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Spices of Life

by: Nina Simonds

New York NY: Alfred A. Knopf 2005, $35.00, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-375-41160-7

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Winter Volume: 2005 Issue: 12(4) page(s): 20 and 21

Not a Chinese cookbook, but a fine one. Several readers wrote to inquire had we seen it, and they were enthusiastic. They sparked our interest. Ms. Simonds has written four Chinese cookbooks, and three others that address multi-Asian cultures. She also wrote a book about Chinese holidays, for children.

With interest in Asian medicinal thoughts, Chinese included, this volume draws attention to items about traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese recipes included. It does likewise for Ayurvedic which is traditional Indian medicine, and for much general Western nutritional information, as well.

Emphasis is not only on spices, but also on foods with tonic properties and on the latest Western scientific research. Beside the recipes, of particular interest are short items, most at the end of the chapters, about people such as T. Colin Campbell. He is Professor Emeritus at Cornell University and noted for a study done in China with folks at Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Medicine, and the Chinese Cancer Institute in Beijing studying Chinese people in China. His monumental study confirms that rural Chinese eat twenty percent more calories than Americans and get nearly ninety percent of their protein from plant sources, among other things.

The book's Chinese recipes compete with attention from those of Dr. Jim Duke's Herbal 'Farmacy' of Spices and their healing properties. A particularly fine recipe worth your attention, which we have made with ground white pepper and corn oil is given below.
Star Anise Beef Stew
2 pounds beef for stew, cut into one-and-a-half-inch cubes
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a cleaver
6 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges
1 and 1/2 star anise, smashed lightly with side of a cleaver
1 cup rice wine
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 pound baby carrots
additional salt and pepper, to taste
1. Mix beef, flour, salt, and pepper in a paper bag and shake. Remove the meat and discard any excess flour.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. On the stove or in the oven, heat a large heavy casserole, add half the oil, and brown half the beef cubes. Remove them, use the rest of the oil, and brown the rest of the meat.
3. Remove all but a tablespoon of oil, and fry the garlic, onions, and star anise for about half a minute; then add rice wine, red wine, and chicken broth and stir.
4. Add the beef and carrots and bring to the boil.
5. Cover tightly, and cook this for ninety minutes. Add more salt and pepper, if needed. Then serve.

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