The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living

New Book Review

The Elements of Life: A Contemporary Guide to Thai Recipes and Traditions for Healthier Living, by Su-Mei Yu. In Thailand, food is about nourishment, enjoyment, and the interplay of flavors, but it's also about healing and wellness. The Thai philosophy is based on the notion that each of us is born under a "home element"—Earth, Water, Wind, or Fire—which is also present in our physical bodies. By eating to satisfy your home element, in combination with the time of day and the weather, you create your own optimal health, beauty, and spiritual well-being. Su-Mei Yu, born in Thailand to Chinese parents, grew up amid these ancient beliefs, though her own family's approach was slightly different. She moved to America as a teenager and eventually opened San Diego's first Thai restaurant. On one of her annual trips back to Thailand, Yu encountered a folk doctor who determined her home element as Water. With uncanny accuracy, he announced that she thrived in warm, dry climates, and that she preferred sour, bland, and bitter flavors. Intrigued, Yu researched the philosophy behind the home elements, and in The Elements of Life, she brings it to Western home cooks for the first time.

In the first chapter, Yu helps you determine your own home element, using a special wheel affixed to the inside back cover of the book. Then she guides you to a basic understanding of how to plan meals around your home element in conjunction with the weather and the time of day. From there, she moves into the recipes—glorious, richly flavorful recipes that fuse Western influences and Thai traditions.

The Basics chapter offers foundations you'll use across all the elements, including recipes for breakfast (Applesauce Pancakes), lunch (Tom Ka, a coconut cream soup), and dinner (Panang Curry). Here you'll find drinks, salad dressings, stir-fries, soups, curries, and much more.

Next, Yu devotes a chapter to each element. She identifies the personal characteristics related to that home element and the tastes, flavors, and aromas best suited to it, with a chart of natural ingredients that possess those qualities. Then come the recipes, meant to balance the element, time of day, and type of weather. Cold Soba Noodles, Grilled Shrimp and Mango Salad, Persian-Thai Fried Rice, and Stir-Fried Chicken or Pork with Watermelon Rind—each offers benefits for one or more elements. Every chapter ends with recipes for natural beauty treatments, massage oils, and healing balms.

With a wealth of simple, inspiring recipes and straightforward, easy-to-follow advice, The Elements of Life will help you follow a traditional, natural, and remarkably effective path to health, beauty, longevity, and inner peace.

Su-Mei Yu was born in Thailand to Chinese parents and lived there until she was fifteen, when she was sent to boarding school in the United States. After stints as a social worker and an assistant professor, in 1985 she opened Saffron, the first Thai restaurant in San Diego, which has received national acclaim. Yu writes frequently for food magazines including Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, and Gastronomica. Also the author of Asian Grilling and the IACP Award–winning cookbook Cracking the Coconut, she lives in La Jolla, California. Click here for more information or to order.

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