Tempura

Tempura anyone?

Crunchy, warm, moist, salty – tempura has all of these features. No wonder we love tempura in America. It just occurred to me that it might be a great way to get finicky kids to try vegetables – tempura vegetables are extremely tasty, especially broccoli.

So what is tempura? In short, battered and deep fried food. Typically made with wheat flour, it can be made gluten free, such as we did in our lab class. You also need a substance to give the flour lightness. This is usually accomplished with beer, bubbly water, or baking powder. These substances create gas in the dough which creates air pockets that give the resulting batter a light feel.

To make tempura batter, just combine equal parts flour and beer/sparkling water. Also add a couple of tablespoons of a thickening powder such as arrowroot or kuzu (cornstarch could be used, but it’s often genetically modified).

Below: Non alcoholic beer was used, so we couldn’t be tempted. :)

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You can tempura almost anything, but vegetables are terrific. You want your pieces to be cut thinly without being flimsy. You don’t want the vegetable to be overwhelmed by Continue reading

Kinpira

Kinpira is pretty much a saute in macrobiotics. It involves thinly cutting a variety of vegetables and cooking them in hot oil. The standard kinpira combination is using burdock, also known as gobo, and carrot. The resulting dish is a bit oily, crunchy, and sweet (especially if you use parsnips). So what’s not to love about that? Just don’t overdo it – kinpira has a lot of energy (the non-macrobiotic term would be lots of calories).

Below: Who remembers Fraggle Rock the TV show on HBO? I sure do! Gobo, in addition to being a root vegetable, was also the name of this character on the show, which was produced by Jim Henson. Ahhh, the 1980s.

Energetics

Since kinpira is similar to a braise technique (saute + simmer), it’s energy is grounding and steady. Kinpira is said to impart strength to the eater. Further, kinpira is made with root vegetables, which are also settling and grounding. This would be a good thing for someone with Continue reading

Pressed Salad

Pressed salad is a dish common to macrobiotics. It is cooling, gentle, and light – a nice contradiction to a diet of dried out or heavy things (bread, crackers, meat, etc.). It is a delicious all-purpose salad that I absolutely love. It’s fun to eat with chopsticks and very, very easy to make. I learned to make pressed salad at The Natural Epicurean and I think it will become a favorite of yours, too.

There are endless combinations, but I start mine with radish, carrot, and cucumber – or whatever is on hand. I use my Benriner mandoline slicer to get thin consistent cuts. For one serving you only need about two radishes, half a carrot, and part of a cucumber. You don’t need a mandoline slicer but be sure to cut the vegetables thinly – this is a soft salad and you want to draw out some of the moisture from each thin slice.

Below: Veggies ready for salad!

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Below: Nice thin cuts! Thanks Benriner!

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Next, you massage about 1/4 teaspoon of unrefined Continue reading

Warren Kramer – Part Two

I promised another post regarding the visit by internationally-recognized macrobiotic counselor Warren Kramer, so here it is. Overall, I’m just really glad to have gotten the chance to see someone who is such an authority in the healing art of macrobiotics. The appreciation for alternative approaches to health is one of the things that sets The Natural Epicurean apart from what other culinary schools offer, so I’m glad to be a part of the program.

There were a number of highlights from Warren Kramer’s visit that I figured I’d jot down in hopes that it would help me remember them!

  • A healthy person tries to keep empty, not full. Eating just enough to be strong is the goal, not feeling full all the time.
  • People tend to crave more of the foods that exacerbate their current condition. Continue reading

Plants in the Kitchen

One of the recommendations made by Warren Kramer (the noted macrobiotic counselor from New England) on his recent visit to Austin (and my culinary school) was to surround yourself with green plants. Well, I’ve never been a very successful grower, but I like the idea. By chance, I got two free plants from a graduate of The Natural Epicurean who is moving out of state to take a personal chef job for a CEO. I’m very grateful for this because they really liven up my view while I’m cooking.

According to Warren, they reduce air, noise, and electromagnetic pollution and he recommends them mostly for the kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms. They also have a positive effect on your mood, which I have already noticed. :) They have taken up residence on the window sill above my kitchen sink, between my pressure cooker books and my mortar and pestle.

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Warren Kramer, Macrobiotic Counselor (Part One)

The Natural Epicurean brought Warren Kramer in for several days to teach some macrobiotics classes to the professional program students and in a couple of public classes. Warren is an internationally recognized macrobiotic counselor based in the Boston, MA, area who also studied with Michio Kushi, one of the chief pioneers of macrobiotics in the world. (For more on macrobiotics, read below and check out my posts here and here.)

Group Consultation

I participated in a group consultation with a few other students one evening. Warren reviewed our brief health histories, evaluated our morphology very quickly, and made some high level recommendations. Each of us had 20 minutes, so it couldn’t be very in-depth, but it was a wonderful way to see how a top macrobiotic counselor works with clients. It was a really useful experience.

Below: Warren discusses umeboshi plums, which are a condiment used in Japanese cooking and macrobiotics. They are very salty, but good!

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Macrobiotic Cooking

This past week we continued our exploration of macrobiotic cooking. We made pressed salad, a nishime* (nuh SHE may) of cooked vegetables, grains, and several other items.

Nishime is Japanese cooking style that involves an easy simmer in a heavy pot with the lid on. The vegetables soften and their sweetness develops. We add some shoyu (like soy sauce) and it is fantastic. Warm, sweet, slightly salt-ish – it feels nourishing without being too heavy.

Below: Sliced cucumber for pressed salad.

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Continue reading

Macrobiotics Theory

Macrobiotics has a history that dates back a couple of hundred years, but it basically seems to boil down to eating a balanced diet and being mindful of several attributes in your life/diet: your lifestyle, the weather/climate, “yin” and “yang” balance of your food, acidizing and alkalizing qualities of your food, and more. Mastering the premises of macrobiotics seems to be a venture which could take years. After a few books and a week of classes, I’m a bit closer to competence in the theory but still a good way off.

Macrobiotic cooking has been seen by some as a path to healing their bodies and lives, and some have hailed it as cancer preventing and curing. With its emphasis on whole grains and vegetables, macrobiotics is intuitively a health-promoting diet. One thing I like about macrobiotics is that there is a sense in the theory of more than food – there is an appreciation for making one’s body, mind, and overall life better. There is also the idea that you can heal yourself – you can let your body heal itself by bringing it into attunement with your food, your environment, and the universe.

Below: Some popular books on macrobiotics.

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Addressing Skepticism and Assimilation

A lot of macrobiotic theory sounds questionable to Westerners (I would know, since I am one :) ). Yin, yang, the five elements, energy in food — it’s unnatural to talk about such things for us. I believe there is a very strong bias in effect, however. What I mean is that every culture has unique worldviews that color the way they view their lives. In some cultures, even inanimate objects have gender. In other cultures, they also have a spirit. We cannot know if their beliefs are true, but I think sometimes cultures use these spiritual or nebulous concepts to capture an idea that is actually more true and/or accessible than the way Western science explains them.

An example of this is the idea in macrobiotics that different cooking styles imparts different energy to the food. You may not believe this or understand what it means, but you can certainly understand that food that’s steamed with no lid (upward energy) is noticeably different from food that is roasted (inward energy, I believe). And in ways that can be very distinct or subtle, your body handles those foods differently.

Since macrobiotics was popularized by people who subscribed to Chinese medical philosophy and thousands of years of Eastern culture, their worldview is going to differ greatly from ours and I think it’s not useful to merely discard it. In the West we have a tendency to label things as either “true” or “untrue” and “good” or “bad” but I think reality is more complex. I prefer to us my own filter to interpret and accept what makes sense to me.

We have a tendency to assimilate new information. This means we hear it and we try to make it fit or not fit into what we already know – we try to make it similar to our current information. The limitation of this is that if something new comes along and it is so radical that it doesn’t fit into our worldview, then we simply cannot see it as being true and we discard it. An alternative is to expand our worldview and grow, but this is more difficult and requires patience. I am in this phase of my understanding of macrobiotics.

More Theory

At the core of macrobiotics is the idea that food has energy and we must keep this energy in balance within ourselves and being mindful of the energy around us. Energy can be

  • Upward
  • Outward
  • Inward
  • Downward
  • Horizontal

Many things affect the energy of food and give indications of what type of energy is in that food. A vegetable (e.g., green onions) that sprout up toward the sky would be an example of upward energy. A carrot that grows below ground would have downward energy. How you cook imparts energy to the food, as well. Steaming imparts upward energy, while pressure cooking imparts inward energy.

One aspect of macrobiotics which was new to me is the idea of the Five Transformations. It’s also still an idea that I’m working on adding to my worldview. The basic idea is that there are five elements in nature that provide a framework for looking and our diets (and probably everything, but I haven’t gotten to that). Each element is associated with a season, a type of energy, kinds of food, etc. For example, the tree/wood element is associated with springtime, green foods, new growth, and upward energy. Keeping these elements in balance is key.

Another key element of macrobiotic theory is yin-yang balance. This is another way of thinking about the energy of food. Yin foods tend to bring expansive and light energy to your body and yang foods tend to bring contractive, heavier energy. Tropical fruit is a typical yin food. Meat is a typical yang food. Imagine how a person who eats tropical fruit all the time would be compared to a person who eats meat all the time. Neither is really healthy, and each would likely be very different in their temperament. This is an example of how the energy of food affects our own energy.

Summary

Using macrobiotics to improve people’s health means knowing about yin-yang, the five elements, acid-alkaline balancing, and more. It means knowing how to bring people’s diets and lives into balance. I have a long way to go, but I think macrobiotics will be a good tool for me to use in my cooking and consultation work.

Below: A whiteboard showing the five elements and their associated attributes.

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Below: What does it all mean? Time will tell…

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Macrobiotic Knife Skills

This past week we started our study of macrobiotics. The Natural Epicurean started over 10 years ago as a primarily macrobiotic cooking school and although it has changed ownership since then, it retains the much of the spirit that it had back then, including the focus on healing diets. We have about three weeks of macrobiotics study – both theory and cooking styles.

What is macrobiotics? Well, you can read one of my prior blog posts on the topic, and/or you can wait a day or two where I will recap some of our macrobiotics lecture content from this week. How about doing both! :)

We started our study of macrobiotic cooking with knife skills practice, which also gave us more exposure to some of the cooking methods used in macrobiotic cooking, or “macro” as we use for shorthand.

Below: Set up for an afternoon of vegetable prep.

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Below: Some finely sliced cucumber I did. Note the scalloped knife below, which is not my usual knife. For some reason, this style of knife is the preferred one in macrobiotic cooking. I need to find out why…

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Below: A large pot being used for a nishime cooking preparation. We have spring onion, squash, burdock root, carrot, and one or two other things I can’t recall. In nishime, the vegetables cook slowly for about an hour with the pot about half full. The vegetables’ sweetness becomes intensified and they become more digestible. A bit of wheat-free tamari is added (similar to soy sauce) for flavor.

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Below: Some sliced burdock root.

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Below: My fellow students and I made a pressed salad during class. This involves making thin cuts of vegetables – in this case, cucumber, fennel, apple, and I want to say…radish? Anyway, you rub a bit of salt into the vegetables, which helps to draw out the water and enhancing flavor. You then put a plate or bowl on top of the vegetables to help press out the moisture. The result is a tender, yet crunchy, salad that is delicious and simple.

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Below: Our plate of macrobiotically prepared vegetables.

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