Celebrity Health – Ching He Huang

TV chef and bestselling cookery book author Ching He Huang talks to Liz Parry about her passion for Chinese cookery and her switch to a plant-based diet

TV chef and cookery book author Ching He Huang is on a mission to raise awareness about the health and nutrition benefits of Chinese cuisine. Born in Taiwan and raised in South Africa and the UK, Ching is passionate about using fresh, organic and ethically sourced ingredients to create modern dishes with Chinese heritage. She has presented a number of TV shows including Chinese Food Made Easy and Exploring China (BBC2) and Ching’s Amazing Asia on the Food Network. Ching is also a regular guest on BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, BBC2’s Food and Drink, ITV’s Munch Box and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch. To date, she has published seven best-selling cookbooks.

Q I understand that you have switched to a more plant-based diet recently. Can you tell us about this?

Ching: My husband went vegan about four and a half years ago now. I didn’t want to cook a separate meat dish for me and a veggie dish for him, so I started eating a 90 per cent veggie or vegan diet. It just became natural and I’ve found that my health has improved, my eyes are clearer, I have less brain fog and I sleep better. I just feel lighter in my system. My husband found that his asthma and eczema cleared up since going vegan.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic I’ve decided to challenge myself and see if I can go fully vegan. It’s been going well, although I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times! But you get back on it again the next day and you try your best. I’m 42 now and I’ve never felt better. I have good energy levels and I don’t feel as tired as I did in my thirties.

Q Would you say that Chinese food is a good option for people who want to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet?

Ching: Definitely. I think it ticks all the boxes as it’s fast, convenient and healthy. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or a meat-eater there’s something for everybody. I love cooking with fresh, seasonal and local produce. Cooking up a stir fry is very simple. It’s just sautéing fresh vegetables like peppers, onions, courgettes, cauliflower or whatever you’ve got, and adding a delicious sauce. It’s easy to make some fantastic sauces and flavour combinations using simple store cupboard ingredients.

For hot and sour you just need some fresh chillies and some vinegar or some lemon or lime. For sweet and sour you could use some fresh pineapple or mango, with some lemon and lime again or vinegar. You can add various spices, whether it’s Chinese five spice for different layers, or good quality soy sauce for some savoury notes. There are so many different melodies that you can create in a dish, and you can vary it every time just based on the fresh ingredients you use.

Q You have published numerous cookery books over the years. What is your next one about?

Ching: I have a new book coming out in January called Asian Green which is a vegan plant-based cookbook full of Asian recipes. It’s perfect for vegans, vegetarians or those who want to eat more plant-based foods.

I have over 100 recipes in there from different parts of Asia. Again, it’s all using humble store cupboard ingredients like tamari, sugar, maple syrup, agave and lots of fresh vegetables. You’d be surprised at how much variety there is. You can eat very well on an Asian green diet. No animals need to be sacrificed and it contains all the amino acids, carbohydrates and healthy fats that you need. The one thing I would recommend is to take a good vitamin B12 supplement.

Q What do you tend to eat during a typical day?

Ching: I always try to eat a whole different variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. For breakfast I will sometimes have porridge.

If I’m in a sweet mood I’ll top it with banana or blueberries and a mix of linseeds, flaxseeds, nuts and pumpkin seeds. And then I’ll add a drizzle of maple syrup, or sometimes some cacao, apples or raisins. If I’m in a savoury mood I’ll have some smoked tofu, or some pickles or some fermented bean curd. That’s very traditionally Asian. I think it’s delicious! I was brought up on that kind of food.

I grew up on a farm in Taiwan and my grandmother used to feed us those kinds of foods. We would have rice congee or corn meal instead of porridge. If I’m not having porridge I might have avocado on rye bread with some pickles and I’ll sprinkle it with sea salt and dried chillies. It’s a bit like a brunch. It’s so good for you. The rye bread sometimes has pumpkin seeds or linseeds in it so you’re really getting your fibre.

Dinner will always be a Chinese stir fry whether it’s with tofu and rice, or I might have noodles with sweet and sour seitan which is very good, very nutritious. Tofu, tempeh and seitan are the essential Chinese vegan ingredients and can easily be bought from the supermarket these days.

Q Do you have a favourite veggie or vegan recipe?

Ching: I love making veggie Peking pancakes. You just need some shop-bought wheat flour pancakes and then you roast up an array of exotic mushrooms with some sesame oil, salt, chilli flakes, five spice and a little bit of soy. You’ll be amazed! It’s delicious. The texture of the mushrooms mimics the texture of shredded duck. You then add some hoisin sauce, some cucumber and spring onions and you’ve got basically got a veggie Peking pancake.

Q You mentioned that you grew up on a farm with your grandmother. Is that where your love of cooking comes from?

Ching: In my family, both sets of grandparents, maternal and paternal, were farmers in Taiwan. I was looked after by my grandparents while my parents worked in the city in Taipei. It’s traditional in our culture to do this. My paternal grandparents had rice paddy fields and on my maternal grandparents’ side they still have a bamboo farm and orangery. We lived in a farming community with my great aunts and uncles and everyone had their own garden and veggie patch. My grandfather was the head of the family and my grandmother was the matriarch. So, at every lunch and dinner, everyone would gather around and share all the food. My grandmother was the ‘wok star’. She had two huge carbon steel woks and a wood-fired stove. So I grew up in her kitchen, seeing her cooking big dishes all the time. Her whole day was centred around cooking. It was lovely. I stayed with them until I was about five when we emigrated to South Africa. So I think those early years really sunk in. I never thought that I would grow up to be a cook, but my story has taken me on this journey and now I love it.

Q Do you think that cooking is good for the soul?

Ching: I think when you cook for yourself, you’re nourishing yourself. You’re showing yourself love. When you cook for other people you are sharing your love for them. My love of cooking and food has been like a spiritual journey and when I’m cooking I feel like it’s a meditative process. I love the quiet and the peace and being left to do it. It’s a joy and a pleasure to cook. I think often we take that simple act for granted.

Asian Green: Everyday plant-based recipes inspired by the East by Ching He Huang is published by Kyle Books on 21 January 2021. Follow Ching on social media: @chinghehuang or visit www.chinghehuang.com

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