Monday, July 30, 2007

Macrobiotic summer menu

Grain: Polenta with fresh corn
Protein: Red Lentil Sauce with Dandelion Leaf Condiment
Seaweed: Arame with Sunflower Seeds, Chives & Mustard
Vege: Carrots and Broccoli with Ume Dill Dressing
Pickle: Cucumber Pickle
Dessert: Poached Peaches in Lemon Sauce

Until a couple months ago "macrobiotic diet" conjured up vague images of 70s hippies subsisting on brown rice and steamed veggies. Turns out, while there is plenty of that going on, macrobiotic cooking has its basis in Japanese traditional foods and Chinese medicine. Like other cuisines we've studied, it calls for a plant heavy diet of whole foods, emphasizing seasonal, local and organic. From a culinary perspective, a macrobiotic meal has an elegant balance of flavors and textures.

This meal is mixed and matched from summer menus at this fabulous website. If you're at all interested, it offers a short, non-dogmatic introduction to macrobiotic cooking and seasonally inspired menus.

I'll excerpt the explanation of Menu Planning:
The components of a complete menu include:

* Grain
* Protein
* Sea Vegetable
* Vegetables:
long cooked
short cooked/raw
* Pickles
* Dessert (optional)

To get an idea of this structure that incorporates the Seven Components, the Food Categories, the Expansive and Contractive Forces, the Five Element Theory, and Acid and Alkaline, here are four menu suggestions for the different seasons. Can you feel how each menu feels appropriate for the season? (Note the 5 tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and sharp and the three textures: creamy, crunchy and chewy.)

I can't tell you how impressed I was with these recipes. Few ingredients with clear instructions, that came together exactly as promised! I even entertained guests to rave reviews with the leftovers days later! (With all of about 5 minutes prep - browning the polenta, plopping everything onto the plate.) Go ahead, I dare you to make this food and not feel ridiculously nourished and pleased with yourself.

Macrobiotic pantry ingredients I had to buy:
Arame and Kombu - mmm seaweed! A good excuse for me to branch out beyond sushi nori. Whole Foods has a good pictoral guide to "sea vegetables."
Kuzu - Known as a weed in the south, it's a thickener like arrowroot or corn starch.
Ume plum vinegar - fermented from umeboshi plums, a traditional japanese food. I found it next to the rice wine vinegar, for the same price.
Shoyu - Unpasteurized soy sauce.

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Poached Pears in Lemon Sauce with Raspberries

2 cups apple juice
2 TB rice syrup
pinch of sea salt
2 peaches cut in half and seeds removed
2 TB kuzu diluted in 1/8 cup cold water
juice and zest from 1 lemon
fresh raspberries and mint leaf to garnish

1. Bring apple juice, rice syrup and salt to a boil. Add the pear halves and simmer about 5 minutes. Remove when soft and place in serving bowls.
2. Bring apple juice back to a boil and stir in diluted kuzu. Simmer for 1/2 minute.
3. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice and zest.
4. Pour sauce over pear halves & garnish with raspberries and mint.

Note: In the Autumn and Winter...replace lemon with 2 TB almond butter & 1/2 tsp. vanilla for a more warming dessert.

Dessert is ideally eaten after the kitchen is cleaned....maybe a walk has been taken so the fruit dessert doesn't upset the grain/protein digestion.


Again, I substituted pear juice. And local peaches, rather than pears.
I accidentally used double the kuzu so the sauce was too thick, but otherwise this was a super quick, tasty, impressive summertime dessert.

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Quick Umeboshi Pickles

(R and KT - That's a macrobiotic cooking school in Austin!)

1 1/2 cups (packed) one type of organic vegetable, finely cut
1 cup organic umeboshi vinegar
1 cup spring or filtered water

Wash and scrub vegetables with a natural bristle brush. If onions are used, remove outer peeling, but skip the washing. Finely cut vegetables into rounds, half-moons, quarter-moons or other slices.

Place vegetables in a glass jar. Mix umeboshi vinegar with water and pour over the vegetables. Add more water if needed to cover the vegetables. Place a bamboo mat or cheesecloth on top of jar. Leave on counter for 24 hours or up to 3 days to pickle. (Most vegetables will only need 24 hours. Onions usually take a couple of days.)

Place lid on jar and refrigerate. Rinse off 1 teaspoon of pickles and eat with each meal to aid digestion. Use pickles within 1–2 months. Discard pickling water when all pickles have been used.

If pickles are too strong for your taste or condition, reduce the amount of umeboshi vinegar relative to the water.


Um, this was the easiest thing I've ever made. All you really do is mix the vinegar and water to your taste, and pour it on your sliced veggies. voila... impressive homemade pickles. They were really tasty too... especially for a sweet pickle fan like myself.

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Carrots and Broccoli with Ume Dill Dressing

2 cups water
1 pinch sea salt
2 cups carrot chunks
2 cups broccoli stems and flowerettes
sea salt

1/4 cup olive oil
2 TB umeboshi vinegar
pinch sea salt
fresh dill

1. Bring water and salt to a boil. Quickly blanch carrots and remove from the water. Re-boil the water and quickly blanch the broccoli stems, remove. Repeat with flowerettes. Each should be bright and crunchy. Let cool separately.
2. When cool, arrange carrots and broccoli in a beautiful clear bowl.
3. Mix the dressing ingredients and toss with veggies. Let set 5-10 minutes so the dressing can marinade the vegetables.


This recipe is very emblematic of the whole macrobiotic meal concept - beautiful colors, simple ingredients and preparation, clear and full flavor. I love the dill!

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Arame with Sunflower Seeds, Chives and Mustard

2 handfuls of arame, rinsed, drained and soaked in water just to cover
3/4 cup apple juice and 3/4 cup water
1 cup sunflower seeds
1-2 tsp. shoyu
1 tsp wasabi mustard
1/2 cup finely chopped chives

1. Drain the arame and put in pan. Add apple juice/water mix...just to cover. Simmer with the lid off for 15 minutes.
2. While the arame is cooking, warm up a cast iron skillet. Quickly rinse the sunflower seeds in cold water, strain and toast on the warm skillet until golden. Stirring constantly.
3. When golden, remove seeds from the skillet and crush 1/2 of them in a suribachi or coffee grinder. Garnish with the other 1/2.
4. When the liquid is almost gone from the arame, season with the shoyu and cook 1 minute more. Add the crushed sunflower seeds, chives and 1 tsp. Wasabi Mustard and serve.


Wow. This was delicious. One of my favorite all time recipes. Cooking the arame in fruit juice removes the fishy flavor, so the result is sweet and nutty and with a more complex flavor from the mustard and chives. I spread the leftovers on rice cakes for a snack, or on toast for a breakfast to go.
(I substituted pear juice because I still feel the same way I did when I was 5 - apple juice is icky!)

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Dandelion Leaf Condiment

3 cups minced dandelion leaves
1/2 cup minced onions
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. almond butter
dash of shoyu

1. Saute vegetables in the sesame oil.
2. Season with the shoyu and almond butter.


I didn't expect this to really be a "condiment", but boy are those dandelion leaves potent cooked this way! A perfect bitter contrast with the sweetness of the polenta and lentils.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Fresh Corn Polenta and Red Lentil Sauce

3 cups of water
2 pinches sea salt
3 ears of organic fresh corn or one pkg. frozen organic corn
1 cup yellow corn grits
olive oil, shoyu (optional)

1. Bring water to a boil with sea salt.
2. Remove the kernels from the corn and set aside. Add the cobs to the water and simmer 10 minutes. If using frozen corn, wait to add with grits.
3. Remove cobs. Add fresh corn and yellow corn grits. Simmer, stirring occasionally for 5-10 minutes. When stiff, pour into a baking dish and let set.
4. (optional) Once set, slice and lightly pan fry in the olive oil. When one side is golden, flip and sprinkle with shoyu.

Red Lentil Sauce
1 tsp. olive oil
1 clove of garlic -minced
1-2 onions - minced
pinch sea salt
1 cup dry red lentils - sorted to remove possible stones, rinsed and strained
5 cups of water
4 bay leaves
1 4" piece of kombu
1-2 tomatos - minced (optional)
1 TB shoyu
pinch of coriander and cumin (optional)
parsley for garnish

1. Saute garlic and onions and pinch of salt in oil until onions are clear.
2. Add the lentils, water, bay leaves, kombu and tomatos. Bring to a boil and simmer 20 minutes.
3. Remove bay leaves and kombu. Season with shoyu and cook 5 more minutes. Add coriander and cumin and garnish with parsley.

YUM. Creamy and sweet and so good with the fresh corn.
The polenta really benefited from the quick browning in the pan.
I was warned by a classmate to start the lentils with less water, or you may end up with a soup rather than a sauce.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Stuffed Squash Blossoms

This is basically the traditional Italian recipe I learned in Florence, where the blossoms are piled high in every market. It's fancy sounding but super quick and easy. Pictured are the fresh blossoms, and the fried version served on a simple salad of baby arugula/chard, heirloom tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Probably the most heavenly thing I've cooked/eaten all summer.

6 squash blossoms
1/3 cup chevre
1 tablespoon minced onion or shallot.
2 fresh figs, pureed
2 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
pinch salt
(There are a million variations on this. You can use any mild cheese like ricotta or queso fresco, and whatever seasonings you prefer/have on hand. In my case this included fresh figs and basil from the HGP.)

In one bowl: 1 egg beaten with a little milk
In another bowl: a little flour (I used whole wheat. any kind is fine. or cornmeal, or bread crumbs.) with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Remove stem and prickly things, leaving flower intact. Rinse and dry. Mix together cheese and seasoning. Carefully spoon a small amount of filling into each blossom and twist the petals closed. Dip each blossom into egg and then flour, pan fry lightly in oil. They should brown nicely on each side in a few minutes. Eat them while they're hot! (Don't worry, I was definitely eating another one out of hand while taking the above picture.)

More squash blossoms (soup? risotto? fritatta? which to try next?)
Ideas from Chez Panisse, Rick Bayless, Diana Kennedy
5 recipes from

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