As part of our series The Way We Heal, we met with Traditional Chinese Medicine chef and nutritionist Zoey Gong. Her outlook on healing embraces the past, present, and future, and encourages variety (both in food and in rituals) to ground yourself…
What does healing mean to you?
On the surface, healing is to cure a wound, a chronic ailment, an emotional blockage. Deep down, healing is to embrace whatever we have and learn to transform our suffering, mental or physical, into something better than what we experienced a moment ago. It is about understanding who we are, who our ancestors are. From there, we can start to explore the different paths of healing that are unique to each of us.
What’s the best advice you have received from an elder?
Happiness is the most important from my grandparents.
What foods, spices, herbs are especially healing to you?
I appreciate all foods, spices, and herbs. I think the variety of them that we consume is the key for wellness. Most of us tend to eat a pretty limited diet with only a few kinds of whole plants and consume supplements to compensate. To me, having a wide range of seasonal whole foods — from grains to vegetables to fruits to wild protein to medicinal herbs or functional ingredients — is very important. Eating like how our Mother Nature would want us to eat is the most healing.
Physical health aside, what recipes bring you soulful comfort and wellness?
Herbal millet congee has to be my top choice. The slow cooking of millet in herbal bone broth makes it so nourishing for the digestive system. I love to add herbs that tonify Qi and Blood, such as dang gui, huang qi, goji, and dang shen, because I tend to have a busy lifestyle and these herbs help me to stay energetic. I also add a kick of nutmeg, ginger, sichuan pepper, and white pepper to help lift my spirit.
What is one food or ritual from your culture that has been appropriated / under-acknowledged / commercialized:
There are too many to be mentioned. As a Chinese chef and Chinese medicine food therapist living in the U.S., I find it difficult to not feel anger on this issue. So many trendy “superfoods” sold by white-owned brands originated in China and have been used in our culture for hundreds and thousands of years. These brands mostly source the ingredients from China, but they do not acknowledge the culture and wisdom behind their products to their customers. They may even avoid mentioning China, since there is an unfortunate negative impression associated with Chinese products. Next time, when you take your reishi supplement or drink your kombucha, I hope you will also spend some time reading about the fascinating history of my country.
Wellness is not…
A 10-day detox program.
Zoey’s TCM Herbal Mushroom Stew
with Black Sesame Buns
YOU NEED (Mushroom Stew)1 cup (loosely packed) dried cordyceps militaris
2 pieces of dried morel mushroom
3 pieces of dried shiitake mushroom
2 tbsp. dried black wood ear mushroom
4 tbsp. olive oil
3 tbsp. minced ginger
2 medium-sized white onions
1 bunch of fresh thyme
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2-3 lbs. fresh mixed mushrooms
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. sesame oil
2 tsp. five spice powder
1-2 quart mushroom stock or other stock
1 pinch of saffron
8 pieces of jujube dates
3 tbsp. goji
3 pieces of dang gui (angelica root)
4 pieces of huang qi (astragalus root)
Salt and pepper, to taste
YOU NEED (Black Sesame Buns)2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup warm water, prepare extra to add if the dough is too dry
3 g. dried active yeast
1 1/3 cup (160 g.) all-purpose flour
1/3 (40 g.) cup black sesame powder
1/3 cup (40 g.) whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. edible charcoal powder, optional
TO DO (Black Sesame Buns)
- In a bowl, let the sugar dissolve in the water and pour yeast in. Do not stir and set aside.
- In a big bowl, mix the flour, whole wheat flour and black sesame powder together. You can add charcoal powder for a more intense black color, but it is completely optional and my grandma never added it.
- Pour the yeast liquid into the flour mixture. Roughly mix with a fork until there is no loose flour.
- On a clean countertop, knead the dough for 15-20 minutes until it is smooth and soft without cracks. Add more water if needed. You can also use a mixer but hands always do a better job, as my grandma would say.
- Cover the dough with a wet cloth and leave in a warm place to let it rise until it has doubled in size. In winter, it may take up to 1.5 hours.
- Once the dough is risen, knead the dough to get the air out for about 5 minutes. Shape the dough however you like and leave it in the steamer with the cover for 30 minutes to let it rise again before steaming. One medium-sized bun is around 2 ounces.
- Now you can work on your mushroom stew.
TO DO (Mushroom Stew)
- Rinse and soak all dried mushrooms in warm water for 10 minutes.
- In the Perfect Pot, heat olive oil with minced ginger, white onions, thyme, and tomato paste until fragrant, for about 5 minutes.
- Roughly chop and slice fresh mushrooms and add to the Perfect Pot. Saute and season with soy sauce, sesame oil, and five spice, until the mushrooms soften and appear cooked.
- Pour stock into the Perfect Pot until it just covers all the mushrooms in the pot.
- Add in soaked mushrooms and herbs. My grandma always put dang gui and huang qi in a tea bag, so that they can be discarded easily before serving. For other herbs, you can add directly to the pot.
- Bring the stew to a boil and add the steamer with the buns on top. The steaming and stewing are happening at the same time.
- After 10 minutes, check the bun and make sure it is soft and fluffy. Remove the steamer and turn down the heat to low and cook the stew with lid off until the liquid has reduced. Season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.