After my first son was born two months’ prematurely, one of the nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit told me I should go out and enjoy a big slab of steak — and wash it down with a tall glass of stout. Black beer, it turns out, used to be a standard dietary recommendation for lactating mothers. In some places it was even served ‘for medicinal purposes’ in maternity wards.
But not anymore. These days alcohol consumption is not recommended in large quantities either during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. For example, the Australian Breastfeeding Association does not recommend more than three drinks a day for lactating mothers; the alcohol can be passed onto the baby via breast milk, and alcohol also decreases the flow of milk and therefore supply. And after listening to a recent podcast interview with Professor Elizabeth Elliot on ABC FM radio about Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, I was shocked to learn about the toxic effects of alcohol on the brain of a developing child.
Yet alcohol, specifically rice wine, is an integral part of the Chinese postpartum retreat (zuo yuezi) diet as it helps to warm the body after childbirth. Think of the rocket fuel effect of vodka or other hard liquors on a crisp, cold night. And malt based foods and drinks (including beer) have traditionally been part of a lactating woman’s diet in many cultures. The benefits of malt based beverages are supported by research that indicates wholegrains do in fact have lactogenic effects.
You can, however, get the benefits of certain drinks such as beer and rice wine without the risk of passing on alcohol to your child. The trick is to drink alcohol based soups, stews or tea that have been boiled to ensure that any alcohol has evaporated. Or even rice wine distilled into water. You may need to boil the dish for a while just in case (one reader commented that she felt tipsy after eating some sesame chicken laced with rice wine.) Alternatively, do what I did and use a non-alcoholic malt soft drink.
In this recipe, I have combined some ingredients commonly used in the zuo yuezi diet along with a malt-based soft drink called Maltz (purchased from Costco). This dish is slightly salty so is better suited to the latter stages of the month-long postpartum confinement, or for continuing in the weeks and months thereafter. (Salt is a no-no during zuo yuezi, in part to help expel excess fluid gained during pregnancy.) This dish is rich, as many zuo yuezi foods are, and nourishing therefore perfect if you are feeling weak or need to boost milk supply. (But enjoy in moderation if dieting.) It is easy to prepare, and with the use of a slow cooker can be a good set and forget option for those early weeks and months when being a domestic goddess can be a challenge.
6 chicken drumsticks
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 cup (250ml) nonalcoholic beer/malt based soft drink
(alternatively 240ml stout and a tablespoon of rock sugar)
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/3 cup Chinese red dates
1/4 cup Chinese wolfberries (goji berries)
3cm piece of ginger, sliced
6 cloves of garlic, whole and peeled
- Pour sesame oil into the base of a slow cooker and place chicken drumsticks on top. Turn the slow cooker on high and allow the pot to heat until the sesame oil is fragrant. It is not necessary to cook the chicken drumsticks until browned, but allow them to cook in the sesame oil for around 15 to 20 minutes.
- Add the remaining ingredients. Change the slow-cooker setting to either low or auto-set, and continue cooking for around six hours. The dish is ready when the chicken starts to fall away easily from the bone.
- Spoon over rice, and serve with green vegetables. (Note: you can eat the liquid as well although it is a bit too rich to enjoy liberally.)