Many philosophies strive for balance. Taoism seeks it through a harmonious interaction of opposites, based on the concepts of yin, the feminine, passive force in nature ― cold, dark, and wet ― and yang, the masculine principle, hot, light, and dry.
When yin and yang are in perfect balance, in a meal as in other aspects of life, harmony prevails ― to say nothing of good health and happiness.
Yin foods, such as lettuce, crab, cucumber, tofu, and bean sprouts, possess cooling and soothing power. Yang foods ― chicken, lamb, chocolate, and butter, for instance ― contain warmth and energy.
Many foods, however, combine both principles. Furthermore, the nature of any food can be altered by the way it is cooked and seasoned: Steaming, poaching, and boiling are yin methods, while stir-frying, deep-frying, and roasting are yang techniques; ginger, garlic, and chili contribute hot, yang influences. The right combination of yin and yang is believed to restore natural balance to the body.
To celebrate the Year of the Horse in 2002, we offered a menu in which ingredients and cooking styles are balanced in yin-yang harmony. The recipes are adapted from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1999; $27.50; www.simonsays.com).
Author Grace Young learned about the yin-yang principles of food as she was growing up in a traditional Chinese family in San Francisco. The dishes are straightforward home cooking from her family's own repertoire and are easy to integrate into your own celebration.