Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Black Lentils, Black Rice, Black Mushrooms +

Four exceptionally nutritious ingredients form the core of this simple but delicious meal, perfect for warming up the last chilly days of winter. According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, these four foods have the ability to strengthen the "yang" energy of the body, which is created and nurtured in the area called the "Life Gate Fire", or  Ming Men Huo. 

Assembly is easy; simply measure the ingredients into a pot and cook for about one hour.  It's best to use a heavy pot with a thick bottom and tightly fitting cover. A simple kitchen tool called a flame tamer or heat diffuser is useful for cooking legumes and grains; it helps heat to penetrate evenly without scorching the bottom of the pot.  Slow, gentle cooking allows the grains and lentils to steam thoroughly and encourages the aromatic flavors to mingle.

 Yield: Roughly five servings.


1 cup black beluga lentils
1 cup black "forbidden" rice
1/2 cup kasha (buckwheat groats)
2 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
5 cups fresh water
1/4 + teaspoon  sea salt
6 whole dried black shiitake mushrooms


Measure lentils, rice, kasha, water and sea salt into the pot; add garlic and bay leaf.
Carefully place mushrooms, stem down, in one layer on top of the other ingredients.
Cover pot and bring to a gentle simmer. Place a flame diffuser under the pot to prevent scorching.
Continue cooking on a low to medium flame for about one hour.  
Remove pot from heat and allow to rest without opening for fifteen or twenty minutes.
Open pot and remove mushrooms, garlic cloves and bay leaf.
Place mushrooms on a cutting board and slice into small pieces.
Peel garlic- it will be very soft- and return it and the mushrooms to the pot.
Toss all ingredients with a fork; add more sea salt to your taste if desired.
Serve with any lightly steamed dark leafy green.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Korean Comfort Food: Sweet Azuki Porridge

Azuki bean porridge, Pat Juk, is a traditional staple of Korean cuisine, eaten year round at all times of day. The sweet variety, Dan Pat Juk, is prepared and shared with neighbors and friends on "Little Lunar New Year" which takes place on the winter solstice. The reddish color of the porridge is meant to ward off evil spirits, and as in many cultures, eating sweet foods expresses the hope of a sweet year to come.

Savory or sweet, Azuki porridge is a sublime comfort food which is highly nutritious and simple to make. This interpretation of Dan Pat Juk requires few ingredients and the only active labor involved is the time it takes to blend the cooked beans into a smooth porridge. Traditional Korean recipes call for rock sugar as the sweetener; I've substituted medjul dates. For a sweeter dish, maple syrup may be added to taste.

Dan Pat Juk is very filling; this recipe yields roughly six modest servings. The flavor of the juk mellows with rest, so don't hesitate to make extra for later use. To store cooked beans safely, place in clean glass jars with tightly fitting lids while still very hot. I like to use small single serving sized glass canning jars for this purpose. Handled this way, beans will keep well in the fridge for up to five days.


2.5 cups azuki beans, soaked for about 6- 8 hours*
fresh water
4-5 large medjul dates, pitted and sliced in half
sea salt to taste
1 or 2 tablespoons maple syrup to taste (optional)
mint leaves for garnish
pine nuts for garnish


Drain and rinse beans thoroughly in running water.
Place beans in a heavy bottomed pot and add enough fresh water to cover by about two inches.
Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a medium- low flame for one hour or more.
Stir beans occasionally, adding water if they are not covered by liquid.
Beans are done when one is easily mashed between thumb and forefinger.
Remove pot from heat, stir in dates, cover and allow to rest until cool enough to blend.
Blend beans in batches in blender, adding cooking liquid or small amounts of fresh water as needed, until porridge is velvety smooth.
Return porridge to pot, reheat thoroughly and add sea salt to taste.
One or more tablespoons of maple syrup may be added to taste.

Serve dan pat juk  in small preheated ceramic bowls.
Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint and a sprinkling of pine nuts.
Store remaining porridge in glass jars in fridge for up to five days.
Reheat thoroughly for a quick, warming and energizing meal.

*A note about soaking legumes:  Soaking legumes is not a complicated affair but it involves some planning. Soak beans overnight or put them in to soak early in the morning. If you've soaked beans for several hours but must postpone cooking, drain them and keep in the fridge for up to another day. 


Thursday, December 15, 2016

A Winter Restorative: Root Broth

This season of excessive consumption, activity and stimulation creates a need for counter- balancing austerity. Root broth, a fortifying Winter restorative, is a satisfying response. Both the making and the drinking are effective antidotes to the restless chatter of our universe.

The broth is prepared by simmering a selection of roots in water until tender. Humans have cooked this way under very primitive conditions for millennia, ever since they tamed fire and created ceramic vessels. This simple non-recipe produces a warming and intensely flavorful clear broth, replete with valuable nutrients. Select any combination of the following ingredients- whatever is available will be suitable.


white radish
purple radish
ginger root
garlic cloves
dried shiitake mushrooms
bay leaves
fresh water
sea salt to taste


Scrub and trim root vegetables and cut into medium sized pieces. Peel the garlic cloves but leave whole. Shiitake mushrooms are also left whole.

Place vegetables and bay leaves in a soup pot. Add fresh water, enough to cover the vegetables by one or two inches.

Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a low flame, adding more water if level gets too low. Simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy.  (Longer cooking is fine but will yield a thicker broth).  Turn off heat. Remove the mushrooms and when cool enough to handle, slice and return to broth. Taste and add sea salt as desired. Serve in a pre-heated bowl so that broth stays warm.

Living in Harmony With the Atmosphere of Winter:

"The three months of Winter are called the period of closing and storing. Water freezes and the Earth cracks open. One should not disturb one's Yang. People should retire early at night and rise late in the morning and they should wait for the rising of the sun. They should suppress and conceal their wishes, as though they had no internal purposes, as though they had been fulfilled. 
 People should try to escape the cold and they should seek warmth. They should not perspire upon the skin, and they should let themselves be deprived of the breath of the cold. All this is in harmony with the atmosphere of Winter and all this is the method for protection of one's storing."

-- From the Nei Jing, The Yellow Emperor's Inner Classic (circa 206 BCE-220 CE)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Nourishing the Roots: The Source of Vitality

A tree with a deep, well developed root system is more likely to survive periods of drought, heat, cold or other extreme weather conditions. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, (TCM), the same can be said for humans. Maintaining a healthy, robust constitution is essential to one's ability to withstand the inevitable mental, emotional and physical challenges which confront us all.

Our genetic make up is referred to in TCM as the "inherited constitution" or "ancestral energy". Each person is born with their own unique quantity and quality of constitutional energy, which determines the trajectory of birth, growth, maturation, aging and death. Ancestral energy is finite; when it is used up the organism ceases to live.

An essential teaching of TCM is the importance of nurturing the inherited constitution through proper life style, which is the foundation of "acquired energy". This means that the preponderance of the body's day to day energetic needs should be derived from appropriate food, exercise, and sleep. If acquired energy is not replenished on a daily basis, the body taps into the finite storehouse of ancestral energy, reducing vitality, resilience and shortening its lifespan.

Like the root system of a tree, the body's vital organs are hidden, but they are the source of our ability to sustain life. Nourishing the roots is a day by day mindfulness practice which can provide us with the emotional and physical strength to meet the vicissitudes of life.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Of Autumn, Apples and Poetry

Autumn is a time to pause for reflection as the heat, light and activity of Summer diminish; it is a distinct period of transition between the expansive warm energy of Summer and the cold contracting energy of Winter, a time to let go of the pleasures of Summer and to gather and safeguard food and fuel for the season ahead when the earth freezes and growth ceases.

According to traditional Asian medical theory, the Lung is the organ system associated with Autumn; it is closely connected to our external environment via the nasal passages and throat and is vulnerable to changes in temperature and atmosphere. (I remember noticing while traveling in the chilly highlands of Guatemala that women habitually covered their noses and mouths with a shawl during cold weather, when the wind blew or when riding on a bus with open windows).

The energy (Qi) of the Lungs can be supported by eating specific foods, like the fruits which are now in season: apples, pears, grapes and persimmons. These are thought to protect the Lungs by keeping them slightly moist and cool, rather than too cold, dry, hot or damp. Spicy, pungent foods like ginger root, radishes, leeks, onions and garlic also benefit the Lungs by gently increasing local circulation. Appropriate exercise, adequate sleep and mindful awareness of unsettling thought patterns and excessive emotion are additional ways to protect Lung Qi.

Apples  (By Grace Schulman)

Rain hazes a street cart's green umbrella
but not its apples, heaped in paper cartons, 
dry under cling film.  The apple man,

who shirrs his mouth as though eating tart fruit,
exhibits four like racehorses at auction:
Blacktwig, Holland, Crimson King, Salome.

I tried one and its cold grain jolted memory:
a hill where meager apples fell so bruised
that locals wondered why we scooped them up,

my friend and I, in matching navy blazers,
One bite and I heard her laughter toll,
free as school's out, her face flushed in the late sun.

I asked the apple merchant for another,
jaunty as Cezanne's still-life reds and yellows,
having more life than stillness, telling us,

uncut, unpeeled, they are not for the feast
but for themselves, and building strength to fly
at any moment, leap from a skewed bowl,

whirl in the air, and roll off a tilted table.
Fruit-stand vendor, master of Northern Spies,
let a loose apple teach me how to spin

at random, burn in light and rave in shadows.
Bring me a Winesap like the one Eve tasted,
savored and shared, and asked for more.

No fool, she knew that beauty strikes just once,
hard, never in comfort. For that bitter fruit,
tasting of earth and song, I'd risk exile.

The air is bland here. I would forfeit mist
for hail, put on a robe of dandelions,
and run out, broken, to weep and curse- for joy. 

"Apples" from The Broken String by Grace Schulman, Houghton Mifflin 2007.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Tomato, Tomatl, Solanum Lycopersicum!

The tomato is a fruit of many colors, shapes and names, and summer is the time to revel in its heady acidic sweetness. Though greenhouse tomatoes are available year round, a tomato in winter is but a pale imitation of robust fruit grown in healthy soil under the hot summer sun. 

Tiny wild tomatoes were native to South and Central America and were first cultivated by the Inca and Aztec peoples around 700 CE.  The Aztecs learned to breed large flavorful specimens which they called "tomatl" meaning "fat fruit" or "plump fruit" and "xitomatl" meaning "plump fruit with a navel" in the Nahau language.

Spanish explorers introduced the fruit which they called "tomate" to Europe in the sixteenth century; eventually it gained extensive culinary use throughout the continent and beyond. The Italians named it "pomodoro" or "golden apple" and the French call it "pomme d'amour", "apple of love". In Russia, home of the famous heirloom Black Krim,  the fruit is called "pomidor".

Known botanically as Solanum lycopersicum, tomatoes belong to the large family Solanaceae which includes potatoes, eggplants, peppers and tobacco. The etymological roots of Solanaceae are unclear, but Lycopersicum  as translated from Greek means "wolf peach", "lyco" meaning "wolf" and "persikon" meaning "peach". The "wolf peach" name may stem from early European folklore involving witchcraft and werewolves. Tomatoes were long thought to be poisonous since they belong to the nightshade family, which includes some deadly varieties.

Far from being poisonous, tomatoes are dense with valuable nutrients, especially lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which gives tomatoes their deep color and is thought to offer protection from several types of cancer and coronary artery disease. Tomatoes also contain plentiful amounts of vitamin C, potassium and fiber, and a 100 gram serving provides nearly a gram of protein. 

Tomato, tomatl, Solanum lycopersicum; whatever name you give it, the plump fruit of the Aztecs and Incas is one of the finest simple pleasures of summer. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Farmer's Markets: Where the Real Food Is

One of the great luxuries of life in Northern California is the accessibility of quality produce year round. Even in winter, a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits are available from regional farms. In San Francisco, neighborhood farmer's markets provide urban residents the opportunity to deepen their understanding of seasonal growing cycles and to become familiar with a broad range of produce which is seldom available commercially.

In our earliest millennia as a bipedal species, our primary occupation was to search for and gather our food. Anthropologists observe that foraging peoples walked an average of three to five miles a day in search of a remarkably diverse selection of edible plants, roots, nuts, berries and fruit. Our ancestor's survival hinged upon their knowledge of where each of many varieties of food was located in its season and the ability to gather it. Energy, intelligence and perseverance were critical to this task; our motivation was hunger. Homo sapiens succeeded in this endeavor well enough to reproduce and pass on the human genome from generation to generation.

Many thousands of years later, this essential human project has turned upside down. Moderns have little need to gather their own food, and little time to prepare it. Most of us spend our days (or nights) earning money with which to purchase our food, much of which bears faint resemblance to that of our forager ancestors. A vast assortment of what Michael Pollan calls "edible food like substances" is readily available in supermarkets and few calories are consumed in the effort to acquire it.

These changes have created a deep disconnect between humans and their sources of food, a decline in food intelligence and a troubled relationship between the instinctive drive to eat and an oversupply of aggressively marketed low quality calories. There is much confusion surrounding food choices and eating styles which has engendered a huge proliferation of widely variable and contradictory information about nutrition and health. Lost in the deluge of advertising and misinformation are the essential unprocessed foods which once were the sole components of our diet.

Farmer's markets offer honest commerce on a human scale. They bring farmers and shoppers together in venues where an abundance of the real food which truly nourishes and sustains us can be found.