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Summer is a high energy/ yang period when the fire element dominates (You can really feel it these days with the hot and humid weather, plus global warming). Some Chinese doctors recommend cutting back on coffee, red meats, and other heavy foods which tend to have a heating effect on the body and create sluggishness. That is why we crave seafood (especially from cold waters), salads with lots of raw vegetables, soy products and other cooling foods which tend to remove heat from the body.

Since all types of local seasonal vegetables are at their peak in the farmer’s markets and in stores, emphasize them in your cooking and prepare dishes with brightly colored summer fruits and vegetables, enjoying and creating a “rainbow on the plate” effect. Season the dishes with pungent seasonings like garlic, ginger, hot chillis, and lemongrass- even curry. And summer is no better time than preparing one of the many meal-in-one layered Asian salads.

Asian salads or cold platters can be deliciously unpredictable, but they often follow a pattern: Cold rice vermicelli, flour and egg pasta, soba or cellophane noodles serve as the textural base or staple. Vegetables such as carrots, bean sprouts, celery, and various lettuces, cabbages, and cucumbers or any seasonal vegetable are typically used with the occasional addition of tropical fruits. Each ingredient lends its unique flavor and texture. Meats, such as chicken, pork, beef, or seafood (shrimp, scallops, even lobster) and garnishes include tofu, chopped herbs and nuts. Asian rice vinegar (I prefer the unseasoned Japanese Marukan brand, which is sold in mainstream supermarkets), with fresh lime or lemon juice are key elements of the dressing with toasted sesame oil, a little sugar, and soy or fish sauce rounding out the taste. A host of pungent seasonings like garlic, ginger, scallions, chili peppers, cilantro, basil and mint add vibrancy and freshness. Once combined, these ingredients not only add flavor, but pull the different components together as a whole.

One of my favorite meal-in-one salads that is perfect for this time of year is my “Easy Basil Chicken Summer Salad with Soba” (See the recipe below)



3/4 pound snow or snap peas, ends snapped and veiny strings removed
12 ounces soba noodles

Spicy Pesto
6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
4 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve the greens for the garnish)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 pound cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin julienne strips
Reserved scallion greens, cut into 1/4-inch sections

Dressing (combine in a small bowl until the sugar dissolves)
1/2 cup light soy sauce, or to taste
6 tablespoons Japanese clear rice vinegar
2 tablespoons mirin, or rice wine or sake mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the snow peas and cook for 30 seconds. Remove with a large slotted spoon and drain in a strainer or colander under cold running water. Bring the water to a boil again and add the soba noodles. Once the water boils again, cook for 3 1/2 minutes, or until al dente. Drain in a colander and rinse the noodles under warm running water. Drain again.

2. To make the Spicy Pesto: Drop the garlic, scallion whites, and red pepper flakes down the feed tube of a food processor while the motor is running and chop finely. Open up the bowl and add the basil leaves. Pulse, turning the machine on and off, then slowly pour the sesame and olive oil down the feed tube and chop the mixture to a fine paste. Add the lemon juice and soy sauce and continue blending until the mixture is a fairly smooth paste.

3. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cooked soba noodles with the pesto mixture. Arrange in a large shallow bowl or platter. Sprinkle the snap peas evenly over the noodles, followed by the julienne chicken, and finishing with the scallion greens. Serve the Dressing on the side in a sauce bowl, or drizzle on top of the salad. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Substitute cooked shrimp, pork, or flavored tofu for the chicken. You can also replace the snow or snap peas with 2 1/2 cups shredded carrots, bean sprouts, or other sliced vegetables.


Photo by Romulo Yanes.

Photo by Romulo Yanes.


Universally spring signifies rebirth and renewal and it is traditionally a time for cleansing. Some Chinese doctors recommend a 3-day fast, consuming only fruit and vegetable juices. According to the Five- Element theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is associated with the Wood element which governs the liver and gall bladder and it is an important organ to cleanse after eating the heavy stews, soups and sumptuous foods of winter. Some extremists recommend a raw diet to completely cleanse out the system or a week-long dose of raw onions and garlic which rids the body of any parasites. (YIKES!) I prefer a more moderate approach and nutritionist Paul Pitchman agrees. “Most people do well eating a little raw food daily, with greater amounts in the spring and summer diets.” he says in his master work “Healing with Whole Foods: Oriental Traditions and Modern Nutrition” (North Atlantic Press, 1993) . “Nevertheless, there are limitations. Uncooked foods taken in excess can weaken digestion and trigger excessive cleansing reactions. These dishes should not be consumed at all especially if there is bowel inflammation. “

Choose seasonal foods that are lighter like young plants such as greens, sprouts, and lighter grains, legumes, and seeds. Salty foods such as excessive soy sauce, miso, and sodium-rich meats all have a strong component of sinking energy which is not good for the liver and heavy meats can clog it. Pungent herbs such as peppermint, basil, fennel and dill, cilantro and parsleys are fresh and cleansing. Young beets, carrots, and other vegetables from the spring garden provide a refreshing “sweet” flavor that tones the liver and gall bladder. Beans such as lentils, kidney beans, and green peas are recommended with bean sprouts, celery, salad and leafy cooking greens, broccoli, green beans, and all types of citrus fruits and vegetables. Drink plenty of water flavored with fresh lemon wedges to help cleanse the liver.

Wilted Spinach and Scallop Salad with Toasted Sesame Seeds (pictured above and see the recipe below) is a perfect light meal for this season.

The following recipes on this website that are also excellent for this time of year are:

Spicy Shrimp Cocktail
Spiced Almonds
Vegetable Sticks with Peanut Dip
Pan-Roasted salmon with Minty Snap Peas
Ginger Honey Glazed Salmon
Grilled Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa
Grilled Scallops with and Rainbow Peppers Over Wilted Salad Greens in a Fresh Cilantro Dressing
Stir-Fried Chicken with Basil
Spicy Stir-Fried Chicken with Vegetables
Tandoori Chicken Roll-Ups
Asian Hot and Sour Slaw
Roasted Beets with Ginger and Balsamic Vinegar
Herbal Salad with Roasted Chicken Pears, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese
Shrimp Veggie Fried Rice
Tofu Noodle Salad with a Spicy Tahini Dressing
Orange Slices with Cinnamon, Brown Sugar and Candied Ginger
Poached Pears in a in a Cinnamon-Ginger Syrup

Wilted Spinach and Scallop Salad with Toasted Sesame Seeds
4 servings

1 pound large sea scallops, muscles removed and rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 pound baby spinach (see Note), rinsed and drained
2 roasted red peppers, blotted dry (or use roasted peppers from a jar), cut into 1/4-inch dice

Spinach Dressing (combine in a small bowl)

1/2 cup light soy sauce
5 tablespoons clear rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted in a nonstick pan until golden brown (optional)

1. Holding a knife horizontal to the cutting board, slice the scallops horizontally in half. Place in a bowl, add the rice wine and ginger, and toss lightly. Let sit briefly.

2. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil and heat until very hot, but not smoking. Drain the scallops and add to the pan. (If too many, fry in two batches.) Pan-fry over high heat for about 3 minutes on each side, until the scallops are golden and cooked through. Remove with a large slotted spoon or strainer.

3. Place the spinach in a salad or deep serving bowl. Arrange the cooked scallops evenly over the spinach.

4. Wipe out the pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, and heat until hot. Add the red peppers and stir-fry lightly over high heat, about 30 seconds. Add the Spinach Dressing and stir-fry until just under a boil. Pour the hot dressing over the spinach and scallops and sprinkle the top with the toasted sesame seeds, if using. Serve immediately, tossing lightly before eating.

© Copyright Nina Simonds 2014.

Herbs and Spices: Key to Flavor and Optimum Health


Dr. Jim Duke is one of the world’s foremost authorities on herbs and the best-selling author of The Green Pharmacy and numerous other titles about the health-giving properties of herbs and spices. I was fortunate to have the honor of working and studying with “Dr. Jim” when we taped a one-hour special titled “Spoonful of Ginger” for National Public Television that won a James beard award. As the leading medical botanist for the USDA he compiled the herbal data base. He also recommends stocking your pantry with the following culinary herbs for their health-giving and healing properties:

Basil is a member of the mint family and native to tropical Asia, where it has been cultivated for over 3,000 years, both for culinary and medicinal purposes.

Key Benefits:

  • Rich in anti-viral compounds
  • Natural insect repellent
  • Eases gas
  • Helps fight plaque formation on teeth

Cardamom, one of the oldest spices in the world, can be dated back to 4th century Greece where it was highly valued for its flavor and medicinal properties. In India, it has been used as a digestive remedy for hundreds of years. To make cardamom tea, lightly smash 1 ½ tablespoons cardamom pods. Put in a teapot, add 3 cups boiling water, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.

Key Benefits:

  •  Soothes indigestion and relieves gas
  •  Kills bad breath
  • Eases congestion

Herbs and Spices: Key to Flavor and Optimum Health
Cayenne or chili peppers can be traced back thousands of years to equatorial America, but they are now grown in tropical climates throughout the world. They are the best source of capsaicin, the substance that provides peppers with varying degrees of heat- the more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper. According to Dr. Jim Duke, cayenne and all hot peppers are “therapeutic wonders” and capsaicin ointments alleviate pain for rheumatoid arthritis,  psoriasis and shingles.
*Stimulates circulation

Key Benefits:

  • Prevents respiratory tract infections
  • Eases constipation
  • Alleviates rheumatoid and osteoarthritis pain

Cinnamon is one of the world’s most important spices and is the bark of an evergreen green related to the laurel family. It is a close cousin to cassia bark, which is used in Asia. Pungent and warming, cinnamon has been used in the kitchen and medicinally throughout Asia and the Middle East since ancient times.

Key Benefits:

  • Fights colds, coughs and fevers
  • Relieves gas and indigestion
  • Stimulates circulation
  • Eases allergies

Cloves are the dried flower buds of an evergreen tree. They were used in China as early as 266 B.C and have been used in India since ancient times. The spice is usually present in Chinese five-spice powder and garam masala, an Indian spice seasoning similar to curry powder. Oil of cloves is strongly antiseptic due to the presence of eugenol, which relieves pain, kills bacteria, and thins blood.

Key Benefits:

  • Antiseptic
  • Antispasmodic
  • Fights infection
  • Relieves toothaches

Recognized as one of the kings of Indian spices, cumin is used in the regional cooking and medicine in every part of India. It also appears in Mediterranean and Mexican dishes. Cumin is hot in nature and is believed to purify blood, stimulate digestive juices, and reduce nausea, particularly in pregnant women.

Key Benefits:

  • Excellent for colds and fevers when infused in water.
  • Easily digested and effective in relieving indigestion, gas, flatulence.
  • Believed to purify the blood, and protect against stomach infections.

Originally from central Asia, garlic is now grown all over the world and has been revered for over 5,000 years for its medicinal properties. Garlic bulbs contain allicin and other volatile oils which are highly antibacterial and antibiotic. According to Dr. Duke, garlic is most beneficial for heart and circulatory conditions.

Key Benefits:

  • Antibiotic against infections
  • Improves overall cardiovascular health
  • Strengthens body’s immune system
  • Lowers incidence of cancer in the gastrointestinal system
  • Prevents colds and the flu

Fresh ginger is a knotty, aromatic rhizome traditionally cultivated in China and India, but now grown in many tropical countries throughout the world. It has been used for medicinal purposes as well as flavor for thousands of years. It is excellent for settling an upset stomach while aiding the digestive process.

Key Benefits:

  • Soothes nausea, motion and morning sickness
  • Aids circulation
  • Antibacterial so prevents colds and the flu
  •  Lowers cholesterol levels.

Mace and Nutmeg
Nutmeg has been used in India and as a spice as early as 700 B.C. Mace and nutmeg are two different species of the same fruit. Nutmeg is the dried seed and mace is the dried “ariel” or cage around it. Nutmeg is more aromatic, sweeter, and more delicate than mace, and it is believed to impart strength and enhance sexual prowess.

Key Benefits:

  • Nutmeg relieves diarrhoea and colic
  • Ground mace has been used as a remedy against rheumatism.

Onion, like garlic, is a member of the allium genus family. They both contain the phytochemical, allicin. However, onions are gentler on the stomach and more effective in combating diabetes and allergies than garlic. Another component,quercetin, which is found in the onion skin, fights allergies and tames high blood sugar levels. Add onions to flavorings to make chicken broth and other soups. Skim away and discard before serving.

Key Benefits:

  • Fights allergies
  • Protects capillaries
  • Diuretic
  • Protects against angina
  • Combats diabetes

Peppermint is a member of the extensive mint family and contains menthol. Both menthol and peppermint oil are used to flavor all types of pharmaceutical products, including laxatives, antacids, toothpastes, breath fresheners, and mouthwash. The herb is used to season numerous dishes from soups to desserts and praised for its innumerable medicinal properties. To make fresh peppermint tea, put 5 tablespoons fresh peppermint or 3-4 tablespoons dried mint, in a teapot. Pour 3 cups boiling water, cover, and steep 10 minutes. (For an herbal remedy, Dr. Duke recommends letting the tea steep until cool, straining it, and reheating the liquid until hot.)

Key Benefits:

  • Tames muscle spasms in intestinal tract
  •  Relieves gas, flatulence, and bloating
  • Externally relaxes tight muscles and relieves pain
  • Antibacterial
  • Dissolves gallstones

Thyme is a small, hardy evergreen shrub, native to the Mediterranean. Its small, aromatic leaves are a staple flavoring in soups, stews and sauces, but have also been used since the seventeenth century for their medicinal properties. Thyme tea is an excellent remedy for sore throats and infected gums, yet it also soothes the digestive system and eases flatulence. Steep 1 teaspoon dried thyme per cup of boiling water for 10 minutes.

Key Benefits:

  • Relieves coughing and bronchial spasms
  •  Applied externally, relieves muscle spasms and rheumatism
  • Fights mucous membrane inflammation

Turmeric is native to Southern Asia where is has been used as a flavouring, a dye, and a medicine since ancient times. Curcumin and the curcuminoids in tumeric have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and are responsible for giving tumeric its bright yellow color.

Key Benefits:

  • Relieves arthritic inflammation
  • Defends against cancer in the colon, gallbladder, and the liver
  • Soothes indigestion
  • Powerful antioxidant so retards aging and prevents disease

Disclaimer: Herbs, foods, and other natural remedies are not substitutes for professional medical care.
For a specific health problem, consult a qualified health-care giver for guidance.