Sometimes life is full of cosmic coincidences. I noticed on Saturday morning that there was a package of snow fungus (銀耳 yín’ěr) in the cupboard and thought I would experiment with cooking something over the weekend. Then on Saturday night I relaxed flipping though Happy Kitchen Magazine (reading is a rare luxury with two young children in the house), and chanced upon a recipe using snow fungus (and papaya and red date, both of which I had). So it was obviously a sign that I needed to cook this sweet soup.
Papaya, snow fungus and red date soup (木瓜銀耳紅棗湯, mùguā yín’ěr hóngzǎo tāng) is one of 32 warming (in a Traditional Chinese Medicine sense) ‘soups’ — both savoury and sweet — suitable for the colder months featured in the January/February magazine of Happy Kitchen Magazine. While the recipes in the edition were not specifically designed for Chinese postpartum confinement (zuo yuezi), given their warming properties many (like this recipe) are suitable for this purpose as well.
Sweet soups are often cooked for new mothers as a restorative food during zuo yuezi. My Chinese postpartum doula (yuepo), served up a bowl of sweet soup at around 3.00pm every afternoon. Even though I was doing confinement at the height of summer, the soups were still served warm: it is verboten to eat or drink anything cold during zuo yuezi. But if you are not doing zuo yuezi you can enjoy this dish chilled in summer. Being subtropical, locally grown papaya is readily available in Taiwan all year around, even in winter.
Chinese red dates, like all dates, are a galactogogue good for helping lactating mothers increase their milk supply. They are also naturally sweet, which helps reduce the sugar content (it is still a sweet dish, though).
Papaya also is a natural galactogogue. Green papaya is more potent (and therefore best avoided during pregnancy unless you are trying to induce early labour), but ripe papaya is also regularly served in hospitals and postpartum confinement centers in Taiwan.
And snow fungus (more correctly known as tremella fuciformis), is also suitable for use during zuo yuezi. While it is tasteless itself, it is often added to sweet soups and even ice-creams as it valued for its gelatinous and slightly crunchy texture. (Yes, really. As odd as it sounds, the gelatinous texture is delicious once you are used to it.) From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, snow fungus is believed to strengthen the kidney and lung energy, making it ideal for use as a nourishing soup to aid people who are physically weak. During zuo yuezi, it can also help women who are suffering from painful abdominal cramps caused by uterus contractions.
Snow fungus are also widely eaten for as an aid to beauty. The infamous Concubine Yang Guifei (719-756), revered for her beauty, was said to regularly eat snow fungus. It is believed to help improve the skin by reducing wrinkles and fine lines. And, it also has anti-ageing properties due to the presence of an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, which acts as a potent anti-oxidant. If that is not enough to convince you that this is a superfood, it is also believed to help boost the immune system, regulate cholesterol and fight tumours.
Papaya, snow fungus and Chinese red date soup — 木瓜銀耳紅棗湯
10g snow fungus (tremella fuciformis)
12 red dates (紅棗, hongzao)
1.2lt of water
80g rock sugar (approximately)
- Soak the snow fungus in water to soften it, then break into smaller pieces (around 2cm or so).
- Wash the red dates.
- Peel the papaya and cut into cubes.
- Add the snow fungus and red dates into a pan, cover with 1.2 litres of water and bring to the boil. Then simmer and cook for a further twenty cook minutes.
- Before serving, add the papaya and sugar (to taste).
Note: this dish can be served hot or cold. But if using for zuo yuezi, it is best served warm.