Mexican Chicken-Style Seitan (Sans Gravy)

Seitan is a hearty vegan protein. My dad pronounces it SATAN, which is entirely acceptable although alternative pronunciations are preferred by some. The homemade version is somewhat of a pain to master, but much better than the store-bought stuff. Vital wheat gluten flour is a convenience product that consists of only the gluten-forming proteins of the wheat berry. Get it in bulk at health-food stores. While seitan can be made from just whole wheat flour and water, that is a messy process. Try making seitan from vital wheat gluten first, then try the traditional method if you like.

The seasonings are open to modification. This combination is particularly savory, especially with the forthcoming GRAVY, which I will add in a future post. Adjust the amount of chipotle to your desired spiciness. Garden oregano, which doesn’t seem to have as many uses as some other garden herbs, lends subtle reinforcement to the ‘Mexican’ note provided by dried chipotle chilies. So do the carrots, believe it or not.

For some reason I really like eating this with a mixture of short grain brown rice and wild rice, pressure-cooked together in about a 3:1 ratio (cook them in a regular pot if you don’t have a pressure cooker). You might say wild rice brings out the true chicken flavor from the seitan, but, being vegan, you are obviously wrong because seitan doesn’t have any chicken in it at all.

This is a recipe ‘in progress’, but one that Mama makes repeatedly so it must be worth something. See what you think.

Mexican Chicken-Style Seitan
this serves six or more with rice and keeps well (in fact it is a good food to eat cold without bothering to close the refrigerator door, if you are in that kind of a mood); gravy forthcoming

2 ½ cups vital wheat gluten, aka wheat gluten
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup soy sauce
1 ½ cups water

3 quarts water, more as needed
1/2 cup additional soy sauce
4 carrots
4 scallions (green onions)
4 whole garlic cloves
5 small branches fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
2-4 dried chipotle chillies
salt to taste

Put the wheat gluten, nutritional yeast and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl and stir them together with your hands or a utensil.
Measure the olive oil, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1 1/2 cups water into a different bowl and mix them up, then dump the wet mixture in with the wheat gluten mixture.
Stir the gluten mixture and wet mixture together with sweeping motions so that as much water as possible touches as much dry stuff as possible right away. Don’t over-stir before you judge the mixture! Before it is totally mixed, see if there is a lot of dry gluten at the bottom of the bowl. If so, add a splash more water. If the mixture seems crumbly and soggy, on the other hand, add some more gluten (yes it is counter-intuitive, as you would think that a crumbly mixture needs extra water, but in fact it’s the other way around).
Knead the mixture briefly just to combine all of the ingredients and make sure there are no dry spots. Set it aside in the bowl while you get the broth ready.

For the broth, measure or eyeball about 3 quarts of water into a large pot. Add 1/2 cup soy sauce. Turn the heat on high to start the mixture simmering. Clean the carrots and cut them into large chunks before adding them to the pot. Slice the scallions and add them, along with the garlic (peeled and left whole, but slightly crushed with the blunt end of your knife), oregano and chipotles.

When the broth starts boiling, tear or cut the gluten mixture into pieces. Make the pieces big or small, but know that they expand and grow as they cook. Add them to the broth, and, once they are all in, reduce the heat to low or medium-low to keep it simmering gently. Allow it to simmer for an hour or so, adding water as needed to keep the gluten covered. There is no need for a lid, but stir occasionally because the gluten will tend to float and dry out on the surface. Careful not to boil it violently.

Home Cooking versus Restaurant Options in Colorado Springs

My recent food adventures have been limited to simple variations on the grains-beans-greens theme punctuated with occasional excursions into the Colorado Springs restaurant scene. While simple home-cooked meals are always satisfying, we don’t always have time for them. Too bad it is nearly impossible to get legitimate food in a restaurant!

The most satisfying meal is based on whole grains. Brown rice, quinoa, or even homemade bread are all good choices for the grain. Combined with soft, pressure-cooked, onion-and-cumin-spiked beans and simple steamed or seared greens or a sturdy orange vegetable (see my many posts on carrots and squash), grains make a fully satisfying meal.

Several restaurants in New York City (most notably Souen) serve spectacularly simple, cheap, satisfying meals of whole grains, beans and steamed vegetables. In Colorado Springs and Manitou, it is possible to get a good organic salad or a more-complicated–and not organic–approximation of grains-greens-beans, but anything more requires home cooking. Here are the places I go in a pinch:

Mountain Mama Natural Foods
This health food store is on Uintah street just West of downtown Colorado Springs. There is not an official place to sit and eat, but curbside picnics are fine in warm weather. The deli sandwiches are made on house-baked, whole grain bread (which is sweetened with honey, but otherwise vegan) and stacked with fresh, organic vegetables, including shredded carrots, sprouts, onions and avocado. The Italian-seasoned tofu sandwich, available wrapped in the produce cooler by the fruit, should be eaten with sesame blue chips and shared by two people. Whole wheat bread and blue corn provide satisfying, though ‘processed’, grain base, with fresh, organic raw vegetables a nice change from cooked greens and tofu a hearty replacement for whole beans. The sandwich is around $6, but you’ll probably spend a few more on chips, kombucha and maybe organic dark chocolate.

The Mate Factor
The Mate Factor, by Soda Springs Park in Manitou Springs, offers another variation on the raw-vegetable sandwich. Their tofu and vegetable wrap is made in a whole wheat tortilla, with lettuce, tomato, green olives, red onions and baked tofu. It comes with shredded cheese, which they are happy to omit for vegans. The vinaigrette dressing is vegan also. Who knows if this thing is organic?! It is, however, tasty and fresh. The Mate Factor also serves organic green Mate tea, hot and with re-fills. Though it doesn’t stick to your ribs like hot cooked grains-greens-beans, the tofu wrap is a good light lunch. Vegan carob-chip cookies make good dessert. The wrap is just over five dollars, with tea less than two and the cookie just under two also.

Adam’s Mountain Cafe
Adam’s, also in Manitou, is the only place I know of that serves organic, plain brown rice. Get it next to the garden salad with sesame-crusted tofu, and red lentil dal if you are extra hungry. The brown rice isn’t half as good as homemade, pressure-cooked brown rice. But, the salad is pretty amazing, with raw carrot spirals, red cabbage, cucumber slices and pea shoots and a creamy sesame-ginger dressing or a more oily lime-chipotle dressing. Adam’s is the only sit-down restaurant I believe really tries to use organic ingredients. They also offer cooked vegetable and grain dishes, such as Tibetan vegetables over brown rice with tamari, garlic and ginger. Meals get up to around fifteen dollars, or even more with added tofu, here, but the quality is dependable and worth the money.

King Chef Diner
Why am I even mentioning this place? They say the fake sausage is vegan, but I don’t believe it. Grains are limited to white-flour tortillas, or hash browns (those aren’t really a grain, they are made out of POTATOES). However, the green chile is spicy, vegan and very ‘green’. The walls will also blind you with their boldness, and the waitresses look like they just rolled out of bed after two hours of fitful, drunken half-slumber.

Rico’s/Poor Richards
This place is downtown Colorado Springs on Tejon Street. Here is the complicated and not-organic version of grains-greens-beans. Upon discovering their Seared Greens and White Beans, I became obsessed with them and ate them twice a week with corn chips on the side. They were less than five dollars, though now cost close to eight. After being hired in the kitchen and learning to make the greens and beans myself, I still consider it one of the more legitimate meals available in town, although the ingredients are not organic. The corn chips are not natural, which can be proved by simple inquiry of staff as to their ingredients. Brown rice is available, though microwaved. Elizabeth David wondered, in her English Bread and Yeast Cookery if it would be acceptable to bring one’s own bread to a restaurant. If it were, I would bring my own bread to eat with Rico’s beans and greens. Poor Richard’s offers part-whole-grain pizza crust (spelt), with hummus and a choice of vegetables (avocado pizza!).

Various Falafel Shops
The falafel shops I go to are Arabica Cafe and Taste of Jarusalem, both downtown Colorado Springs. They offer good hummus, raw vegetables, bean-flour falafel and white pita or rice. If only the grains were whole and the ingredients organic, these places would be ideal. Even so, they offer tahini sauce that provides a sesame fix, and satisfying beans in the hummus and falafel. Dolmas are wrapped in hearty green grape leaves. For less than ten dollars you can get a plateful. Arabica cafe specifies one meal as ‘vegan’ on the menu. The vegetable and falafel plates at Taste of Jarusalem are vegan as long as you don’t get the yogurt sauce (tzaziki).

El Tesoro
Located downtown Colorado Springs next to the library and Pike’s Peak Community College. Happy hour caters to students with cheap house margaritas. They offer cooked greens (spinach) in a burrito, but a better option is combining sides of the vegan pinto beans with blue-corn tortillas and fresh guacamole. Corn chips and salsa come with the table. The bean tacos, available without cheese, are filled with the same pinto beans, or black beans with lettuce and some zucchini on the side. But, they cost 8-10 dollars (lunch and dinner prices vary) plus more to add guacamole. The sides of beans and tortillas are just two dollars each, with guacamole ‘market price’ of around six dollars for a whopping bowl-ful.

La’au’s
Another taco shop, a few blocks north on Tejon Street near Colorado College. The tacos are good, with vegetables, beans, guacamole and corn or tomato salsa. The atmosphere sucks. Tacos are just a couple of dollars each. Get mini-bottles of Sol beer for the mood. Flour tortillas are made in-house, but of white flour. Corn tortillas and fried tortilla chips offer whole grain corn. The vegetables are a blend of onions, peppers, zucchinis; good but not organic.

Smiley’s
Morning oatmeal with thawed frozen blueberries. Up on Tejon Street. The oatmeal is sweetened with something like brown sugar. The best part is the pile of blueberries. Thick mugs of coffee. All the drowsy CC kids go there for breakfast at noon on the weekends. They also have homemade wheat bread, though it obviously contains a good portion of refined white flour too. For a pseudo-vegan treat, get it toasted with no butter and soak it with honey. Oatmeal, toast and coffee for two will run you about 20 dollars.

Wooglin’s Deli
Rarely go here. They do have Wimburger’s sourdough rye toast and beany, vegan red chile. Odwalla carrot juice in the drinks case stands in for a vegetable. Chile, toast and carrot juice should be less than ten dollars. There are booths to lurk in and vats of hot coffee, too. Located a few doors up from Couture’s laundrette up on Tejon Street. Carrot juice while you wash your clothes? Then you will have a fantastic tan to go with all your favorite shirts!

So it is apparent the options in town are very limited when it comes to getting a balanced meal. The best choice is to cook food yourself, with fresh organic produce, dried beans and whole grains. But an occasional trip out to one of these places will provide entertainment and a reminder of just how good home cooking is.

Soup Part Two: Onion

Tuesday 19 January 2010 at the Macrobiotic Cooking Club

Time can turn simple ingredients spectacular. Miso, sourdough bread and onion soup are all examples of this phenomenon. Last week at cooking club we made onion soup, “French” style, by caramelizing the onions long and slow.

Cutting the Onions

There are many fine ways to cut an onion. How you choose to cut your onions should depend on how you’ll cook them. If you want the onions to disappear into the dish, mincing or grating them works well. For crunchy quick-cooked onions, thick slices are ideal.
For onion soup, make thin uniform slices. They’ll caramelize evenly. The onions shouldn’t totally dissolve into the soup, but they shouldn’t hang six inches off the spoon either. For short curves of onion, use the technique I learned from the chef at Rico’s:

1. Cut both ends off the onions, and cut the onions in half vertically. Peel each half.

2. Now slice each half vertically, rather than horizontally, into thin pieces. All of the pieces should wind up the same size, as opposed to when you cut horizontally and the slices on the ends are smaller than the slices in the middle.

Use a sharp knife when you cut onions; the layers will separate maddeningly under a dull blade.

Caramelizing the Onions

Start with a generous pool of oil in a heavy, hot pan. Toss in the onions, stir them up and sprinkle on some salt before you close the lid. Use just a small amount of salt, remembering that the onions shrink a lot and so the salt will concentrate.

Keep the closed pot over high heat, opening it occasionally to stir the onions. They will start to get softer, smaller and more see-through. If you are stirring them often enough, they will gradually turn light gold brown, then darker and darker. At this point, leave the lid off the pot and turn down the heat to a more moderate level. When you stir, the moisture from the onions will at first be enough to clean any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. After a while, the onions will lose enough moisture that you will have to add water or stock as you stir.

This is where the French onion style comes in.
Each time the onions threaten to burn on the bottom of the pan, stir them and add a ladle-full or so of stock (or water) to clean the browning parts off the bottom of the pan. Incorporating this browned onion residue also incorporates the deep, rich and sweet flavor associated with onion soup.

Continue cooking, then stirring and moistening, then cooking, then stirring and moistening, until the onions are very dark brown. They will reduce in volume to perhaps 1/10th of their original volume. The whole caramelizing process may take two hours, for really dark brown rich soup. Be patient.

Once the onions are caramelized, all you have to do is add the rest of the water or stock and let it simmer for a little while to infuse the flavor. The result is dark as beef stock and nearly as ‘meaty’ but sweeter, too.

French Onion Soup
6-8 servings
This is based loosely on a recipe from Mother’s macrobiotic cookbook, “The Macrobiotic Way” by Michio Kushi

10 sweet yellow onions, medium sized
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil, or more to taste
sea salt
1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, more or less to taste
tamari soy sauce
1 bunch scallions (green onions), garnish

1. Peel the onions and slice them into thin, even pieces. Heat a large, heavy soup pot and add 3 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil. Add the onions with a pinch of salt and caramelize them according to the instructions detailed above.

2. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice them as you wish. Heat the remaining Tablespoon of oil in a separate soup pot and cook the mushrooms, stirring, until they are brown. Add 3 quarts of water, more or less, to the mushrooms. Simmer over low heat, tasting periodically and seasoning with tamari as you caramelize the onions. Use this liquid to deglaze the onion pan, as detailed above.

3. When the onions are fully brown, add all of the mushroom broth (including the pieces of mushrooms) to the onion pot and allow the mixture to simmer at least 1/2 hour. Add more tamari or sea salt as needed. It shouldn’t taste like soy sauce, but the tamari soy sauce lends a unique ‘brown’ flavor that sea salt lacks.

4. Garnish the soup with thin-sliced scallions atop each bowl. Float croutons in the soup if you like. Or, eat it as we did, with fresh crusty sourdough to dip in the broth.

At Meeting Thirteen of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club, we accompanied that onion soup with the following:

Buckwheat Sourdough

Butter and Red Leaf Salad, with
Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Radishes, Blanched Snow Peas and
Orange-Sherry Vinaigrette

Soup Part One: Miso

Tuesday, 12 January 2010 at the Macrobiotic Cooking Club

There are certainly more solid parts per million in my breakfast French press than in a bowl of miso broth. But, coffee isn’t broth, no matter how thick, and so miso remains the simplest, most energizing soup I know.

The traditional base for miso soup is dashi, which is made from bonito (flaked dried fish) and seaweed. Its flavor is delicate and delicious. Aveline Kushi writes that, ideally, soup does contain both sea vegetables and either miso or tamari, “which simulate the salty composition of the ocean from which primitive life evolved.” (Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking for Health, Harmony, and Peace).

Don’t let dashi-making deter you, though. Use good unpasteurized miso (typically sold in 4- to 16 oz. tubs or jars from refrigerated cases in health food stores) to turn even plain water into a satisfying soup.

Ryan taught me the best way. My cookbooks have recipes for batches of four or more helpings, but if you’re cooking for one or two it’s better to soup miso by the bowl. Made with rough and aged South River miso, this broth is the most satisfying light meal there is. Serve it with thick bread or brown rice.

Simplest Miso Broth
per bowl

1-3 teaspoons miso
boiling water, left to cool for a few moments
scallions, rinsed and sliced thin (green and white parts)

1. Put the miso in your soup bowl and mix in a little warm water to soften it. Gradually add more water until the miso is the texture of mustard. (This should take less than 1/4 cup water).
2. Add hot water, a few moments off the boil; use as much water as you want soup. Stir the diluted miso and the water together and top with sliced scallions.
Note: The amount of miso depends on your taste, the type of miso you are using, and the amount of water. Only experimentation will determine the amount you’ll like best.

Seasoning With Miso

Besides making a meal on its own, miso is good for seasoning any soupy dish or broth you have. We mixed miso into the seitan cooking water last week at cooking club. The seitan was cooked in broth seasoned with tamari and dulse, tasting like the sea, and just a couple of teaspoons of chickpea miso made it into soup.

Soften miso as for soup, and add it to cooked beans for a savory treat. Miso may also be diluted and poured over greens or other vegetables as they cook, although it is best not to boil miso if you can help it. When miso boils, the flavor doesn’t change but the living ferment is destroyed.

Consider the saltiness of miso when seasoning with it. Some dishes may require both sea salt and miso for the proper flavor, while others will taste just right with only miso. Try some of your miso plain or on a slice of toast to find out just how salty it is.

The reason for diluting miso with a little of the water before adding it to soupy dishes is, if you do not dilute the miso it stays lumpy. The Sous Chef at Pure Food & Wine used to add wads of hatcho (soybean) miso to family meal soups, for heartiness. He did not temper the miso, though, so the soup was mostly bland but with biggish lumps of concentrated salty flavor in a few of our bowls.

Besides Chickpea Miso in Seitan Broth, at the Twelfth Meeting of The Macrobiotic Cooking Club, we had:

Carrots Baked Fish Style
Rolled Sushi with Seitan, Cucumber and Sprouts
(Green Tea)

Arugula with Curly Endive, Celery Root and Walnuts

Tuesday, 5 January 2010 at Macrobiotic Cooking Club

Boxed greens are irritatingly convenient, but it is muddy bunched arugula and feathered heads of curly endive that are irresistible. For a small winter salad, the task of cleaning them is not so tedious after all. I learned from reading Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cookbook and The Savory Way. Madison admits of pre-washed greens’ contribution to a speedy salad, but encourages her readers more towards garden toil and countryside gathering. Far from being a nuisance, “Handling the tender, delicate leaves,” she says, “…is one of the keenest pleasures in the kitchen I know.” (The Savory Way)

To make eight small salads:

1 smallish celery root
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bunch arugula
1 head curly endive
3-4 Tablespoons raw walnuts (halves/pieces)

3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 Tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1/2-1 teaspoon toasted walnut oil
1/2 cup cold water

(Heat the oven at 350 degrees F to toast the walnuts.)

1. Peel the gnarly outer layer off the celery root. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin shavings of the inner root. Toss the shavings in salt and set them aside in a small bowl to ‘quick pickle’ while you prepare the rest of the salad.

2. Wash and dry the arugula, removing any tough stems and wilted or yellow leaves. Trim the base off the curly endive and wash and dry the frilly leaves. Set these aside while you prepare the walnuts and the dressing.

3. When the oven is heated, toast the walnuts just until crisp and very lightly brown. Check them every 5 minutes, as they are easy to burn. Once they are toasted, set them aside to cool while you prepare the dressing.

4. This light dressing is based on Aveline Kushi’s Tamari-Lemon Dressing. Combine the lemon juice, tamari, walnut oil and water. It is easy to shake them all in a jar together, then store any extra dressing in the same jar.

5. Add cold water to the bowl with the celery root and swish it around to wash off the extra salt. Taste it and rinse again if it is still too salty. Drain off the water.

To Serve:

1. Divide the curly endive between eight small plates.

2. Toss the arugula with dressing to taste. Divide it between the plates, mounding it atop the endive. Use half again as much arugula as endive.

3. Place several strips of quick-pickled celery root atop the arugula on each plate; to equal about 2/3 the volume of endive.

4. Roughly chop the toasted walnuts and sprinkle them onto the salads.

About Celery Root and Curly Endive

The French enjoy both of these vegetables. Flying to Paris from New York aboard an AirFrance airplane, I tasted celery root for the first time. Shredded and dressed, as it was, in vegan remoulade, it tasted like a delicate and string-less version of the ribby, stalk celery. It is actually not the same vegetable at all, but, according to Larousse Gastronomique, an entire other “…variety of celery grown for its fleshy whitish root, which can weigh…(1 3/4-2 1/4 lb).” In France, it is called celeriac, or celeri-rave.

Celery root is adaptable to cooking styles ranging from the near-raw remoulade and quick pickle, above, to steaming, braising or stuffing. Curly endive, however, with its “very thin and serrated” leaves, is “…eaten mainly in salad.” (Larousse Gastronomique). The Chef at a French restaurant I worked in pointed it out in the salad mix we used, saying he wished he could buy it alone. Similarly, many American restaurant guests pick it out of the salad mix and leave it on the corner of their plates. To each their own, as they say. Those who wish to buy curly endive alone should look at Whole Foods, where I chose mine from a row of the small, individual heads. It may also be called frisee or chicory.

Four of us cooked and ate at Meeting Eleven of the Macrobiotic Cooking Club. In addition to salad, we had the following:

Red Lentil Dahl
Arame and Onions
Brown Basmati with Spinach
(Red Wine and Green Tea)

Next week we’re making sushi.

Post-Hemming-And-Hawing: Burdock

I expired my hems and haws for burdock.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tenth meeting of Cooking Club. The original three members; Laura, Ryan and Hilary (myself). Here’s burdock on the menu:

Quick-Pickled Cucumbers
Kinpira Burdock
Wheatberries with Lemon and Scallions
Homemade Seitan
Roasted Beets with Onions
Miso-Tahini Sauce

It was a feast! We drank Vinho Verde (the Portuguese “Green Wine”) and, after dinner, green tea.

Fright Root

You never know how to cook a vegetable until you’ve done it, so here’s some inspiration to try burdock.

“This long, thin brown root vegetable has a firm texture and gives very strong energy. Although eaten year-round, burdock is especially warming in winter. In Japan, we grew burdock in our garden at home. It was cultivated in raised hill beds…in order to make harvesting easier. In many regions, burdock also grows wild and is more strengthening than the domesticated variety. …[I]n New England we’ve foraged for wild burdock many times…” –Aveline Kushi

“…In cooking, the fleshy roots are prepared like salsify or asparagus.” –Larousse Gastronomique

That “domesticated variety” is easy to find in Asian markets. Course and hairy, like a coconut pulled to the length of your arm; it’s intimidating, but inexpensive. The clerk broke mine in half to fit it on the scale, then I closed it in the vegetable drawer for three weeks while I got the nerve to cook it.

Now that I’ve cooked it, I know how.

To Prepare Burdock

1. Use a vegetable peeler or small paring knife to remove the dark brown skin. It’s cruddy and shreds as you go. The pale inner root will darken as quickly as it is exposed to air, but that’s OK. When you cook it, it turns mushroom-brown.

2. Cut the peeled burdock into julienne or matchstick pieces, or any other small and thinnish style. Slice surely. Burdock is questionably fibrous raw, but once cooked, the root reveals its smooth and toothsome nature. Immerse the slices in a bowl of fresh water. The water, also, will darken. I rinsed my burdock in several changes before cooking it.

Kinpira

This Japanese and Macrobiotic cooking style is especially good for burdock, or burdock-and-carrots, but also can be used to cook turnips, beets, parsnips or any other root vegetables you might have around.

1. Heat a wide, heavy pan over high heat and add a little oil. I used toasted sesame oil for the burdock kinpira. Add the sliced root vegetables and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes to color.

2. Add water to half cover the vegetables, and a splash of soy sauce. Reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, or until the roots are soft and have absorbed all of the water.

Traditional kinpira also includes sake, mirin or dashi as part of the cooking liquid. This water version is plenty delightful, but if you have those ingredients you can try adding some.

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.