At it's core, the middle burner diet concept teaches that it is most important to protect the spleen and stomach by balancing not only hot and cold foods, but "yin and yang" as well. Diet can help manage yin and yang of Qi and blood as the middle burner or spleen and stomach is pivotal in the creation of yin during the digestive process. In terms of Chinese dietary therapy, this means that the foods are selected on the basis of whether they help or hinder the restoration of our overall pattern to a state of balance or health. Foods which promote a movement back to balance should be eaten and those which aggravate our imbalance should be avoided.
One of the most commonly encountered patterns of imbalance is "spleen vacuity with dampness". The spleen may become weak due to fatigue, excess worry or overeating of sweets, chilled or uncooked foods. According to Chinese medicine theory, when the spleen becomes weak, it’s functions of moving and transforming the products of digestion may become impaired. Typically this results in fluids accumulating in the spleen which is referred to as dampness, this in turn impairs your "digestive fire" and the vicious circle forms.
"Spleen weakness with dampness" is all too common when eating a Western diet due to our sweet tooth and over-consumption of fats, unhealthy oils and wheat as a staple grain which tends to be damp and cool.
How Garlic Can Help Your Qi
It is always interesting to me how foods can complement one another not just in taste but medicinally as well. For example I think we all can agree that garlic adds a wonderful flavor to beef but did you know that garlic can help balance beef medicinally as well. Garlic and leeks are pungent and dispersing, they help overcome stagnant Qi energy and thereby help balance the obstructive effect of excess meat.
Cue the Beef and Oysters to Fire Your Digestive Flame
If you have ever lived by the sea you likely are familiar with this classic beef and oyster combination, when the oysters are in season on the coast you would add more and more oysters to the dish. Now, even in the Midwest we have access to fresh oysters so it is a fun dish to make and the brininess of the oysters gives such a wonderful accent to the beef. I used Dabob Bay oysters from Washington but any good quality oyster will work well.
This recipe will encourage the middle burner with warming, sweet and spleen strengthening ingredients that help to increase Qi energy and nourish yin.
Chinese Medicine Theory Behind the Ingredients
Looking for more theory into the Chinese medicine aspects of the ingredients in this dish? Read on!
- Beef: Warming and sweet, beef strengthens the spleen-pancreas and stomach while increasing Qi energy and enriching yin.
- Oyster Mushroom: Slightly warming and sweet, oyster mushrooms supplement the spleen and help eliminate dampness
- Oysters – Neutral in temperature, oysters have a sweet-salty flavor and help nourish yin deficiencies.
- Garlic – Warming and acrid, garlic enters the spleen and stomach while helping to move stagnant Qi.
- Thyme – Warming and acrid, thyme helps with Qi circulation and indigestion.
- Tomato – Cooling with both a sweet and sour flavor, tomatoes clear heat, nourish yin and detoxify blood.
For more insight into the connection between food and Chinese medicine dietary theory, read this article.
Braised Beef Stew with Fresh Oysters and Oyster Mushrooms
Prep Time / Cook Time
30 minutes / 3 Hours
2 Pounds Chuck Steak or Round Steak
¼ Cup Olive Oil
2 Cups Red Wine
6 Cloves Garlic smashed
1 Medium Leek sliced
4-6 Small-Medium Potato wedge cut
6 Medium Carrots, large rough cut
4 Ounces Oyster Mushroom, pulled apart
4 Ounces King Trumpet Mushroom, sliced
12 Oysters, I used Dabob Bay, shucked with liquid
8-10 Sprigs Thyme
8 Cups Beef Stock or Demi Glace
30 Ounces Diced Tomato
Chuck steak and round steak are examples of reasonably priced cuts of beef that perform well when braised at a low temperature over time. Chuck has more fat, while round is more lean. Either will work well when cut into two inch pieces, seasoned and browned in a hot pan with a bit of oil.
Transfer nicely browned beef to a medium or larger size braising pan. Deglaze the original pan with the red wine and reduce by about ¾, pour this over the browned beef and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer on the stove top, cover and place in a 300 degree oven for about 2-2 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to sit for about 15 minutes. If you used stock and the sauce is a bit thin you can remove the ingredients and reduce the sauce to desired consistency, otherwise if you started with a thicker demi or combination of stock and demi the texture should be about right. Ladle into serving dishes and enjoy.
The recipes on The Way are intended as an East meets West look at food and its relationship to health and nutrition. Food is powerful, and every bite can either greatly benefit your system or effectively work against it. In Chinese Medicine, each grain, vegetable, meat, fruit, and spice has unique properties that can be harnessed to help us achieve and maintain balance in our bodies. Our recipes seek to incorporate some of the age-old principles of Chinese medicine into the culinary practices more familiar to the West.