Monthly Archives: December 2009

Cucumber Haiku and 50-Pound Maitake

Tuesday, 15 November 2009

The ninth meeting of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club.
Barry, Laura, Emily, Thomas, Tessie, Ryan and Hilary showed up.

The Menu:

Oat-Wheat (sourdough) Bread
Red Rice
Leaf Salad with Mustard Dressing
Slippery Mushrooms
Quick Pickled Cucumbers

We drank French-pressed fresh ground coffee while cooking, and followed the meal with dessert improvisation; honey bread.

Forbidden Shmuits

Macrobiotic teachers (such as Aveline Kushi, from whose book we cook) frequently discourage students from using natural ingredients such as coffee, yams and honey; but students take their advice with salt.

Yesterday’s curious clicking around the Internet lead me to an open-minded and informed explanation by Steve Gagne on the Macrobiotic Guide website. Gagne answers questions about macrobiotic eating and explains foods often avoided. He presents macrobiotics as a traditional rather than restrictive diet, and invites us to imagine a macrobiotic way of eating developed by Mexicans.

Questions often come up in cooking club about nightshades, and which foods are or are not ‘allowed.’ Definitely, it is good to know about ingredient’s qualities and effects. However, I’d rather choose foods based on their positive qualities than avoid them based on the negative. When food shopping, I try to look first to whole ingredients and local produce. In winter, that’s tough. Certain occasions call for corn chips. Well, are they organic, at least? And, what am I going to combine them with? Remember the big picture.

Overall, it is more important to understand what you are eating, and why you are eating it, than to blindly limit yourself to someone else’s idea of healthy. Who am I to forbid good old potatoes? Learning to balance your diet according to macrobiotic principles of yin/yang (beyond me, at this point) or through intuition, practice, restraint and common sense will clearly help you more than saying ‘no’ to nightshades.

More Whole Grains in Bread

Bread is a lovely canvass of doughy homemade convenience snacking. It can almost effortlessly be made sweet, savory, hearty or light as cotton to suit the baker’s whim.

To incorporate more whole grains into your loaves, all you need to do is soak or cook them first. Add leftover grains; brown rice lightens whole wheat dough. Or, soak cracked grains over night at room temperature and mix them into dough next day (I reserve the grain-soak water to use in the bread dough, too).

For the Oat-Wheat Bread, I soaked steel-cut oats overnight. In the morning, I mixed a basic whole wheat, rye sourdough, adding the softened oats.

Sekihan or Red Rice

“Popular for festive occasions, particularly weddings and birthdays. This dish consists of barely cooked azuki beans steamed with glutinous rice, then sprinkled lightly with toasted black sesame seeds. It keeps very well…is usually served at room temperature…[and] is often packed into small, individual lunch boxes.” -Shizuo Tsuji Japanese Cooking; A Simple Art

“Traditionally in the Far East, red is the color of happiness, and [azuki] beans have always been considered lucky. We would prepare Red Rice for birthdays, graduations, and other joyful occasions…and it is especially delicious made with sweet rice… Medicinally, azuki beans are strengthening for the kidneys.” -Aveline Kushi Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking; for Health, Harmony, and Peace

To make Red Rice, Kushi recommends a pressure cooker. Tsuji says to soak the rice in the red, bean-cook water for 24 hours, or overnight. Either option would surely produce some stunning Sekihan but I had only a regular pot and one day.

I cooked the beans (2 cups) for a few hours with some leftover kombu seaweed, and rinsed the rice (a combination of 1 cup sweet, or glutinous, rice and 2 cups short grain brown rice). When the beans were nearly done, I strained the red cooking liquid and measured it, adding plain water to make 5 1/2 cups or so. I then combined this liquid with the beans and rice in a large pot, brought the mixture to boiling with a few big pinches of salt, lowered the heat and simmered as for plain rice. One hour.
We ate it warm with toasted black sesame seeds and packed the rest for lunch on Wednesday.

The Best Dressing Ever For Leafs

Laura brought fresh baby lettuce and ingredients for our favorite mustard dressing.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Stone Ground Mustard
Lemon
Salt
Pepper

Use about 4 parts oil, 1 part each mustard and lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Sometimes we add fresh tarragon or another herb. Thomas sliced some scallions which we sprinkled on the mustard-tossed lettuces.

Slippery Grifola Frondosa

Grifola Frondosa is the technical name for maitake mushrooms. According to Wikipedia, they grow at the base of oak trees, and can exceed 50 pounds in Japan. According to Emily, they cooked up slippery because they didn’t absorb oil like other mushrooms do.

Once Emily came to visit me in New York and we cooked maitake, or Hen of the Woods, mushrooms with noodles, tahini, and red chard, which turned the whole dish pink.

Her Slippery Mushrooms turned out more beautiful; shining tan, sweet and savory with sliced baby onions in oil.

Quick Pickling Cucumbers

I have been waiting a week to tell you about quick-pickling cucumbers:

Salt sliced cucumbers
Let sit half an hour, or so
Rinse the extra salt

The cucumbers come out sweet and crispy; you’d never think it was as simple as it is.

Noodle Bowl Winter Night

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Laura, Emily, Hilary (V), Tyler (D) and Hilary (M-B, myself) made five at the eighth meeting of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club.

One Degree, Fahrenheit

Laura four-wheel-drove us through the frozen outdoors to get sake and ingredients. Steaming noodle bowls and sweet roasted squash added another sixty or so degrees to the one outside.

The Menu:

Baked Puffed Mochi
Soba Noodles in Japanese-Style Broth (Fish-less Dashi)
Roasted Buttercup Squash
Brown Rice

We drank Corn Silk tea and Odell’s Isolation Ale while chopping the Buttercup and bringing seaweed to boiling. After adding a splash of sake to the noodle broth, we let the bottle bubble in the noodle-water pot to heat.

Pounded or Purchased Sweet Rice Snacks

Mochi is a Japanese snack food made from sweet rice. Grainaissance, the same company that makes sometimes-available commercial amasake, also makes widely available commercial mochi.

Commercial mochi is a ‘slice and bake’ pounded sweet rice snack that is packaged as flat rectangular cakes. The cakes are hard until you cut them into small squares with a sturdy knife and bake them in a hot (450 degree) oven.

Mochi puff in the oven, becoming light and chewy.

Dashi, Traditional As You Like

Japanese Dashi is made by bringing water to boiling with a piece of kelp submerged, then adding shaved dried bonito fish, briefly, before straining it all. The resulting stock is light and used in everything from vinegar dressings for salads to clear, hot still-life soups. The Japanese often use granulated instant dashi now, but traditional homemade dashi will lend authentic Japanese flavor even to American-made noodle bowls.

We combined two styles of Japanese dashi for a vegetarian noodle broth. First, we made Kombu Dashi by placing a few squares of kombu in cold water and bringing it to boiling. Then, we removed the kelp and transformed the liquid into Shiitake Dashi with dried shiitake mushrooms.

Noodle Broth
Adapted from Shizuo Tsuji’s recipe in Japanese Cooking; A Simple Art

8 cups cold water
4-5 pieces kombu (kelp), about 4″ x 4″ each
7-8 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 Tablespoons tamari soy sauce
2 Tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 Tablespoons sake
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 Tablespoons kudzu root starch, ground and dissolved in cold water

These measurements are approximate. The soy sauce, rice syrup, sake and salt must be adjusted to taste. You will know when the seasonings are balanced by tasting a distinct Japanese flavor. The kudzu is optional. It thickens the broth.

Place the kelp and cold water in a pot over medium heat and bring just to boiling. Remove the kelp and add the shiitake mushrooms. We let the mushrooms simmer for 10-15 minutes to infuse their flavor into the broth.

Strain the mushrooms out, reserving them and returning the pot to heat. Add the tamari, rice syrup, sake and salt, adjusting to taste once they are all in.

When the broth is seasoned, add the dissolved kudzu and stir, simmering, until the broth thickens.

Steaming Noodle Bowls

You must have heard somewhere about the Japanese custom of slurping noodles hot. They slurp to eat noodles steaming hot without burning their mouths. In order to serve hot noodles, keep the broth simmering while you boil the noodles; and have all of the other components ready.

We topped the soba noodles with shiitake mushrooms cooked in oil, then added the hot dashi and a garnish of sliced green onions.

Cutting the Round Vegetables

You must be cunning for the task of cutting round vegetables, such as onions, winter squash and cabbage. If their size and solidity aren’t deterrents enough, you will cuss the challenge of making uniform pieces from the shape of a globe.

For winter squash, thick wedges are satisfying. However, because of their layers, onions and cabbages are easier to cut uniformly if you slice them thin as you can.

How Does the Cooking Club Work?

We have established some routine at Cooking Club meetings, but how are new members supposed to know what to do?

Ingredients:

We try to decide on a menu for next week at each meeting. That way, everyone has a say in what we make, and each person can bring an ingredient that is easy for them to get.

When we can’t decide on a complete menu, we’ll claim responsibility for certain types of dishes. As in, “I’ll bring the greens,” or “I have rice we can use for the grain.”

If all of the dishes are simple (a vegetable with just one or two seasonings, for example) no one has to spend tons of money or time for ingredients. If everyone contributes, we still wind up with a rad feast.

New members may worry that they’ll bring something that clashes with the rest of the menu. That is difficult, with macrobiotics! Everything goes so well together. Carrots are always a good idea, or, if you are really unsure just come empty-handed to your first meeting and bring something next time.

Method:

Once we are all assembled with ingredients in hand and a menu in mind, we cook.

Obviously there is limited space in my kitchen. There are only four burners, only so many pots, and the cutting board clutters up quickly.

Using a variety of cooking methods is efficient. While one vegetable roasts, the grain can steam. Meanwhile, one person can wash greens at the sink while another chops vegetables or slices tofu at the cutting board. Someone may even mix cookie dough to put in the oven as the vegetables come out.

Don’t feel intimidated by the number of people in the kitchen. When so many people cook and clean, no one has to work very hard and everyone gets to eat a good meal.

Macrobiotic Cooking in Real Life

The main idea behind the Macrobiotic Cooking Club is for all of the members to see how simple it is to have a macrobiotic meal.

After preparing, cooking and eating macrobiotic meals with the Cooking Club, it will be easy for members to cook macrobiotic meals for themselves.

Seventh Meeting of the Macrobiotics Cooking Club

Tuesday 1 December 2009

The seventh meeting of the Macrobiotics Cooking Club, and seven of us cooked and ate. Kim and Barry, Emily, Laura, Tyler, Ryan and Hilary (myself). As always, bring back friends next week!

Everything Went So Well Together

It is easy to compose a balanced menu from whole, seasonal, “honest” ingredients. At each meeting we have used a variety of whole grains, garden vegetables, natural oils and sweeteners, seeds, fruits and beans. We vaguely ration recipe responsibility to avoid four pots of rice; and new members tend to like bringing sweet vegetables, like winter squash or carrots.

The menu this week was yet another Winning Combination, with just enough for us all to eat our fill.

Sprouted Wheat Flatbread with Miso-Tahini and Pickled Daikon Greens
Broiled Tofu
Wheatberry “Mash-Up”
with Mushrooms, Shallots and Delicata Squash
Baby Bok Choy with Soy Sauce and Toasted Sesame
Drenched Daikon

We accompanied all that with Peppermint Herb Tea and Barefoot Merlot.

If you don't grind Meat, you can grind Grains to look like Tuna!

Sticky Sprout Dough

A few weeks ago, we made a cracked wheat and sesame dough; spread it thin and baked it into crispy crackers. This week, I tried a similar technique to make chewy sprouted grain flatbread.

The ground sprouts naturally form a sticky dough. To make the flatbread, spread the dough out on a baking sheet and dry it in a low oven (200 degrees F). For a sour taste, ferment the dough with a sourdough starter (a few Tablespoons) for a day or two before spreading and drying it. Salt the dough to taste. Sprinkle sesame or another type of seeds over the dough before drying if you like. Half-way through drying, score the sheet of flatbread into small rectangles and flip it over to dry the bottom.
Mine turned out really sour; we doused it in sweet Miso-Tahini sauce and topped it with pickled Daikon greens.

For Delightful Tofu, Press It

Pressing tofu improves the texture, making it more firm; as some might say, ‘toothsome.’ It also removes moisture from the tofu, enabling it to absorb other flavorful seasoning liquids.

To press tofu, spread out a clean kitchen towel or paper towels on a baking sheet or plate. Lay out the tofu in even slices and cover with another clean towel. Place another sheet pan or plate on top and put some heavy jars or books on top of that. Remember you don’t want to crush the tofu, just press the liquid gently out of it. Leave it for 30 minutes or so.

To broil tofu
, heat the oven broiler up. Lay the tofu slices out on a baking tray and sprinkle some soy sauce over them to season. Place under the hot broiler until they begin to brown around the corners. Remove from the broiler and flip the slices over, then return them to broil the other side. Serve them hot or in a sandwich!

Lettuce-less Salad

Lettuce grows much slower in the winter so we made this salad with whole wheat, squash and two kinds of mushrooms. Vary the grain and vegetables with the seasons.
For this December version, Laura used:

Winter Wheat Berries
Delicata Squash
Shiitake and Button Mushrooms
Shallot

She cooked the wheat ahead of time, then cooked the diced squash and mushrooms with the shallot in some oil before mixing it all together. There were a few sprigs of parsley left in the garden for garnish, and we seasoned our individual portions with Sherry Vinegar to taste.

Fork and Knife Food

Sometimes vegetarians like something to cut into, too. Small vegetables make good Fork and Knife food.

Mother (Kim) cut each Baby Bok Choy in half and cooked them first in olive oil, then in soy sauce to season and soften them for cutting on the plate.

Vegetables cooked like this are pretty enough without a garnish, but then, toasted sesame seeds are good on everything.

Daikon Radishes, doing their job a month ago.

And Winter is A Good Time for Drenching Radishes

The little Daikon radish patch provided one last garden harvest for this year. I remembered a spectacular recipe from Shizuo Tsuji’s book, Japanese Cooking; A Simple Art. It is simple but each step is important.

1. Bevel the radishes. Cut thick slices and shave the rims to create a rounded shape from each slice. They will look something like little turnips with the tops and roots sliced off; flat on the top and bottom with smoothly rounded sides.
2. Simmer the radishes. Place them in a cooking pot with cold water to cover. Cut a piece of kitchen paper to fit right inside the pot and place it over the surface of the water to keep the radishes from floating to the top and drying out. Heat to boiling then lower the heat and simmer until the radishes are soft and translucent; 20 minutes or so, depending on size.
3. Drench the radishes. Drain the radishes of the simmering water and return them to the pot. Save the paper. Cover the radishes again with liquid, but this time use Dashi (Japanese broth) or something else with good light flavor. We used liquid reserved from cooking the wheat berries; seasoned with soy sauce and grated ginger. Cover the radishes again with the kitchen paper and return to simmering for another 20-30 minutes in order to drench them with the flavor of the broth.