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A dash of yin, a drop of yang

 | June 9, 2012

While yin foods are cool and therefore clear away heat from our bodies, yang foods help eliminate colds and warm you up on a chilly, wet day.


Many of us are familiar with the concept of yin and yang. In its most literal meaning, the forces of yin and yang simply mean the dark side and the sunny side of a hill. We may look at it as day and night… male and female… work and play… hot and cold… or sweet and sour.

Rather than think of yin and yang as opposing forces, it is actually complementary forces that co-exist in harmony with each other. Simply take a mouthful of any authentic Chinese dish and you’ll see why.

Whether it is diced pork in a yam basket, sweet and sour prawns or a hearty dish of mushrooms and broccoli, Chinese cuisine is a delicate balance of colours, flavours and textures that tantalise the taste buds and create a satisfying experience that goes beyond just the act of eating.

Symbolised traditionally as two fish swimming head to tail, Chinese also believe certain foods have more yin characteristics while others lean towards more yang-like features.

Some examples of yin foods are bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, crab, cucumber, water and tofu. These are often thought of as ‘cooling foods’. ‘Heaty foods’ like beef, chicken, eggs, ginger, mushrooms and wine have more yang qualities.

While yin foods are cool and therefore clear away heat from our bodies, yang foods help eliminate colds and warm you up on a chilly, wet day.

The concept of yin and yang is further applied to cooking methods. Boiling, poaching and steaming are more yin in character while deep-frying, roasting and stir-frying are distinctly yang.

A western diet is largely yang in nature – food is grilled, pan-fried, barbequed or roasted with seldom a steamed or poached dish in sight. Chinese cuisine on the other hand, will usually consist of both yin and yang choices in one sitting. Of particular interest are its yin dishes that include steamed sole with black bean sauce, pork dumplings and steamed chicken rice to name a few.

The trick is obviously to consume a diet that contains a healthy balance of yin and yang foods and cooking methods. The idea is to create harmony at the table and in the body.

Below is a recipe by acclaimed chef Kylie Kwong that expertly combines the principles of yin and yang in all its glory!

Sweet and sour pork
Serves 4 with steamed rice

1½ tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
1 tbsp cold water
600g pork neck fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sea salt
[Blend cornflour with water until dissolved. Add pork, egg yolks, soy sauce, sesame oil and salt. Mix well. Cover and leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.]

¼ cup plain (all-purpose) flour
¼ cup cornflour (cornstarch)
vegetable oil for deep-frying

Sweet and Sour Sauce

¼ small ripe pineapple, peeled
& finely sliced
1 small carrot, peeled
& finely sliced
1 small cucumber, peeled
& cut on the diagonal
¾ cup malt vinegar
5 tbsp Shaohsing wine or dry sherry
½ cup white sugar
1 tsp sea salt, extra
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 tbsp ginger julienned
½ medium-sized yellow pepper, julienned
2 small tomatoes, finely sliced
2 tbsp light soy sauce



Place vinegar, wine or sherry, sugar and extra salt in a saucepan and stir over high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil, then add garlic and ginger, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Add the pineapple, carrot, cucumber, pepper and tomato and simmer for a further 3 minutes.  Stir in soy sauce, remove from stove and set aside.


Combine plain flour and extra cornflour. Add to the marinated pork and mix well.

Deep-fry pork in batches over high heat for 1 minute, then reduce heat to medium and fry for another 2 minutes, or until pork is almost cooked through.

Remove from wok and drain on kitchen paper.

Finally, return all pork to the hot wok and deep-fry for a further 3 minutes, or until lightly browned, crispy and cooked through.

Remove from wok and drain well on kitchen paper.

Arrange pork on a platter and serve immediately with a bowl of warm Sweet and Sour Sauce.







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