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

A Big Bowl of Happiness?

26 03 2012

Sunshine and Rainbows with the Happy Way to Eat

We all know the physical benefits of eating more plants. Lower cholesterol, a healthy heart, lower body mass, decreased risks of all the big, bad diseases. When vegans and vegetarians talk about their lifestyles, though, they often describe a new feeling, a feeling of being lighter, clearer, happier and more energetic. Feeling good is about more than getting good triglyceride numbers at your annual physical, and now some researchers have taken a closer look at why veg diets make people feel happier.

The study, published in Nutrition Journal, put control groups of omnivores on either an omnivorous, fish only, or vegetarian diet. The study went for two weeks, and at the end, the participants were tested for mood and depression. The researchers, Bonnie Beezhold and Carol Johnston, theorized that the balance of essential fatty acids in the different diets would make a difference in mood. At the end of the study, the mood test scores of the veg group improved significantly, while the rest stayed the same.

So, the researchers wanted to know if the fish group, with their Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) rich diets, would have better moods, and they did not. In blood tests, the fish eating group had more Omega 3’s in their blood, but they had far more Omega 6’s. The vegetarian eaters had dropped their blood levels of EPA, DHA and more importantly, AA, the arachidonic acid in meat, down to negligible levels.

So, the researchers drew the conclusion that the arachidonic acid could be a real downer. Its important to remember that conventional meat and dairy is much higher in Omega 6’s, including AA, because it is fed corn and grain, while grass fed is supposed to have a better balance of 6 and 3.

The effect of essential fats on the brain is well-known, we need them for our brains and nervous systems to function. So, a little background is in order. Basically, we need to get Omega 3’s and Omega 6’s from food.

A typical Western diet has plenty of the omega-6s, linoleic acid, gamma-linoleic acid, and arachidonic acids (LA, GLA, and AA). Linoleic acid is in nuts, seeds and their oils, grains, and soybean oil, all of which are eaten by omnivores and vegetarians alike. AA is largely from animal foods and is associated with heart disease and inflammation. Arachidonic acid has also been found to cause negative changes to the chemistry of the brain that lead to negative moods and depression.

The omega-3s EPA and DHA are where most people fall short, omnivores and vegetarians alike. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in flax, hemp, walnut, and canola oils, as well as in green leafy vegetables and sea vegetables, is pretty pervasive, thanks to the popularity of canola. But the eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (EPA and DHA) that come from fish or the algae that fish eat, or from sea vegetables .

Vegans will be relieved to know that the body converts some of the LA you consume into GLA and AA, and the ALA into EPA and DHA.

The imbalance, which the researchers point out, is that most of us eat way too many Omega 6’s. Vegetarians, though, are not getting all of the Omega 6’s and especially Arachidonic acid that meat eaters get from meat. In the current state of affairs, industrial meat and dairy is contributing to the imbalance in Omega 6, as well as the high AA in the diet.

So, veg-heads, if you have been convinced for a long time that eating this way just makes you feel better, there is scientific evidence to back you up. Keep striving to get those Omega 3’s from chia, flax, walnuts, and canola oil, since they are good for you, too. And omnivores, you would do well to cut back on meat, if you want to improve your mood.

The New Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook

19 03 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Pizza in a Cast Iron Pan

I’ve been singing the praises of cast-iron cookery for years. It’s always been an affordable, natural option for cooking with whole foods. I’ve also blogged about the way it puts iron in the food, and how great that is for vegetarians. It’s a great way to cook with a non-stick pan that doesn’t include chemicals that enter the food and the air and lodge in your body forever. That is one of my more frequently read articles on this blog, so feel free to check it out with the link below.

Link to Article and Recipe for Black Bean Soup

Well, thanks to my involvement with cast iron and the Lodge cast iron company, I was invited to join the amazing group of cooks, authors and chefs who have recipes in the new Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook: A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious Recipes (Oxmoor House). It’s by no means a vegetarian book, but the recipes that I contributed are. My all-veggie chili is vegan, and the roasted cauliflower pizza has cheeses on it, which vegans can replace with crumbled tofu or vegan cheeses. There are other meatless offerings, as well, and a whole chapter on variations on cornbreads. I love baking pizza, cornbread, and other things I want to be crusty in my cast iron skillet.

The Lodge Cast Iron Collection!

Click Here to Buy The Cookbook

Lodge is a family owned company, that has been manufacturing cast iron in the USA for over a hundred years. The pans are so durable that there are hundred year old pans still in use. A while back I taught a cast iron cooking class, featuring all Lodge cookware. As I expected, there were many questions about how to wash, season, and otherwise care for cast iron pans. Luckily, I have made lots of mistakes with mine, and have been able to recover every time. So, for the people who are afraid that they don’t know how to keep their cast iron in good shape, here is what I have learned.

1. Buy pre-seasoned. It’s a relatively new thing, back in the day you had to buy bare cast iron and slowly build a good coat of seasoning. You will still keep adding, but pre-seasoning make it much easier. Lodge assures me that the process that they use is completely vegan and kosher. Seasoning, for the unitiated, is the process by which the iron, which has a microscopically porous texture, is heated while it is in contact with oil. Each time the pores open and suck in a little oil, which bonds to the surface. The oil changes, too, getting dry and firm, and becomes like a non-stick coating.

Don’t make the mistake I have, of thinking that leaving a thick coat of oil on the pan is going to help. It will dry to a goopy, sticky layer that will smell rancid, because it is. Just rub on oil, and rub it off with paper towels, leaving it shiny. If you get the gunky layer, you will have to remove it (see below)

2. Never scrub. This whole seasoning thing is a big part of the function of the pan. Lodge sells a special bristle brush, that you can use to gently remove any stuck on bits of food. You can rinse, but don’t use soap. Other methods include just dumping salt in the pan and rubbing it out with towels, with no water at all.

3. Never gouge. Once you have this delicate layer of oil forming a seasoning layer on the pan, you don’t want to start scraping around in there with knives, metal tools, and the like. Of course, when you make cornbread or pizza in there, you will want to. You may just want to devote that pan to that purpose, but you will eventually need to fix it.

3. Go ahead and fix it when you do all of the above. If you mess up in any way, whether its by leaving the pan out on the barbecue in the rain, or over oiling, or scrubbing, or using tools that gouge, you can always reclaim the pan. It helps to have access to some tools. A funky, rusty pan can always be reclaimed, with some TLC. My Mother-In-Law used to cook in her cast iron until it was encrusted in stuff, and then every few years her son would take it to the shop and sandblast it back to new.  Lodge recommends that if you see a spot of rust, try just rubbing oil on it. If that doesn’t work, you can go ahead and scour it with a steel scrubbie or fine sandpaper. Other people have used a rotating wire brush that you can attach to a drill. The idea here is to get any excess, chipped looking black buildup or rust off the pan and start with a smooth surface when you re-season. Don’t go any deeper than you have to. Once you have bare metal you need to get oil on it IMMEDIATELY. Bare metal will re-rust just by being exposed to air.

4. Re-season. Once you have scrubbed or sanded, rub the surface with some high heat oil, preferably solid shortening. There is an organic one that I keep around just for this. Turn the oven to 350 F, put a sheet pan lined with foil on the bottom rack, and put the pan upside down on the rack above it. Bake for at least an hour.

Cast Iron Cauliflower Pizza

Don’t ignore cauliflower as a tasty pizza topping. Here, while you prep the crust, you can roast the veggies to sweet tenderness and then use them on the pie.

Serves 6

1 1/2           cups  white whole wheat flour

1           teaspoon  quick rise yeast

1/4      teaspoon  salt

1           teaspoon  honey

3/4           cup  warm water

2        tablespoons  extra virgin olive oi, divided

8             ounces  cauliflower florets,  3 1/2 cup

1/2           cup  onion

1/2         small  red bell pepper, chopped

2             cloves  garlic, sliced

3             ounces  feta cheese, crumbled (Or equivalent firm tofu crumbled, with a dash of rice vinegar and pinch of salt)

2             ounces  Asiago Cheese, shredded (Or equivalent Daiya shreds or cashew cheese)

1/2           cup  chopped parsley or basil

canola oil and sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 425 F. Make the dough, in a large bowl or stand mixer, combine the flour, yeast and salt. Stir the warm water and 1 Tbs olive oil in and knead to make a soft, barely sticky dough. Add a little more flour if needed. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and let rise while you prep the veggies.

In a large roasting pan, toss the cauliflower, onion, bell pepper, garlic and remaining olive oil.Roast, uncovered, for 20 minutes. The cauliflower should be soft and golden browned in spots. Let the veggies cool slightly. Oil a 12 inch cast iron skillet and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Punch down dough, then shape into a large round. Press into the cast iron pan and press it up the sides about an inch. Sprinkle in the roasted veggies, cheeses and herbs. Bake for 20 minutes, until the crust is crisp in the center of the pizza and the cheeses are melted and golden. Tilt the pan and use a spatula to lift the pizza onto a cutting board to cut in 6 pieces.

We’re All Irish On St Patrick’s Day

12 03 2012

First things first, I’m not Irish. I have some Scottish blood mixed with my all-American mutt lineage, which may make me a stone’s throw from it. But when St Paddy’s Day rolls around, we can all be Irish for a day. The idea of a simple, rustic cuisine based on local, peasant ingredients appeals to everyone. For vegetarians, well, we skip the corned beef and go straight to the cabbage.

The story of the potato famine is well-known, a lesson we have been learning over and over since pre-history. A population dependent upon a single crop for its survival was devastated by a blight on that crop, and people were left with nothing to eat.

If you read the history of this terrible time, you’ll understand two things. One is why the Irish have been so angry with the British for so long. The second is that hunger in this big world is always politically based. During the famine, wealthy British landowners continued to grow crops for export, filling warehouses and ships with grain while Irish families starved and died in the streets outside. The British government did little to help, insisting that bailing out the people would create dependency, and preferring to follow a “laissez faire” philosophy. There was plenty of food to be had, if the people in power had been willing to bring it.  Thousands of people died.

Pretty good reason to drink some beer, huh? Well, while you’re Irish for a day, raise a glass to the indomitable spirit and strength of the Irish people. Maybe the next time you get a letter from an organization fighting hunger, consider eating potatoes and cabbage for a week and donating what you save on food to help.

I’ve always thought it was a tiny bit of justice that the foods that were relegated to peasants were often secretly nutritious. The 1% have historically lorded it over everyone by eating lots of meat and fat, while the hard working farmers were left eating plant foods. Of course, it’s cold comfort to know your greens prevent cancer if you are starving, but we have to look for something positive in all this.

Peasant Food for Today

So for St Patricks Day, let’s celebrate the lowly root vegetables and cabbage. Traditional potato dishes, like Boxty, a mash of potatoes with butter and scallions, are the kind of rib-sticking, easy food that fuels physical labor. Today, I thought it would be fun to eat a version of Colcannon, another classic Irish dish. Instead of white potatoes, I’m going to up the nutrition with a big sweet potato, and celebrate the cabbage, the most peasant of all peasant foods. Of course, you can use potatoes, too.

Yes, in a karmic payback, the cabbage that was fed to peasants and livestock is now known to be a superfood. Like all members of the brassica family, cabbage has a slew of anti-cancer chemicals and antioxidants. Cabbage offers up something called glucosinolates, which are allies in preveting colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Common cabbage is also rich in polyphenols, which are both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals.  Cabbage also lowers cholesterol and helps create a healthy environment in the digestive tract, keeping good bacterial balance.

Cabbage is high in vitamin C, but really stands out for providing 66% of the vitamin K you need in one cup. It’s one of those very low-calorie foods that you can eat lots of to feel full and satisfied without gaining weight.

Especially with potatoes.

Peasant Food

Colorful Colcannon

For my updated colcannon, I roasted off a big sweet potato and then put it in the fridge to get completely cold. That way it will be easy to cut in chunks, as well as save me time in the kitchen. You can do the same thing with three medium yukon golds for a more traditional colcannon. If you are ovo-lacto, an Irish Cheddar would be a good thing to shred over the colcannon.

1 roasted sweet potato, cold (about 1 1/2 pound)

1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 cups cabbage, chopped

1 teaspoon caraway seed or celery seed

2 cups spinach, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut the cold sweet potato into chunks, reserve. In a large cast iron skillet, heat the fat, then add the onion. Stir for 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat to soften and brown a little. Add the cabbage and caraway or celery seeds and keep stirring, let the cabbage get very soft and browned in spots. When it’s all soft and sweet, stir in the sweet potato and stir until heated through, then add the spinach and stir until wilted. Salt and pepper to taste.

In the cast iron pan, sizzling

A Sexy Salad for The Big Night

13 02 2012

Well, it’s time for the big Valentine’s romantic meal, and lots of people are making reservations for gourmet restaurant feasts. They will dine on oysters and steak, cream doused pastas, and then a big chocolate dessert, all accompanied by plenty of alcohol. Then, if they are lucky, they will head home to pursue romance in the bedroom.

Unfortunately, that big, heavy meal and all that alcohol will probably only hinder their activities. In fact, they may find themselves slipping into a sugar coma before they even get started.

So my advice to you, if you want to get lucky on Valentines, and all year long, is eat a light meal of plant-based aphrodisiac foods.

These foods, unlike their sat-fat laden alternatives, actually nourish the sexual systems. Believe it or not, guys who eat right don’t need Viagra. In fact viagra was inspired by a chemical that you can get from a good diet, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is made in the body from l-arginine, and it has the unique ability to relax the blood vessels. It’s really good for circulation and heart health in general, but that particular action is helpful for the now famous ED, or erectile dysfunction. L-arginine is high in meats, but also in beans, nuts and seeds.

That’s right, the natural foods version of viagra is right there in a healthy pantry. OK, viagra is an amped up version that works right away, while the one you get from food needs to be a part of your diet daily to make a difference. And why not? The plant foods that contain l-arginine are delicious, and healthy for you in so many ways.You can also buy it in supplement form, if you want to make sure you are taking care of your circulation.

If thinking about sex will get the dudes to eat nutrition all-stars, then so be it, bring on the sexy stuff.

So, for a pre-romance meal, try this sexy salad.

A few handfuls of Arugala provides a peppery, mineral rich base, that has long been considered an aphrodisiac.

Sprinkle on some cooked black beans, rich in l-arginine, which converts to nitric acid, the blood vessel relaxing compound that inspired the invention of Viagra.

Top that with sliced avocado, which replenishes your good fats, potassium and vitamin E that helps produce hormones for keeping things flowing.

A few sliced cherry tomatoes, or “pomme d’amour” as the French used to call it, boost your vitamin c and the lycopene needed for prostate health.

A drizzling of a nut or seed oil amps up the Omega 3 fats for your heart and necessary good circulation, as well as more hormone production.

Top that with a generous sprinkling of sunflower seeds, which pack plenty of zinc that men need for sexual health.

Squeeze a lime over the pile and shower it with minced red chiles, which raise your metabolism and warm your lips in a provocative way.

A sprinkling of coarse salt and some cracked black pepper is all you need.

Save the dessert for after the romance. You’ll have earned a treat.

Milk-Free Milks Make Their Move (and Scary Video Follows)

30 01 2012

Bump the Bottle





Have you ever bought soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk? How about quinoa milk, lupine milk, or pea milk? Well, if you are buying non-dairy milks in the US, you are part of a growing group. Industry group Packaged Facts estimates that total U.S. retail sales of dairy alternative beverages reached $1.33 billion in 2011.The rise is due to many things, such as food allergies, lactose intolerance, avoiding BGH/BST, and vegan diets. But the one factor that seems to have fueled the bump was the move of the milks into the dairy case.

For many years, the non-dairy alternatives were in aseptic boxes, and in conventional stores, they are stashed in a tiny health food section, next to gluten free cookies and canned carrot juice. (Does anyone drink that canned juice? Ick.)Now that Silk and So Delicious broke the cold case barrier, suddenly more people are opting for non-dairy half gallons. Soymilk is still number one, but barely. Almond milk has suddenly taken a big 79%  jump in sales this year, and that is wonderful. 11% of adults consume soy milk, while 9% enjoy almond. Rice is number three.

Oh, and the lupine, quinoa and pea milks? They are all milks made and sold in other countries, but who knows, we may be seeing them soon enough. Pea protein powders have made an appearance, and I’ve read that lupine (a high protein bean related to the flowers in my front yard) is a great source of inexpensive nourishment in other parts of the world.

I know that in my experience, the last few years have seen great improvements in taste and variety. I’ve also been thrilled that fortification has become almost standard in the non-dairy milk category. It just makes so much sense to add some calcium, B12 and other nutrients that vegans need. It makes it really easy to go dairy and egg free and not have to think about how much B12 you are getting, as long as you put the fortified milks over cereal, into sauces, or in coffee or tea.

For flavor, I go back and forth between Almond and  So Delicious Coconut milk. Coconut is the best tasting, to my palate, because its made from a sweet nut. It’s fortified with B12, so a cup has half your daily requirement, and it has some D, and trace minerals. It is low in protein, so don’t look for it to replace the protein of milk.

Next tastiest is Almond milk. All brands are a little different. Basically, since its made from almonds it contains the same good fats, and its lower in fat and calories than lots of other milks. Look on the label to see if your brand is fortified with B12.

Of course, soy milk has been my go-to for decades, and it’s still the highest in protein. I buy vanilla enriched, which is high in protein and has added B12, calcium and other nutrients to make it comparable to cow’s milk. The vanilla is pretty sweet, which covers up the soy taste, and kids love it.

Hemp milk is very good for you, one cup has all the Omega 3 fats you need for the day. I have used it in baking, but the taste, so far, is a little strong for me to mix into my latte.

Rice milks are popular for people with food allergies, with their neutral taste and benign rice source. I find them a little thin, and they are not particularly nutritious, not a lot of protein.

Oat milk is higher in fiber than rice milk, and has a nice neutral taste. Again, since its made from grain, its not very high in protein.

The sales of non-dairy milks have not gone unnoticed by the Dairy Industry. If you want to see a silly, somewhat desperate attempt to make non-dairy milks look bad, click on the link below. The Got Milk folks think they can convince you that shaking a carton of almond milk a couple of times will traumatize your children.


Meat Consumption Drops, Go Meatless Mondays!

23 01 2012

Better For You, Better For the Planet





If you are a vegetarian or vegan, sometimes it feels like the whole world is in love with meat, and just can’t get enough of it. Hours of TV time are dedicated to slow-mo glamour shots of melty bacon-cheeseburgers, and the people around you fret about your need for animal proteins. Depending on where you live, your restaurant options may be limited.

But things are changing for the better, veg-heads, they really are.

In fact, US meat consumption is down.

Yes, according to The CME Groups (Chicago Mercantile Exchange) Livestock Report, the consumption of domestically raised meats hit 189 pounds per person in 2007, then began a rapid decline, and is expected to drop to 165 pounds in 2012. The group, of course, sees this as a bad thing, and they analyze a number of factors that play into it.

The costs of producing meat are up, so the price had to go up. When oil prices soar, the costs of growing and trucking food for the animals, as well as transporting them to and from the slaughter go up. Our new wrinkle is the diversion of corn to ethanol, which means corn is more expensive, too.

Meat producers are actually exporting more of their products, and charging more for them as a result. Pork exports jumped 40% in 2008. Unfortunately we have exported out Western ways to countries like China, where meat consumption is rising.

So, cutting back on meat is not putting farmers out of work, yet. They are just shipping it out of the country. Don’t forget, there has been a terrible drought in Texas, which has wreaked havoc on their beef industry.

The CME group is unhappy about the US government’s role in advising people to eat less meat, and concludes that groups who advocate against eating meat for animal rights, environmental, and health reasons are finally having an impact.It sure took some time, as the experts have been advising less meat consumption to all the people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and all the other diet-related ailments that plague us for years.

Of course, the fact that major meat recalls and mass food borne illness outbreaks have become far too common may also play a role. There are just so many good reasons to give up meat.

Campaigns like Meatless Monday are putting the idea of cutting back in the public consciousness at just the right moment, when meat prices are up and people may not have as much to spend, anyway. Fingers crossed, maybe this year will see an even bigger drop!

As somebody who has been playing my small role in educating people about the healthy alternatives to the Standard American Diet, I am glad to see this shift.

Bravo Americans who are getting the message. Keep up the good work.




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