The Blog of Minnesota Community Acupuncture

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Mapo Tofu…A Delicious Szechuan Dish Year Round!

Mapo Tofu is a mapogreat classic Chinese dish for any time of year.  Despite being rich and spicy, it can be made in such a way to be an appropriately healthy summer dish.  In Chinese medicine everything is balanced by Yin and Yang.  Yin, or cooling foods, tend to be preferable in the summer yet many people in Southern China continue to eat spicy (or Yang) foods during the hot season.  Why is this?  Yin and Yang have a constantly evolving and changing relationship, and one of their properties states that they can (in extreme circumstances) transform into each other.

Thus, while hot chilis begin with a Yang warming nature, as soon as they make you sweat their energetic nature has become Yin or cooling.  This is demonstrated in the physiological process of sweating, the entire function of which is to cool down the human body.

All energetic theory aside, this dish is absolutely delicious any time of year!


  • 500–600 grams (1.1 – 1.3 pounds) plain white tofu
  • Salt
  • 4 baby leeks or spring onions, green parts only
  • 4 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon of fermented black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2½ tablespoons Sichuan chilli bean paste
  • 2 teaspoon ground red chillies (optional)
  • 100ml stock or water
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 teaspoon of potato flour or corn flour mixed with 2 tablespoons of cold water
  • ¼–½ ground roasted Sichuan pepper


  1. Cut tofu into 2 cm cubes and place in a pan of very hot, salted water while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (do not let the water boil or the tofu will become tough and porous).
  2. Finely slice the green parts of the baby leeks or spring onions at a steep angle.
  3. Heat wok, add oil and reduce heat to medium. Add chilli paste and fry until oil is a rich red color and smells fragrant. Then add black beans and ground chillies (if using). Stir fry for a few seconds then add garlic and ginger. Take care not to overcook seasonings, reduce heat if necessary and let seasonings sizzle until the sauce is rich and fragrant.
  4. Remove the tofu from water with a perforated spoon, shake out excess water and add gently to the sauce, pushing the tofu gently through the sauce and taking care not to break up the tofu.
  5. Add stock or water, white pepper and salt and mix gently, bring to a gentle boil and let simmer for a few minutes until tofu has absorbed the flavours of the sauce.
  6. Add the leek slices now (if you are using them) and simmer until they are tender, then gradually add as much of the cornflour mixture as needed until the sauce thickens and clings nicely to the tofu. If you are using spring onion greens, add these now and stir them gently through the tofu and sauce.
  7. Pour tofu into a bowl, sprinkle with Sichuan pepper and serve with rice and greens.

Adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s Every Grain of Rice Simple: Chinese Homestyle Cooking

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Two Delicious Recipes for Spring


Finally, winter is over and the shelves of our favorite co-ops and grocery stores are again full of wonderful spring produce.  In Chinese medicine, spring is perhaps the most important season to make sure you’re eating fresh green vegetables as these foods, especially, promote the health of the liver.


With this in mind, I present two popular Chinese dishes appropriate for spring:

Sweet and Sour Smacked Cucumber


1 cucumber

½ tsp salt

1 tbsp finely chopped garlic

2 tsp sugar

2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar

1 tsp light soy sauce or tamari

2 tbsp chilli oil (optional)


Lay the cucumber on a chopping board and smack it hard a few times with the flat blade of a Chinese cleaver (or rolling pin).  The cucumber is smacked before cutting to loosen its flesh and help it absorb the flavors of the sauce.  Try not to smash it to smithereens!  Then cut it, lengthways, into four pieces.  Hold your knife at an angle to the chopping board and cut the cucumber on the diagonal into 1/8-3/8 in slices.  Place in a bowl with the salt, mix well and set aside for about 10 minutes.

Combine all the other ingredients in a small bowl.

Drain the cucumber, pour over the sauce, stir well and serve immediately!


Shanghai Noodles with Dried Shrimp and Spring Onion Oil


2 tbsp dried shrimp

2 tsp Shaoxing wine

7 oz Chinese wheat noodles

4 spring onions

5 tsp light soy or tamari soy sauce, to taste

Salt (optional)

6 tbsp cooking oil


Place the dried shrimp in a small bowl with the Shaoxing wine and just enough hot water from the kettle to cover them.  Set aside for 30 minutes.  Bring a large panful of water to a boil for cooking the noodles.  Smack the spring onions lightly with the side of a cleaver to open up the white parts slightly, then cut them evenly into 2 ½ – 3 in sections.  Pour the soy sauce into your serving bowl with a little salt, if you like.

Heat the oil in a wok over a high flame.  Add the spring onions and stir-fry until they are turning a little golden.  Drain the shrimp, add them to the wok and continue to stir-fry until the spring onions are well-browned and wonderfully fragrant, but not burned.  Then set aside this fragrant oil, with the spring onions and shrimp.

Boil the noodles to your liking, then drain them well and place them in the serving bowl.  Put the spring onions, shrimp and their fragrant oil on top.  Mix everything together very well with a pair of chopsticks before eating.

Why These Foods Are Particularly Healthy Right Now

– Chinkiang vinegar is sour in nature, slightly warm, and benefits the liver directly.

– Spring Onions are pungent, warm, and benefit not only the liver but also the kidney and stomach!

– Wheat, garlic and cucumber both benefit the spleen, which is great for digestion in general.  The spleen is also directly tied to the liver in Five Element Theory.  In the spring it is especially important to nourish the spleen to keep the liver balanced.

(Recipes taken from the fantastic book Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop)

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Honey as a Natural Medicine and Perfect Preservative


Honey has been used in Chinese medicine as an herb, a food, and a preservative for thousands of years. In Chinese medicine, honey is known as Feng Mi.  Energetically it has a sweet flavor and a neutral temperature; it benefits the Lung, Large Intestine, Spleen, and Stomach meridians.  As a medicine it is primarily used to strengthen the spleen and stomach, tonify Qi, and prevent dryness.  Taking into account its moistening function, poached pears in a honey sauce make a fine medicinal dessert in the fall to help counteract the seasonal dryness that prevails that time of year.

Realizing the perfect preservative nature of honey, ancient Chinese doctors realized it could be used as a delivery system for other more delicate medicinals.  One of the oldest forms of herbal preparation is that of the honey pill.  First honey is heated to be extremely liquid.  Once the honey is flowing like water you add the medicinal powder to it in the proper ratio.  The honey/herbal mix is then poured onto a non-stick surface (these days we use wax paper) in lines.  As the honey begins to cool and become more viscous, the doctor would roll it between his palms until it became the size of a pea.  This is one of the original forms of pill!

The Chinese weren’t the only culture to realize the benefits of honey.   Modern archeologists, excavating ancient Egyptian tombs, have often found something unexpected amongst the tombs’ artifacts: pots of honey, thousands of years old, and yet still preserved. Through millennia, the archeologists discover, the food remains unspoiled, an unmistakable testament to the eternal shelf-life of honey.

There are a few other natural foods that won’t spoil in their raw state; things like sugar, dried rice, and salt for instance.  However, honey is unique in that it remains preserved in a purely edible form.  You don’t have to prepare a thousand year old jar of honey to eat it; you could pour it straight onto your toast if you’d like.

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Minnesota Community Acupuncture is happy to partner with the Wedge Coop to bring you seasonal food therapy classes!

We Just completed our second food therapy class at the Wedge. Participants enjoyed learning about which foods benefit the body during the cold Minnesota Winter from a Chinese perspective, and got to try a number of delicious Chinese dishes! Our next class will be announced after the new year, so keep your eye out for our Spring newsletter.

Here’s one of the dishes we made for this season’s class.  Braised bone cuts of meat are fantastic for keeping you warm during the cold winter months, and benefit the Kidneys according to Chinese Medicine.

Braised Oxtails with Star Anise and Chinese Greens


  • 12 (2- to 2 1/2-inch-thick) oxtail pieces (about 4 1/2 pounds), fat trimmed
  • 2 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 8 whole star anise*
  • 6 (1/4-inch-thick) rounds fresh ginger
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese brown bean sauce (not ground)**
  • 12 to 18 yu choy, baby choy sum, or baby bok choy
  • Chopped green onions
    • *Brown star-shaped seedpods; available in the spice section of some supermarkets and at specialty foods stores and Asian markets.


  • **Available at Asian markets.


Arrange oxtails in single layer in heavy large pot. Add next 8 ingredients, then enough water to cover oxtails by 1/2 inch; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until very tender, adding more water by 1/2 cupfuls as needed to keep oxtails covered, about 3 hours. Cool slightly. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled at least 1 day and up to 3 days.

Spoon off and discard fat from sauce. Rewarm oxtails over low heat. Transfer oxtails to large plate. Boil sauce just until reduced enough to coat spoon thinly (do not reduce too much or sauce may become salty). Discard ginger slices and star anise.

Meanwhile, cook yu choy in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 4 minutes. Drain well.

Divide yu choy among shallow bowls. Top with oxtails and sauce and sprinkle with green onions.

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Cooperatives: The Importance of Community

In order to continue providing our patients with quality healthcare at an affordable price, Minnesota Community Acupuncture is currently exploring the process of becoming an acupuncture cooperative.

Minnesota has a long history of cooperative development, owed regionally to our Scandinavian roots.  Scandinavia and Germany both have long histories of forming cooperatives.  Some of the oldest cooperatives in Minnesota date back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, and took the form of farmers banding together to create agricultural coops.  To this day, we remain the country’s most cooperatively organized state with over 1,016 Minnesota based coops in existence.

Cooperatives remain important today as they offer real advantages to both consumers and workers.  A coop’s structure allows it to leverage its collective influence to maintain low prices for products and services, while keeping the quality of those products and services high.  In addition, a cooperative empowers its members and encourages community.  The coop model moves away from sole ownership and encourages people to work together to build the type of business or organization they’d like to work at and have in their neighborhood.

We believe this is an exciting prospect not only for our workers, but also for our patients and all the members of our community who’ve supported us these last seven years.  If you’d like to be on the mailing list to receive further updates about our conversion to a cooperative in the future, please e-mail rob@minnca.com

As the nature of a cooperative is community, we can’t do this without you!  Please show that you support the affordable services we offer the community, and take the first step with us by signing up for our cooperative mailing list today.

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Season Change Soup

The transition from summer to fall is a beautiful time in Minnesota.  From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, it is a time to embrace your Yang and be more active; but, it’s also important to stay cool and avoid dryness.  One of the best foods for helping with this is Watermelon.

Watermelon is sweet and cold in nature.  It’s traditionally used to clear heat, stop thirst, preserve fluids, and resolve a condition in Chinese Medicine which is similar to heat stroke, called summer-heat.  It’s also downward-moving in nature, and can disinhibit urination.  All of these properties make it a fantastic late-summer or early-fall food.  This dish is quite refreshing on 80 degree humid Minnesota days, which we’re still in store for before fall fully settles in.  I present to you for consumption, Watermelon Gazpacho!

Raw gazpacho watermelon tomato soupThe recipe calls for the following: Continue reading

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Acupuncture for Runners

r650c650_acupuncture-kneeRunners at all levels will benefit from adding acupuncture to their running program.  Acupuncture stimulates the immune function for maintaining general health, it is very effective in relaxing the muscles and tendons in the body reducing pain and stiffness, and aids in reducing inflammation in the nervous system and joints.  This is useful in keeping you running, but it is also necessary when you experience an injury.

Many runners look to acupuncture after they’ve sustained an injury, however, acupuncture should be part of your regular training routine to avoid injuries. Acupuncture has been shown to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Most of us are more familiar with the sympathetic nervous system often referred to as the “flight or fight” response stimulating the adrenals and other stress hormones. The parasympathetic nervous system is the “rest and digest” response of the body. This system is the “off” switch to the other’s “on” switch. Therefore acupuncture helps to reset the body to a more balanced state to maintain good health.

If an injury does occur it is best to receive acupuncture as quickly as possible so we can interrupt the body’s injury response and stop the over production of lactic acid, and inflammation and swelling, thereby getting you back running with fewer residual issues.

Continue reading

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Szechuan Sizzling Greens, a Delicious Spring Time Cooking Technique

choy-sum_2222029bMinnesota would like to fool us, but it is officially springtime!  After our epic Game-of-Thrones-worthy winter, I’d like to share with you a basic cooking technique I discovered reading Fuschia Dunlop’s book Every Grain of Rice:  Simple Chinese Home Cooking.  I love this particular technique, as it’s a fast and delicious way to prepare a myriad of delicious vegetable dishes.  The basic recipe You Lin Cai Xin calls for choy sum, Chinese Flowering Cabbage, as its main ingredient.  I was pleasantly surprised to find out that choy sum is being grown right here in Minnesota and sold in our co-ops when it’s available throughout the season.

The recipe calls for the following:

1 bunch of choy sum, washed and trimmed (the exact recipe says 300 grams)

2 spring onions, cut into fine slivers

10g piece of ginger, peeled and cut into fine slivers (cut these slivers very fine, unless you really like the strong taste of ginger)

A small strip of red chilli or red pepper for colour, cut into fine slivers (optional)

4 tbsp cooking oil

2 tbsp light soy sauce diluted with 2 tbsp hot water from the kettle Continue reading