Street Food – Vietnamese Noodles

Just a strollin’ through the downtown Austin farmer’s market, run by the Sustainable Food Center, I picked up some Vietnamese noodles by True Nature’s Child. They make gluten-free breads and have diversified into other prepared foods. I love Southeast Asian foods – Thai, Indian, Vietnamese. This plate featured rice noodles, tamari, peanut, cilantro, and lime – plus a few squirts of sriracha. Fresh and bright, this is what you want on a hot day (NPR recently ran a story on how hot food actually does cool you off).

Below: Spicy and fresh Vietnamese noodles. Goes well with giant foam tinker toys.



Field Trip: Savory Spice Shop

Austin has such a vibrant food scene and I got to see a new slice of it recently when I attended a Slow Food Austin “Slow Session” at the Savory Spice Shop. The shop is just a couple of blocks west of the Whole Foods Market in downtown Austin. It’s located in the quiet but well foodie-fied West Sixth area, which also features Cafe Josie, Z’Tejas, and Sweetish Hill Bakery, to name a few of the better-known eateries.


The shop has a lot of spices for sale – specialty salts, dried herbs, and ground spices. I was able to find some asafoetida and kaffir lime leaves. Yay!



Below: They have just about any extract you could want.


Below: Karen, the owner, did a cooking demonstration – two curries using the shop’s spice blends.


Below: The shop sells this freeze dried corn that tastes just like popcorn. Crunchy and light – mmm! You can taste a sample of this and anything else in the store.


Ayurvedic Cooking

Time to cook Ayurvedic stuff!

I loved macrobiotics – the theory made sense to me and the food was very grounding. But at times I found myself craving some pungent spices and heat. Garlic, cinnamon, chiles, and sweet fruits are not things you get in large quantities in macrobiotics.

Ayurveda, on the other hand, comes from India, where spicy foods rule (or so I’m told). Depending on your dosha, you may be encouraged to pump up the salty, sour, pungent and sweet.


One of my first tasks in our Ayurvedic cooking labs was to make a chutney from cilantro, chiles, salt and coconut. Yes! Yes! Yes!

Chutney is a salty, sweet, spicy condiment. Kind of like a jam or a sauce – it can be sweet or savory. More on chutneys in a later post…

Below: Blending up a chutney.

20120701-105046.jpg Continue reading

Good Seed Veggie Burgers

Being a 99% plant-based eater, when I crave a burger, my first thought is to find a good veggie burger. Some of the best burgers I’ve had were veggie burgers, in fact. I have generally found meat-based burgers to not only be nutritionally inferior, but bland as heck. And sadly, the top national brands of veggie burgers are generally highly processed and often contain gluten or isolated soy protein.

Enter Good Seed burgers. Good Seed is an Austin company with a superfoods focus. What are superfoods, you ask? Well, superfoods are natural foods with greater than normal nutritive properties. Examples are chia seeds, sea vegetables, beets, and hemp seeds. Superfoods are packed with protein, vitamins, minerals, and various phytochemicals. Note – there are no meats considered to be a superfood.

The creator of Good Seed burgers studied at The Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts years ago, so there’s a connection with my culinary school, which is cool.



Just kind my grandmother used to do, I like to use regular sandwich bread on my burgers (gluten free Udi’s or Rudi’s are my usual favorites). And just like my grandmother, I cut my burgers on the diagonal because presenting triangles is culinary alchemy – take an ordinary square and cut it into two triangles, and all of a sudden you’ve made something better than what you started with. Try it.

Below: Vegan mayo, thick juicy tomato, crisp toasted gluten free bread, avocado, and a Good Seed burger. Ahhh. And triangles, don’t forget the triangles.



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. 🙂


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 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.


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

Ayurvedic Food Philosphy – Introduction

We started our study of Ayurveda with a visit from Felicia Tomasko, an expert from Los Angeles on Ayurveda, an Ayurvedic counselor, and a yoga teacher. Felicia is also editor of LA Yoga, which you would certainly have heard of if you do yoga in Los Angeles. Similar to Warren Kramer, it was really nice to have a person teaching us who has a national reputation in their field.

Below: Felicia Tomasko (far right) discusses Ayurveda with Natural Epicurean students.


Ayurveda – A First Impression

Similar to macrobiotics, Ayurveda is a study of the energy of everything and naturally food is a key part of how that energy is transferred to our bodies. So according to Ayurveda, food is very much tied to health – imagine that! One of the things we students have observed and enjoyed about Ayurveda is that spices are a key element in the energy of a particular food. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric – we’ve been playing with these any many, many more. In fact, Ayurvedic food is very much about the study of the taste of food.

Below: Spices for in-class tasting. 


Ayurveda – The Basics

Ayurveda is “the science of life” (ayur + veda = life + study) and dates back around 2,000 to 5,000 years. Ayurveda identifies three doshas, or types of energy which are constantly varying in intensity within the universe and within us. Each of us is born with a given balance of these doshas:

  • Vata – governs movement, lightness. Is ephemeral and active, and prone to dryness and coolness.
  • Pitta – governs transformation, digestion, discernment. Is fiery and driven in energy.  Tends to be hotter and brighter.
  • Kapha – governs growth and lubricating elements of the body (e.g., joints). Is more settled and steady in energy. Is colder, heavier, and wetter than the other doshas.

Doshas are prone to fall out of balance, in fact that is where the word “dosha” comes from – that which can fall out of balance. Since vata energy is more active and ephemeral, it is the most likely to get out of balance. What can throw your doshas out of balance?

  • Food (e.g., too much spicy food can aggravate pitta’s already fiery nature)
  • Weather (e.g., too much cold weather can aggravate kapha’s coolness)
  • Physical activity (e.g. too much movement/travel can aggravate vata’s tendency to be overactive)

So where it gets interesting is that physical problems are tied to doshas. For example:

  • Feeling tired and sluggish? Kapha dosha is likely overactive. Pungent, bitter foods may help lighten you up.
  • Feeling acid reflux or burning in your digestion? Pitta dosha is too increased. Cooling sweet or astringent foods may be helpful.
  • Dealing with dry, flaky skin? The dryness of vata may be aggravated. Moist oils or sweets could help.

Food and Doshic Balance

How can you know which foods will keep your doshas in balance? Ayurveda starts with the flavors of food, of which there are six:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Sour
  • Bitter
  • Pungent
  • Astringent

Each of these tastes affects doshas in different ways because each taste carries energy of it’s own. An example is that pungent food is fiery and hot (e.g., jalapeno peppers). When you combine pungent food with a person with a strong pitta dosha, which is already fiery and hot itself, the person’s doshic balance is harmed – the person will tend to have overactive pitta-ness. To calm that over pitta quality, you could eat tastes which are more cooling – astringent and bitter (e.g., eggplant, leafy greens, turmeric, cucumber).

Learning how to identify tastes was one of the more enjoyable parts of my time at The Natural Epicurean – we spent a lot of time in the past few weeks focusing in on flavors. I think that it’s going to make me a better cook primarily, and secondarily will help me a better healing cook.

Note – foods can have multiple flavors at once. For example, oranges are both sweet and sour. Bananas are sweet and astringent. Tomatoes are sour and sweet. Onions are pungent, and their sweetness intensifies when they’re cooked.



Ayurveda is a really old way of planning for health. Although it is not intuitive for Westerners, the more we work with it the more we’ll understand it. Then, we can incorporate Ayurvedic philosophy into our daily lives more easily. And one does not need to live and eat Ayurvedically all the time, agonizing over the doshic balance of every meal – you can use it as part of your overall health plan.

I’d like to write more about Ayurvedic philosphy and food, but I’ll save it for another time!

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!

20120525-151448.jpg Continue reading

Taste of Health Chef Showdown in Austin

I had the opportunity to assist Chef Marko Ellinger with a public event in Austin recently. He was doing a cooking demonstration for the Natural Epicurean and I helped him do advance prep the night before, as well as with the event itself. Some people dropped by and inquired about the culinary program. A lot of other people watched and enjoyed the demonstration.

Chef Marko is a creative guy and he has a good presentation for cooking demonstrations. One of his angles is that he sings these funny, slightly corny, songs that gets everyone smiling and thinking about food in a fun way. He has backing musical tracks that he creates himself with piano and everything. It definitely gets attention. His food is really good, too, and he is creative on the fly.

Below: Chef Marko demonstrates one of his outstanding recipes.


Continue reading

Veg III, Blogging 101, and Week 5 is Complete

Blogging for Cooks

Chef Alex (aka, The Food Diva) gave a presentation this week on blogging. And it wasn’t just about blogging, but how blogging can affect your career and also about just being open to career paths in general. She also talked about food styling and photography. As a person who dabbles in blogging (ha!) I appreciated it a lot. But mostly I liked hearing how we need to follow our passion and be true to ourselves. Chef Alex is pretty inspirational because she has really done a lot in the food world and she is quite savvy about pursuing her goals.

I think my favorite moment was when she said “do your thing, your ship will sail, keep that passion going.” A great reminder! The whole talk made me realize how much I love to communicate with others and share knowledge. Writing, teaching, doing cooking demos, counseling – all of those things align with that. I guess it partly goes back to when I was a kid – I always loved being on stage. Food media is something I need to keep on my radar!

Below: Chef Alex Lopez explaining how we are going to achieve culinary domination on a global scale.


What is food styling? Food styling is where you make the food look really good on the plate and set up a scene that makes your food jump off the screen and into the imagination of the viewer. You’re trying to help paint a picture and a context for the person looking at your photo that will draw them in and inspire them.

Below: Food styling before a photo shoot. Check out The Food Diva’s blog post to see how the photo of the beet salad came out.

Vegetables III Lab

We spiralized and shredded in Veg III this week. I blanched some snap beans, which sounds simple, but there is so much that can happen to a green bean in just a few seconds in simmering water. We’re slowly but surely building on fundamental skills.

Below: Spiralized squash noodles.

Below: Some blanched snap beans with toasted walnuts.


Below: Some summer squash sliced wide on a mandoline. They tasted amazingly similar to pasta.