Nourishing Winter Recipes with Hong Zao

 Visit any Chinese market or herb store and you will notice that jujubes, also known as Chinese dates, are abundant. Known for tonifying the qi and nourishing the blood, the jujube also moderates the harsh qualities of other herbs.

How to Buy & Prepare the Hong Zao

There are two kinds of dried red dates on the market. One is pitted already, the other one is still with a stone. It is better to buy the ones that are pitted, otherwise, you have to take out the stone from each one. In the third edition of Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, the authors suggest looking for dates with "full, thick, light red fruit of uniform size with a sweet taste and small seeds." Soak the dried red dates in warm water for 30 minutes before you wash & cook them. Dried dates are also delicious & healthy when eaten uncooked. Like other dried fruits, you can just wash them & enjoy. In that case, pre-soaking is not necessary.

Beef Soup with Hong Zao (excellent for winter or people with anemia) (serves 2 - 3 persons)

Beef shank (cubed) 1 lb (replace with pork or chicken; if preferred)

Dried red dates ( sliced, halved or whole) soaked 1/2 cup

Ginger (optional) 3-4 thinly sliced pieces

Cold water 6 cups

Put all the ingredients into a medium size pot. Cook on high until boiling. Then turn the temperature to medium-low. Cook for one and a half hours until only 2 or 3 cups of soup left.

Steamed Chicken with Hong Zao

(serves 2-3 people)

Chicken breast or lean pork tenderloin (sliced) 1/2 lb

Chinese dried mushroom (presoaked & sliced) 1/3 cup

Dried red dates (sliced or halved) soaked 1/4 cup

Ginger 3 sliced pieces

Chinese oyster sauce 1 tsp

Cooking wine 1/2 tsp

Sugar 1/4 cup

Cornstarch 1/2 tsp

Marinate the meat with oyster sauce, wine, sugar & cornstarch for 5 minutes. Then mix the mushroom, ginger & the red dates in with the meat. Put everything into a shallow dish & steam for 15 minutes or until cooked.

Hong Zao Tea

Put ½ cup of pitted & roughly chopped dried red dates into 2 cups of water.

Cook with medium heat until 1 cup of tea left.

Serve hot or cold.


Hong Zao Dessert with Lotus Seed


(Serves 3-4 people)

Dried red dates (pitted & halved) 1/2 cup

Lotus seed (presoaked for half hour) 1/4 cup

White mushroom (yin er) (optional) 2 pieces

Water 6 cups

Sugar 1/3 cup or to taste

Soak the white mushroom for half and hour until soft. It will expand a few times its size. Trim & clean the bottom of the mushrooms. Separate them into a few small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a medium-sized pot & bring to a boil on high heat. Then turn to medium heat & cook for 1 hour until the lotus seed is soft. Add the sugar into the soup. Serve cold or hot. It is especially delicious when serve chilled after refrigerated. This dessert is good without the white mushroom as well.