Red dates, or hongzao, is the typical traditional Chinese dried fruit that I hated as a kid but have grown to love as an adult. My mom always wheedled me into drinking tea made from a combination of red dates, ginger, and egg (yes, tea with egg..) by extolling the benefits of strengthening the heart and lungs (qi, or internal energy) and increasing oxygen/blood flow to the brain (plus restoring blood for the menstruating half of the population). She also told me that eating chicken legs would help me jump higher, and that finishing all my veggies would help my hair grow longer/faster, but hey: it worked (to make me finish everything on my plate, that is).
Scientifically, however, red dates have indeed been shown to have many health benefits due to high levels of vitamin A, B1, B2, C, protein, calcium, phosphorous, iron and magnesium. Many Chinese women also drink red date tea after the special time of the month because it contains plenty of iron to help replenish and nourish the body. It's also known to produce youthful skin, lower cholesterol levels, boost immune system functions, and even suppress cancer-causing cells.
My mom recently sent me home with a full bag of red dates since I'd been complaining about, you know, that time of the month, so here's a tutorial to share her wisdom with other college kids who need some actual nutrition between all the fried or frozen foods consumed:
Step 1: Materials
This was enough to make about 1.5 liters of tea.
- 2-4 thick slices of ginger (more or less depending on your ginger tolerance)
- 1.5 arbitrary handful of red dates (pitted)
- 2 eggs
- pinches of salt
- pinches of sugar (my mom told me not to use honey, but had no explanation for why... just said that plain brown sugar was best for aiding blood flow)
- one pot (yes, this is a tea that's boiled in a pot like soup)
- bowls for rinsing
- ceramic/glass container(s) to contain tea immediately after finished (don't just let it sit in your metal pots! It's not as good, as the taste will degrade faster according to my mom)
Step 2: Preparing Red Dates
Red dates may be hard to come by in your standard supermarket: you'll probably have to go to an Asian grocery store (hit up the local Chinatown if possible). Amazon and other places also have some that you can buy online too.
If you don't have time to make some tea, you can actually just eat full red dates raw. Just rinse some in the sink before popping them in your mouth for a nutritious snack -- remember to spit out the pits, though.
If you bought full red dates with pits, you'll have to remove the pits. Rinse them in lukewarm water to loosen up the external layers before using scissors/blades/sharp objects to cut the pits out.
Once you have about 1.5 handfuls of pitted red dates, let them soak in some water for about 5-10 minutes.
Step 3: Preparing Eggs
Take your two eggs and put them in the pot with just enough water to cover them before turning on the stove to low heat (heating eggs gradually makes the eggshells easier to remove later on and cooks the eggs more evenly). Add a few pinches of salt so that the eggshells will be easier to remove. Remove the eggs once the water starts to boil, and wait for them to cool before removing the eggshells. At this point, these eggs shouldn't be fully cooked yet, since they'll still be boiled in the pot with the dates and ginger later.
Step 4: Boiling
Fill your pot with about 2 liters of water and turn the stove up to high heat. Toss in your slices of ginger and rinsed red dates. Add about a tablespoon of sugar for taste.
Wait until the water has boiled before adding your peeled eggs and turning down to medium heat. Let your tea boil for around 30 minutes, and it'll be ready to drink! Taste a sip after the half hour, and if your tea is still not sweet enough, either boil for about 7 minutes longer or add a bit more sugar.
Make sure you stir the pot every so often, as the eggs will want to stick to the pot's bottom/sides.
Step 5: Drinking
Everything -- eggs, red dates, and ginger -- should be eaten so as not to waste any of the nutrition. Don't worry; even the ginger slices will taste amazing (though most people will only be able to stomach ~one slice)! The red dates' outer skin is quite tough once boiled, but I still highly recommend eating the inner flesh from it.
Be sure to pour everything into a separate ceramic/glass container if you don't finish the entire pot right away: leaving it in the metal pot detracts from taste over time.
Making and drinking this tea all the time is not recommended, as it is full of what we Chinese call "warm energy" -- everything in moderation! But when you do drink it, I hope you'll feel as nourished and energized as I always feel. :)
Side note: alternatively, you can buy prepared red dates for tea online or in stores, if you don't need it fresh or with eggs and ginger all the time.