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updated: 6/14/2011 1:57 PM

A second spoonful of ginger

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  • It's yin. It's yang. And it's delicious: Korean Barbecued Beef from Nina Simond's "A Spoonful of Ginger."

    It's yin. It's yang. And it's delicious: Korean Barbecued Beef from Nina Simond's "A Spoonful of Ginger."
    Courtesy of Knopf

By Marialisa Calta
Newspaper Enterprise Association

In 1999, a writer whom Newsweek has called "one of America's top 25 Asia hands" published a somewhat revolutionary cookbook, "A Spoonful of Ginger" (Knopf). In it, Nina Simonds introduced Westerners to the Chinese idea that food has health-giving properties, and that disease occurs when there is an imbalance in the "yin" and "yang" (negative and positive) energies in the body.

Twelve years later, the book has been republished, this time in paperback. It re-emerges at a time when many people are more attuned to the idea of eating seasonally, are more concerned about the healthfulness of their diets, and may be more receptive to Simonds' message. But the best thing about the new paperback edition of "Spoonful" is that it gives a new batch of cooks access to her many tasty -- and generally simple -- recipes.

This is a book, in other words, that works on several levels. Simonds is careful to exhort readers to seek qualified medical advice for health concerns, but she is also undoubtedly offering a self-help manual. If you are willing to try celery juice for your hypertension or clam broth with garlic chives for a hangover, the information is here.

But if you are simply a home cook looking for tasty recipes, this book is also a treasure. In other words, you might be tempted to cook up a dish of curried pumpkin because Chinese doctors believe that pumpkin helps the pancreas by regulating blood sugar. Or you might be tempted to cook it up because it is an intriguing dish, redolent of spices and coconut. Whatever your motivation, you'll have something delicious to eat.

One of my favorite meals from Simonds' book is Korean barbecued beef, with rice and wilted greens. I never paid much attention to the yin and yang of it all, but I revisited the recipe in the new edition and learned that while beef is considered one of the most "yang" (warming) foods, the effect in this recipe is "somewhat neutralized" by the "cool" lettuce leaves, which makes the dish "an excellent one to serve at any time of year." To our health!

• Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). More at