For many women, abdominal pain is a monthly event, and one for which there seems to be no respite. It turns out that there are many clinical strategies, as well as home remedies, in Traditional Chinese Medicine that can help significantly reduce menstrual cramping.
This week’s recipe builds on some of those basic principals. One of the most common causes of menstrual cramping, according to Chinese medicine, is “cold” – both the physical cold of the environment and foods that have the property of being “cold.”
To combat this problem, we have created a savory porridge flavored with “pungent, warming” spices that are commonly used in the treatment of menstrual cramps.
We begin with a blend of quinoa and oats. Like all grains, they are “sweet” and supplement the Spleen and Stomach. When cooked with extra liquid and made into porridge, they make the ideal vehicle for delivering the warming spices that can help alleviate menstrual cramping.
There is actually a long history of using congees or porridges in Chinese medicine for medicinal purposes. The physical warmth of the porridge accents the properties of the spices themselves.
The next key element of these porridges is the spices. The first one is designed around ginger. Ginger is well known in Chinese medicine for bringing warmth to the center of the body and is consider “pungent,” which gives them the property of dispersing obstructions and stagnations that may contribute to pain.
This porridge is centered on Sichuan peppercorn and fennel. Sichuan peppercorn is an essential ingredient in Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) cuisine. It delivers the tingly, numb-your-lips sensation that accompanies the fiery heat of this style of Chinese cooking. But it is also used widely in many other styles of Chinese cooking, as well as Tibetan, Nepalese, and Indian cuisines. For those of you unfamiliar with Sichuan peppercorn, it is worth a special trip to your local Asian market to pick up some of this incredible spice. Technically, it is not related to black pepper or chili pepper. Rather it belongs to the Zanthoxylum genus, part of the citrus or rue family, which accounts for its unique lemony overtones. According to Chinese medicine, Sichuan peppercorn is “pungent and hot” and is frequently used to treat any type of abdominal pain caused by “cold.” In addition, its pungency allows it to “dry dampness,” which also makes it effective in treating loose stools. For women who often have diarrhea together with menstrual cramps, this is an excellent choice of spice. Fennel is also a “warm and pungent” medicinal. It is particularly useful in reducing pain in the lower abdomen. The addition of orange zest further helps to move qi and relieve pain.
To round out the porridge, we have incorporated a selection of vegetables and a protein source. Using pickled red onion, and salmon. The onions add more pungency and warmth to the porridge and help protect against possible colds. Salmon, like many types of fish, warms the stomach and can help eliminate additional dampness.
In clinical practice, it is common to begin treating a woman for menstrual cramps one week prior to the beginning of her period. You can use this porridge in a similar fashion, consuming regularly before or during menstruation to help reduce abdominal pain.
Sichuan Peppercorn Accented Salmon Porridge with a Salad of Fennel, Orange Zest and Pickled Red Onion.
Prep Time / Cook Time:
15 minutes / around 30 minutes
1 Cup Quinoa
1 Cup Oats
Veg Stock as needed
1/8-1/4 cup Almond Milk or to taste
1-2 Inches Ginger
Splash Soy Sauce
Splash Rice Wine Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Sichuan Peppercorns or to taste
4-6 Ounces Salmon
1 Small Red Onion
¾ Cup Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Sugar
½ Tablespoon Sea Salt
Salt and Pepper
Cook the quinoa in the vegetable stock, adjust seasoning and set aside.
Cook the oats in vegetable stock and a little almond milk with an inch or two of fresh chopped or grated ginger and set aside.
Mix the cooked quinoa with the cooked oats in any ratio you like, we would recommend a 50/50 ratio to start but feel free to adjust to personal taste and add more stock or almond milk or both as necessary to get the desired texture, thicker or thinner depending on your mood.
Add a splash of soy, mirin and rice wine vinegar.
Pickle the red onion by slicing the red onion. Mix the red wine vinegar, sugar and sea salt and bring to a boil, cool and pour over the sliced onion and let stand an hour or so until the onions begin to break down a bit and become pickled.
Season your salmon with the Sichuan peppercorns and sear to medium or medium rare as appropriate.
Shave the fennel thinly and zest the orange into strips.
Combine the pickled red onion, zest and fennel.
Build or assemble your porridge, congee or bowl as you like, typically beginning with the quinoa/oat mixture then adding the salmon and fennel salad.
A porridge such as this is just an example and you should feel free to experiment with any mix of proteins, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds or other. Things like kimchi and seaweed are great ingredients to use so be creative and have fun!