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.

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