on dorm room walls, imprinted on spa paraphenelia, carved into Acupuncture logos, and so on. Yin and yang theory is one of the major philosophical bases of Chinese Medicine and that little black and white swirly globe actually has some very beautifully simple and yet complex meaning. Simple and yet complex, this sentence is very indicative of yin and yang theory. There is a sentence that explains why it is both : "All that is yin is yang, all that is yang is yin". This sentence is very similar to "what came first, the chicken or the egg?" in that while something may be yin in nature, it can not exist without yang. In essence there is no day without night. Thus, simple yet complex.

As it pertains to food and the body, yin is the liquid and nourishing aspect (blood, saliva, water, etc.) and yang is the energy (electric synapses, physiological reactions, movement, etc.). We need both, but sometimes you need one more than the other. Spring is the time when we're moving from a long cold spell where you were more focused on yin foods and doing yin things (i.e. eating warm slow cooked foods whilst hibernating and conserving energy) and on into a more yang time where you require the energy to literally pop your head out of the ground much like all the young bulbs (in particular for today, ramps, which are part of the Allium family and sometimes are considered wild leeks)! Garlic already has many medicinal qualities that I have discussed here before, but if you want the medicine without so much bite, then a ramp is your friend and it is only here for a few weeks before it becomes scape season, then just plain garlic bulb season.

While yin and yang theory may be flying over your head into esoteric yaya land, once you understand it, you can self-treat and balance yourself out when you need. For these purposes, you want to put a little more bite and spark into your food to wake up your digestion while your life requires you to be outside more, shedding layers of clothes, getting sun, and interacting with people more frequently. Ramps grow from March to late May and sometimes June. You can eat them raw or lightly cooked. I used the pungent white portion to stuff under the skin of a young red cockerel, and I used the sweet green leaves to add to some roasted potatoes towards the very end so they just slightly wilted and melded in. The cockerels and potatoes were served alongside young asparagus which is also just starting to pop it's head out of the ground and will continue to do so for another month or so.

Roasted Red Cockerel with Ramps, Lemon, Olive Oil, and Sea Salt

Ingredients : cockerels or chickens (approx. 4-6 lbs), ramps (ie. young garlic), lemon, olive oil, sea salt, pepper

1. Rub cockerels with olive oil, lemon, sea salt, and pepper. Make a few tiny holes and also loosen the skin around the neck and bum of the cockerel - slip in the white portion of the ramp under the skin. Slice lemons and place in cavity. Place one whole ramp in the orifice of the neck. Let the cockerels sit for 1 hour to 24 hours (overnight).

2. Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees F. Place cockerels in uncovered, breast side down. Roast for one hour at this temperature. Raise to 300 degrees F and roast for 1.5-2 hours more (depending on the size of bird). Cockerels should come out browned and crisp but juicy inside, with a lovely hint of sweet garlic flavor.

How do you use yin and yang theory to treat yourself? If you are feeling excessively yin (lethargic, sluggish, tired, slow, damp, cloudy-headed), add more yang foods into your food (red meat, liver, bones, leeks, chives, scallions, garlic, carrots, lotus, radish... pungent and bright foods). If you are feeling excessively yang (hot, flushed, anxious, wired) add more yin foods into your diet (pork, chicken, almost all vegetables except the particularly pungent ones and those listed above).

If you want more recipes using ramps go here or here. Ramps have a long history of culinary and medicinal use in the U.S., especially in the south. There is even a ramp festival held every year in Tennessee called the "Cosby Ramp Festival". Apparently in the Appalachian region of the U.S. ramps are thought to ward off winter ailments, which is perfectly in line with the Chinese Medicinal use of adding some yang energy into your food to bust out and get ready for summer!


Shu Han said...

the whole meal sounds amazing! I love your blog for the traditional chinese medicine info you bring. the way i eat is very much influenced by tcm, growing up in a chinese household, and being very health-obsessed. is ramps the same as wild garlic? if so, it's almost the season here in the uk, though not quite yet. (I work at the farmers' market and I haven't seen them at least).

one question, we're supposed to eat more yang foods in spring eh, but many of these yang foods are also hot in nature, and I thought we should leave the hot foods to winter, and the cooling foods in spring/summer?

The Spice Doc said...

Hi Shu Han - Ramps are sometimes referred to as wild garlic though they are technically a wild leek (more of a cross between an onion and garlic) : Allium tricoccum. Young garlic looks similar to a ramp but has a more tubular green stem (like a scallion) rather than the flat leaf of a ramp. Spring is a "yang" time as you are coming out of a "yin" time (winter), in which you need to kick start your digestion and body clock with that type of activating energetic food. Spring is still cool after all and is a transition period between winter/summer. Even in the summer you wouldn't only eat "yin"/cooling/nourishing foods as it depends on your constitution. And your digestion is always a furnace which requires warmth to function optimally. Hope that sheds a little more light on the TCM perspective...if not please don't hesitate to ask or say so!

Shu Han said...

oooh thanks for the lesson! I actually much prefer eating warm, cooked foods, which is much easier to digest anyway! I think that's the tricky thing about eating for spring.summer and finding the right balance of foods!