Macro is Alive and Well at Mana

9 04 2012

Our Meal: L-R Okinomiyaki Pancake, Sauteed Greens with Shiitakes, Kidney Beans, Brown Rice, Sweet Potato Dumplings, Veggie Dumplings

When I started learning about vegetarianism, way back in the 70’s and 80’s, the word on everyone’s lips was “macrobiotics.” While American vegetarians were eating mac and cheese and pizza, followers of Macrobiotics were into something else. If you are not familiar, Macro is a way of eating that is all about balancing the energy in the food, and balancing your body and mind in the process. It’s based on Japanese ways of thinking about food and the Universe, and the food reflects a deeper Asian aesthetic, as well.

In a macro way of looking at healthy eating, food is analyzed as to its yin and yang qualities. Yang foods are heavy and dense, and bring heat to the body. Meat and dairy are very yang. Yin foods are light, diffuse, and cold. Sugar is very yin. All foods have some balance of yin and yang within them, but generally, whole grains are the most balanced, and therefore balancing, foods. Macrobiotics eat 60% whole grains, 20-30% vegetables, and 5-10-% beans and soy, and sea vegetables, fruits and moderate amounts of fat. Small amounts of fish might be consumed. Foods like miso soup, seaweed, sesame and kanten are important. Eating local, low on the food chain, and organic, with no processed or refined foods is a core principle. A seasonal emphasis also promotes balance, with heavier roots and beans in winter and more leafy, light foods in summer. Certain foods, like nightshades eggplant, tomato and pepper and tropical fruits are not recommended.

Of course, that is just a quick summary, but you get the gist of it. Macrobiotics is very plant-based.

Somewhere along the line, Macro just kind of took a back seat to vegan, in recent years, even though the two have much in common.

I was excited to get a chance to go to a macrobiotic restaurant in New York City, accompanied by vegan blogger Sharon Nazarian (her blog here) and vegan pastry expert, Fran Costigan (her website, here). The restaurant, called Mana Organic Cafe, is run by owner Sung Lee, who graciously introduced herself to us, probably because we were photographing our food. It was a treat to share a spread of modern macrobiotic, vegan food.

Of course, when I saw dumplings on the menu, I had to have them. We shared two kinds, one filled with curried sweet potato and one with chopped vegetables. With dipping sauces, they were wonderfully comforting and fun to eat. I also ordered the Okinomiyaki pancake, in part because I created a recipe for one in my book, Big Vegan, and wanted to see how they did theirs. It was a lovely, dense cake, made up of sauteed cabbage and vegetables and mashed tofu, topped with a sweet tomato sauce and some salad greens. On the menu it was billed as macrobiotic “pizza.”


Sauteed Bok Choy, Broccoli, Kale and Shiitakes

I love it when I can get beans, greens and rice in a restaurant, and it was great fun to share a meal with some vegan ladies. It would have been fun to try some nori rolls, soups, and other entrees, which all looked delicious, as we watched them being delivered to other tables. A specialty of the house is the Mana bowl, a big steaming bowl of broth, noodles and vegetables that smelled divine.

Vegans and vegetarians would do well to take a walk on the macrobiotic side, and get into the centering, nourishing foods at the core of the macro way. It can be fun to eat a vegan version of the Western diet, but if you are eating alot of refined food and forgetting your grains and beans, it’s time to start balancing the yin and yang on your plate.

You’ll feel better for it!

Mana, 646 Amsterdam Ave. (212)787-1110

Mana Restaurant’s Menu


The Environmental Impact of Your Food May Surprise You

11 09 2011

Just One Planet

If you still had questions about the impact of the consumption of meat, you got more answers in the last couple of months.

In August, Al Gore finally weighed in. Gore’s emphasis on transportation in his lectures and film, An Inconvenient Truth, had left many of us wondering why he didn’t mention the role of global meat production in climate change. Since the film came out in 2006, Gore has kept silent as Peta staged protests at his events, and various organizations asked him to speak publicly on the impact of meat on the environment. Finally, in an interview he acknowledged the role of ag. “Industrial  Agriculture is part of the problem,” he said, and went on to discuss the clearing of forests and reliance on synthetic fertilizer as well. Better late than never.

It was about time, since The Environmental Working Group came out with a new report, called the Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change, which compares the carbon footprint of all the protein-containing  foods.

The report didn’t pull any punches, and ovo-lacto vegetarians will be sad to hear that cheese is number 3 in environmental impact, just behind lamb and beef. Next in line were pork, salmon, turkey, chicken, tuna, eggs, and then plant foods, although yogurt and milk were down in the lower impact group with things like beans and nuts.

The metrics they used were pretty sophisticated, taking into account all the environmental effects and costs. It’s a fascinating report, and they really added in everything, start to finish, from the gas used to grow and transport animal feed to the emissions that come from the animals’ waste, to the refrigeration at the sales point. It’s interesting to know, just to nail down numbers for all these things. It all adds up.

The group also makes the important distinction between local and grass fed animal products and industrial ones. They urge that anyone who wants to eat meat and cheese will do far better by choosing those that eat only grass, not trucked in high energy grain, and that are not trucked or flown long distances to get to you.

Still, what it all comes down to, is eat plants, save the planet. One person eating one less burger a week is like taking your car off the road for 320 miles, on up to if the whole US population ate no meat or cheese just one day a week would be like not driving 91 billion miles.

So, if you are a meat eater, try meatless as much as you can. Eat small amounts of local, grassfed, and stretch it with plants. If you are ovo lacto, go local, and go vegan some nights, to reduce your impact even more.

We only get one planet, and it only seems polite to save a little for the next guy.

In Defense of the Humble Spud

5 09 2011

Purple, Yellow, Baking and Red Potatoes

Potatoes have been a popular food for centuries, one of those elemental ingredients that can be cheap food for the masses one day, then whipped or turned into an haute gourmet masterpiece the next. These culinary chameleons originally flourished only in Peru, where hundred of varieties are still grown, each enjoying a different climate at a different elevation of the mountainous region.

And like so many good things, Columbus took the potato around the world, and once it made it past suspicions and skepticism, it became ubiquitous. Now the mass produced french fry and potato chip have risen to global dominion.

The potato had a place in every kichen. Then the anti-carb movement came along and insisted that the carbs in the poor tater were fattening us up. Just this year, a widely reported Harvard study found that the one factor that indicated a higher body weight was the number of servings of potatoes that a person ate. Some saw that as a sign that potatoes are driving the obesity crisis- but to my mind, it might well be that eating French fries, potato chips or rich mashed potato dishes is not just a pretty high-calorie, high fat way to eat potatoes, but also usually a sign that you are eating hamburgers, steak, or the other foods that typically go with them. If you actually delved into the info behind that study, though, the weight gain was highest in people eating fries and chips, not boiled potatoes, but the headlines didn’t get that far.

But the tide may be turning- a new study done at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania fed overweight, hypertensive volunteers purple potatoes. These brilliantly colored tubers are rich in colorful polyphenol antioxidants, which protect the body from free radical damage. All the volunteers microwaved the potatoes, and ate about 218 calories worth per day. All had reductions in their blood pressure, and none gained weight.

Peruvian Purple Potatoes

Of course, this was just a small study with 18 subjects, but it does make a point. According to the author of the study, Joe Vinson, the process of deep frying to make fries and chips seems to destroy most of the healthy substances, leaving mainly starch, fat and some minerals. That makes sense, since potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, which is destroyed by high heat. They are also a good source of potassium, needed for heart health, and they have lots of fiber, especially if served skin on.

Simply Roasted Purple Potatoes

To celebrate this new finding, I roasted some beautiful purple potatoes. I just cut them in even inch wide chunks, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled on some coarse salt and cracked pepper, and tossed it all in a deep roasting pan. Into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, then a shake and stir and 20 minutes more. To honor the Peruvian origins of these potatoes, I served mine with a lime-avocado salsa, but you can also adorn yours with fresh herbs and garlic.


Potatoes are back baby, and purple is the way to go!

Heirloom Tomato and Basil Season is Here!

21 08 2011

Tomato+Basil+Olive Oil

To you, it’s August, which may mean that the school year is almost upon you, or that it’s time to get to those projects in the yard you had been putting off. For me, it’s heirloom tomato season. Here in Minnesota, we wait through several frigid months of winter to make it to this respite, and we are very serious about enjoying summer. One of the most fleeting joys of the year is the homegrown heirloom tomato season. Because our season is short, and the heirlooms take a long time to mature, we are lucky to have them from late July into September.

My personal tomatoes, all 8 plants, have produced 3 small regular tomatoes and a few handfuls of mini-pear tomatoes in red and gold. It has been a tough year for them, with high heat and periods of heavy rain. Of course, I always wonder why plants that originated in the tropics would be so unhappy with heat, but I shrug and just keep pulling those brown leaves that might have fungus.

And buying great tomatoes from my local farmers.

So when the juicy, lumpy motley crew that is the heirloom tomato harvest finally comes my way, it’s time to put down whatever I was working on and revel in deep, vine ripe flavor. Luckily, my basil is in sync with the tomatoes, so all I really have to do is put the two together and magic happens.

From the purple and black to the yellow and nearly white, heirlooms are a rainbow of goodness. They call them heirlooms because they were saved from seed by home growers, and bred for flavor rather than shippability over many years. The results are fragile, sometimes oddly shaped, and intensely unique tasting tomatoes.

Of course, tomatoes have the super healthy bonus of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is thought to lower risks of prostate and breast cancers. Tomatoes are also good at lowering cholesterol and unhealthy fats, and are associated with lower risk of osteoporosis, too. It’s not hard to get the recommended 3 servings a week that are recommended for your health. This is food as medicine at its most delicious.

The Purple Blush

So tonight I will simply chop some tomatoes, I’ve got some gorgeous Purple Cherokees, ready to go. Chop some fresh basil, mince some garlic, and toss it all with olive oil and coarse salt and cracked pepper. You now have a versatile dish that can become a salad, with a spritz of balsamic and maybe a few croutons or bits of fresh mozz. You can pile it on some toasted French bread and call it bruschetta. You can boil some angelhair and toss it with the tomatoes and basil in the hot pan before serving.

You can even add a chopped chili and scoop it up with chips, and call it Italian salsa.

The main thing is to let the simple flavors of those precious tomatoes and basil shine through. They won’t be here long.

Grilling Pizzas at the Mill City, So You Can Too!

31 07 2011

"Don't Make Your Pizza Too Thick!"

I had the opportunity to do a cooking demonstration at the fabulous Mill City Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago, and of course, I wanted to grill pizza. Why? Well, for anyone still a little afraid of pizza on the grill, I want to show  how easy it is to make a really good meal from local and seasonal stuff on the grill. I was being selfish, too, I wanted to make something that did not require turning on the stove once in the whole process.

I was lucky to have some locally grown and ground flours from Sunrise Flour Mill:

I know there are people who think pizzas should be made with white flour dough, and I hope this crust will change some opinions. It’s got a fuller flavor and texture from the overnight slow rise, and I love the nutty taste of the fresh whole wheat flour.

When I arrived, toting my dough, it was raining and the wind was whipping through the market, but we had a feeling that it would clear up. After a few cloudbursts, the sun shone through. Heather Hartman, a fellow whole food teacher and chef runs the cooking stage, and she was going to follow me with a grilled smashed potato demo, so we got to stroll the market and pick out the freshest ingredients.

We picked out everything for the pizzas from the wonderful vendors there, from the huge bunches of basil I used for pesto, to amazing Shepherds Way Cheese for the topping. I grilled the veggies ahead of time in my grill wok, and we were ready for the show.

My Overnight Pizza Dough


Overnight Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

Makes four or five pizzas

2 cups unbleached bread flour

3 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/4 teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sugar

3 cups water, room temperature


1. Combine all the ingredients in the bowl and mix for one minute, to form a coarse, sticky gob of dough. Let the dough rest for five minutes, then mix again for one minute.Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, rub a little oil on your hands, and fold the dough into a smooth ball. Let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes and then stretch and fold the dough into a tight ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough can be used anywhere from 6 hours to three days after it goes in the fridge.

2. When ready to make the pizzas, pull the dough from the refrigerator three hours prior to when you plan to bake. Divide the dough into four or five pieces. With either oil or flour on your hands, form each piece into a tight dough ball and place on a lightly oiled pan. Mist the dough balls with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or place the pan inside a large plastic bag. Give the dough at least 90 minutes before making the pizzas. If you don’t plan to use them all, place the extra dough balls inside of an oiled freezer bag and keep in the refrigerator (for up to three days) or in the freezer (for up to three months).

Stretching By Hand is Best

Each dough ball makes a 10-12 inch pizza, depending on thickness.

Grilled Pizzas: Pesto of the Day, Grilled Veggies, and  Local Cheese

Canola oil for the grill, cornmeal

4 cups of fresh herb- arugala, basil, cilantro

4 cloves garlic

½ cup nuts-pine nuts, toasted pumpkinseeds, pistachios, walnuts

½ cup aged cheese, shredded

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon salt, to taste

16 cups of veggies to grill: Zucchini, peppers, eggplant, broccoli, mushrooms, etc

Olive oil

1 pound of good cheese, chevre, fresh mozz, etc

Handfuls of fresh spinach or basil

1. Make the pesto, put the herbs, garlic , nuts and cheese in a food processor and process to chop finely. Add the olive oil gradually to make a smooth paste. Add salt and process. Scrape out into a bowl or cup. Cut up the veggies for grilling: if using a wok, cut in bite sized chunks, if not, slice in longer strips that will not fall in the grill. Put in a large bowl and toss with olive oil and balsamic, salt to taste.

2. Prepare the grill, preheating it on high. Get a cup and put a couple of tablespoons of canola oil in it, and get a paper towel and tongs for oiling the grate. Put your grill wok on and let it get hot, or brush the grate with oil. Put the veggies on and toss or turn to grill them until soft and ready to eat. Take off the grill and transfer to a bowl.

3. Roll or pat out each dough ball to desired thickness, place on a cutting board or pizza peel coated with cornmeal. Turn the grill to medium. Transfer to the hot oiled grill and quickly close the grill for just a couple of minutes-peek under the dough to see if it is browning. Open it and when the dough is stiff enough, turn the dough with the tongs, then quickly top with pesto, veggies, and cheese. Cover the grill until melted. Use tongs to slide back onto the cutting board and slice to serve immediately.

Just Slide It On The Grill

Spread That Pesto On Quickly

Ready to Slice

Everybody Got a Sample!

Marinated Grilled Veggies

Austin, Weird and Wonderful with IACP

12 06 2011

Veg Authors at Koriente:Ann, Me, Jill and Ellen

One of the best things about writing cookbooks is that I belong to a unique community of food professionals. We food writers can lead a strangely solitary existence, staying home to test recipes and type, or indulge in the unnatural act of photographing our food so that we can post about it.

Seriously, think about it, the correct response to a plateful of hot food is to dig in, not to grab your cell phone to snap a shot, or set up a tripod and start aiming lights at it.

But once a year, I break away from my kitchen and go to a conference with my fellow food people, the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The group is open to anybody making a living in food, so there are restaurant chefs, writers, editors, publishers, teachers, historians, TV and video producers, photographers and stylists, manufacturers of food and cookware, representatives of various foodstuffs, and more. Every year a different host city organizes a bunch of events to show off their food scene, and we converge on the city to take a big bite of what they have to offer.

This year, we traveled to Austin Texas, where a thriving alternative food scene co-exists with Texas barbecue and longnecks. “Keep Austin Weird” is a local slogan, and I’m all for it. One of our speakers was Jim Hightower, outspoken populist who counts food activism as part of his mission in life. I’ve always been a fan, and he delivered a funny, heartfelt talk about the importance of fighting for our food supply. His humorous one-liners and wry way with absurdity kept the crowd laughing at the early morning session, even as he talked about sustainable food and regulating the corporations that make our food supply less safe. I even got to ask him about the NRDC lawsuit I wrote about in last weeks post, and he was optimistic that the effort to ban antibiotics from animal feed could be won.

Jim Hightower, Fighting For the Common Eater

Another seminar, a panel lead by Kim O”Donnel, author of the Meat Lovers Meatless Cookbook, centered on the Changing Place of Meat on the Plate. This was a discussion about sustainable meat, more than vegetarianism, although Meatless Mondays and cutting back on meat were definitely promoted. Panelist Ralph Loglisi, from the Center for a Livable Future, was there to bring the facts about our unsustainable levels of meat consumption to light. He blogs here:

I also went to lots of seminars on things like how to do a good TV spot, demonstrated by Ellie Krieger, how to be a good radio guest, with Kathy Gunst, how to edit video for blogs, with bloggers Chef John and Average Betty and videographer Daniel Klein, and more. There was a seminar on the new electronic world of cookbooks, and there were cooking demonstrations by John Besh and Jacques Pepin that were entertaining and inspiring.

A favorite moment was when a blogger told Jacques Pepin she was glad to see he had a twitter account, and he replied, “I do?” and after the laughter, she asked how he adapts to the new world of social media, and with his Gallic nonchalance, he replied, “I don’t.” Of course, Jacques will be fine, letting someone else write his tweets and letting the brave new world of e-books and apps court him, while the rest of us have gotten the message that the internets and social networks are a vital part of reaching our audiences, so we gladly attend seminars on blogging and tweeting.

And in between all this, I got to spend time with some of the smartest, funnest people I know, the collection of dear friends from all over the world that I have connected with at IACP for years now. There were dinners at gourmet destinations like Parkside and Fonda San Miguel, a food truck party, a reception at the Art Museum with local fare, and I even got to make a break to the Austin Farmers Market.

Locally Grown Seaweed

A unique offering was this stand, where a young man with a degree in Molecular and Cell Biology, named Lewis Weill, sells cultivated Ogonori, a variety of sea vegetable. The fine, crisp strands of ogonori were a revelation, so unlike the dried kinds of sea vegetables that I have always loved. Lewis has a day job as a biologist, and in his spare time, grows this nutritious veggie in tanks of purified water enriched with salt and minerals to to make a cleaner version of sea water. He is an unassuming visionary, who wants to save the oceans and also provide a clean seaweed that isn’t bathed in the pollution that has become a problem in wild-harvested sea plants.

One lunch that I organized was to bring together the vegan and vegetarian food writers for a veg meal. I invited Ann Gentry, chef and owner of Real Food Daily in Los Angeles and author of Vegan Family Meals, Jill Nussinow, the Veggie Queen, author of The Veggie Queen, Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment, and The New Fast Food, The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Whole Food Meals in Less than 30 Minutes, and Ellen Kanner, author of the Hungry Ghost and Edgy Veggie, who pens a Meatless Mondays column for Huffington Post, a syndicated column  The Edgy Veggie, and freelances for publications like EveryDay with Rachel Ray Bon Appetit and Culinate.

We walked over to a wonderfully weird little spot called Koriente, where a Korean cooking style blends with a whole foods approach, and most of the menu is vegan, although meat and fish are available. We all really enjoyed the brown rice and fresh veggies, and Korean hot sauce and nori.

a Summer Roll with Hummus

Brown Rice Bimibap

Brown rice and veggies really hit the spot after a few days of rich food, and sitting with these stars of the veg world was a rare treat. This small group of women who live, write and cook to promote a plant-based worldview are usually operating thousands of miles from each other, and it was great to get these moments to share. These are changing times, and we are all seeing the interest in vegan and veg food growing, and that is cause for celebration.

Thanks Austin, and thanks to all my IACP brethren for a good time. I’m inspired and educated, and most importantly, connected to some amazing people.

Oh, and my publisher, Chronicle Books, threw a lively party to announce this years new releases, and I got to see the cover of my upcoming book!

Yes, It's Big!

Spring Chives, Spreading Like Green Wildfire

29 05 2011

Garlic Chives, Freshly Cut

If you garden, you know that there are certain plants that will happily take over every inch of your garden. Mint and oregano come to mind, both of which seem to have the kind of aggression that would make them bad neighbors, if they were people-sprawling their stuff across those property lines no matter how many times you push it back. But neither can match the kind of assault that a chive plant can make on your garden. Yes, as well as sending shoots out underground to tenaciously advance, they also have the self-defense mechanism of an oniony smell, and release tear gas that makes your eyes well up even as you dig the offending stalks from the basil bed.

You would think that I would be in the process of eradicating the fertile chives from my garden, but I am not. I’ve adopted a delicious containment policy. I figure that if something tasty and easy to use really wants to be there that badly, I had better come up with some fun ways to use it.

I should clarify that my particular chive plant is an Asian variety of Garlic Chives. With a hint of garlic flavor in its wild, oniony punch, it grows long, flat stems instead of the thin round ones of regular chives. Because of that it can hold up to a little more cooking. It’s also got the bonus of being the star of lots of great Chinese recipes, like garlic chive dumplings, and stir fries.

link to a tofu potsticker recipe:

Because of their dual attributes of oniony and garlicky flavors, I can use them in place of scallions, chives, and garlic in recipes. They have a particular affinity for tofu, as the above potsticker recipe would attest. If you are not up for forming dumplings, try a tofu scramble with chives, simply seasoned with soy sauce and ginger, and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Chives can take the place of scallions in stir fries and soups, and you can use large quantities of them in cooked dishes, since heat subdues their oniony heat a bit. If you are into eggs, chives are a classic addition to scrambled or baked egg dishes. If you eat dairy, cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt, or creamy goat cheese all make good bases for a chivey taste experience.

Their flavor alone is good reason to use them up, but don’t forget how nutritious they are. They are high in vitamin C and carotene, and are a good source of calcium. They also contain Vitamin B1 and B2.  In Traditional Chinese medicine, garlic chives are considered to be a yang or warming food. And those sulphur compounds that sting your eyes are also antibacterial and antiseptic, and boost your immunity.

Of course, later in the year, my chives will offer up gorgeous, edible purple flowers. That will signal that the stems are too tough to eat raw, and I will snip them for use in salads, stir-fries, and as edible garnishes.

And to think-I once contemplated digging them up for good. My chives are a lesson in making the best of something that is pushy. I’m learning to use it to my advantage, do a little garden ju-jitsu, rather than wage war with it.

Garden lessons are the tastiest kind.

Garlic Chive Vichyssoise

Chill this for a summer soother, or serve warm. If you only have regular chives, throw in a chopped clove of garlic with the saute.

4 medium yukon gold potatoes, 1 1/4 lb, chopped

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped garlic chives, divided

3/4 cup water

3/4 cup non-dairy milk (I used So Delicious coconut creamer)

1/2 teaspoon salt

In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the olive oil. Saute half of the garlic chives until soft and dark green, then add the potatoes and stir. Add the water, bring to a boil, and cover tightly. Cook for ten minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the water is almost gone. Transfer the mixture to a blender or food processor and add the “milk” and puree. Add salt and the remaining chives and process until smooth.

Serve warm or chill-you may need to stir in more milk after chilling.

Garlic Chive Vichyssoise

This recipe looks like a delicious way to use those blossoms later on!

Avocado Toast With Caramelized Sweet Onion and Grape Tomatoes With Fresh Garden Chives and Chive Blossoms.