The Modern Macrobiotic Diet
More Than Tofu and Seaweed
by Veronica Hinke
So much has evolved in the 100 years since Japanese educator George Ohsawa created the macrobiotic diet. For one thing, the recipes have become more flexible, empowering people to save time and use ingredients that they love. “The modern macrobiotic diet is about much more than tofu, seaweed and miso,” says chef and author Christina Pirello, the Emmy Award-winning host of Christina Cooks, on PBS. “It’s about seasonal, whole, unprocessed food cooked in accordance with each person’s condition and lifestyle.”
“In the beginning, there was rigidity that didn’t give you the freedom to say, 'I don’t want to eat adzuki beans again,’” Pirello says. “Variety is key. You can’t just eat kale and drink smoothies and hope for the best. You have to get balanced nutrition with enough protein, fats and carbohydrates.”
According to Pirello, “What we eat determines how we move through the world. Are we comfortable or uncomfortable? In Chinese medicine, we are either in a state of ease or dis-ease, which became the word disease, but in Chinese medicine, it really means uncomfortable. What do you do to get back into that state of ease, or balance? That’s really what macrobiotics is about; how do you rebalance the body—the organs—to be comfortable?”
Eating in accordance with the natural order—with the seasons—is an essential concept of the macrobiotic diet and includes fall, winter, spring, summer and a fifth season, “late harvest.” The idea is to follow our intuition, Pirello advises: “If you walk into the supermarket in November, you’re not immediately attracted to cherry tomatoes and strawberries, but the winter squashes, pumpkins and parsnips call your name. Macrobiotics allows us to understand that—even here in the United States where foods are so widely available that you can have strawberries at Christmas.”
Her recipe for Winter Squash Risotto, which is featured in her new cookbook, VegEdibles, is just one example of the delicious macrobiotic dishes she has developed. “This risotto is perfect for cooler weather, when we need to keep energy in our middle organs so we are warm and cozy, centered and balanced,” Pirello says. “Come winter and fall, we want foods that are going to help the body hold onto heat. Squash, pumpkin, turnips and rutabaga are going to help relax the body and the middle organs and help us keep grounded, centered and warm. The risotto is cooked really long, so there’s a lot of warming energy that will help you in cold weather.”
“There has to be a period when the body transitions from the heat of summer into the cool of the fall,” says Chicago area-based macrobiotic counselor Karla Walter. “That’s when we have those beautiful orange foods starting to come out, and the squashes start arriving. We have this really lovely, sweet time of the year that actually nourishes the body and helps the immune system ramp up and get ready for colder weather.”
Walter recommends the macrobiotic diet for finding calmness and rhythm. “When we eat healthy foods that sustain us, our goals come to the surface where we can see them a lot clearer. People don’t know their potential until they start to feel good about themselves,” she says.
Lisa Books-Williams, a plant-based chef, educator and therapist in the San Francisco area, encourages people to find their own plant-based path. “I found my answer at the end of a fork, instead of in a bottle of pills,” she says. “The most loving thing I ever did for myself started with changing my food choices. Sure, it would be more delicious to be eating a pizza, but eating a salad with beans and rice is how I love myself.”
Books-Williams believes that taking the extra time that is required to follow a plant-based lifestyle is worthwhile. “We can eat well inexpensively if we are willing to take an extra couple of hours each week to chop vegetables. We are worth the time it takes to batch-cook and freeze beans in single servings so we have them when we need them. Each of us has to be committed to our own well-being. No one is going to do it for us.”
While much has changed since Ohsawa introduced the macrobiotic diet, Pirello still adheres to its three core ingredients. “I still eat rice, seaweed and miso soup,” she says. “Not as much as I used to, but I still do, because miso is the greatest probiotic on the planet, followed by kimchi. Those are the greatest macrobiotics we could ever eat in our lives, and both are delicious.”
Veronica Hinke is a food historian and the author of The Last Night on the Titanic: Unsinkable Drinking, Dining and Style and Titanic: The Official Cookbook. Learn more at FoodStringer.com.
Beetroot and Orange Miso Soup
Yield: 4-6 servings
• 4 medium beets, washed and with stems trimmed to about 1 inch 2 tsp ginger, finely chopped
• 2 Tbsp green onions, finely chopped 2 cups water or vegetable stock
• 1¼ cup orange juice
• 2 Tbsp raspberry vinegar
• 1 Tbsp barley (mugi) miso
• ½ cup chopped chives or green onions
Place the beetroot in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Drain the beets.
Next, run the beets under cold water and peel them. The skin and stalks should fall off easily. Chop the beets into ½-inch cubes.
Reserve ⅓ cup chopped beets and set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the remaining beets, ginger, green onions, water or vegetable stock plus one extra cup of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in orange juice.
Purée soup in small batches in a blender until smooth.
Remove a small portion of the soup into a bowl and dissolve the miso. Add miso back into the soup and stir through. Add the vinegar and stir through.
Garnish with the chives or green onions.
Recipe courtesy of Karla Walter.
Winter Squash Risotto
Yield: 4-6 Servings
For the broth:
• ¼ red onion, diced
• ½ carrot, diced
• ¼ cup diced winter squash
• Splash of white wine or mirin
• 3 cups spring or filtered water
For the risotto:
• 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• ½ red onion, finely diced
• ¼ tsp sea salt
• Splash of white wine or mirin
• ½ cup carnaroli or Arborio rice
• ¼ winter squash, unpeeled and finely diced
• 4-5 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed, hand-shredded
To make the broth, combine all of the listed ingredients in a large saucepan over low heat and simmer for 30 minutes before making the risotto. This can be done the day before.
For the risotto, place the olive oil in a deep skillet along with the onion over medium heat. When the onion begins to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring until translucent. Add the rice and a generous splash of wine, and cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed. Add ¼ cup broth and cook, stirring frequently, until the broth is absorbed. Add another ¼ cup of broth and repeat the process. Stir in half of the diced squash and cook, stirring.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, place the remaining squash with enough water to cover halfway. Add a pinch of salt. Cook over medium heat until the squash is soft, about 20 minutes.
Continue adding the remaining broth to the rice—¼ cup at a time—and stirring until the rice is tender but al dente, about 25 minutes. Take the remaining squash and use an emulsion blender or a food processor to purée until smooth. Stir the puréed squash into the cooked risotto. Season it lightly with salt and cook over low heat until the squash is absorbed into the rice.
Serve immediately, garnished with fresh basil.
Recipe courtesy of Christina Pirello.
Delicious, Easy Three-Bean Chili
Yield: 8 servings
• 3½ cups fresh tomatoes, diced
• 1 15-oz can tomato sauce
• 1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked pinto beans)
• 1 15-oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked kidney beans)
• 1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed (or 2 cups cooked black beans)
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
• ½ small red onion, finely diced
• ½ small yellow onion, finely diced
• 1 red, yellow or orange bell pepper, finely diced
• 1 zucchini, finely diced 2 carrots, finely diced
• 2½ Tbsp chili powder
• 1¼ tsp cumin
• ⅛ tsp cayenne powder
• ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 can diced green chilies (optional)
• 1 cup fresh or frozen white corn
For Cashew Sour Cream
• 1 cup cashews, soaked for 2 hours
• ½ cup pure water
• Juice of 1 lemon
• ¼ tsp salt
• 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
Place all of the ingredients, except corn, in a large saucepan over medium heat and cook until the chili begins to boil. Note: For a meatier consistency, before placing them in the pot, place all of the veggies (except corn, tomatoes and green chilies) in a food processor fitted with an “S” blade, and pulse-chop until the ingredients become confetti size, about 2 to 3 minutes.
Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the corn, cover and simmer an additional 5 minutes.
Serve over brown rice with the cashew sour cream.
To make the cashew sour cream, use a blender to combine all of the ingredients together, pulsing until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Seal and store for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
Recipe courtesy of Lisa Books-Williams.
Lasagna With Tofu Ricotta and Veggie Bolognese
Yield: 6-8 servings
For the lasagna:
• ¾-1 lb whole wheat or regular lasagna noodles, cooked according to package directions
• 6-8 oz frozen spinach
• 1 large zucchini, cut into fettucine-shaped noodles with a vegetable peeler
• 1 eggplant, cut into ¼-inch rounds and salted
For the veggie Bolognese:
• 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
• 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
•1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
• ½ lb fresh mushrooms, finely chopped
• 1 zucchini, finely chopped
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• ½ tsp dried basil
• ¼ tsp dried thyme
• ¼ tsp ground black pepper
• 1 tsp salt
• ½-¾ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
• 1 Tbsp olive oil or water
• 1½ tsp sweetener (coconut or date sugar)
• 12 oz tomato paste
• 5 fresh tomatoes, diced
• 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes (plain or with basil)
• ½ cup chopped Kalamata or black olives
• 2 Tbsp capers, rinsed
• ¼ cup red wine
For the tofu ricotta:
• 1 lb medium tofu, drained
• ¼ cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 1 Tbsp dried basil
• 2 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
• ½ tsp salt
• ¼ tsp nutmeg
• 2 Tbsp lemon juice
• 4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 small onion, chopped
To make the veggie Bolognese, in a large pot over high heat, sauté the garlic, onion, carrot, bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, oregano, basil, thyme, pepper, salt and red pepper flakes in the olive oil or water until the onions are tender, about 10 minutes.
Add the sweetener, tomato paste, tomatoes, olives, capers, wine and ¾ cup water.
Cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes.
Serve with pasta or use in lasagna.
To make the tofu ricotta, blend all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor until it achieves the consistency of cottage cheese, about 3 to 5 minutes. If mixture is too thick, add a little water.
To salt the eggplant, wash and dry the outside of the eggplant. Line a 9- by 12-inch cookie sheet with 2 layers of paper towels. Cut eggplant into ¼-inch rounds and place each round on the sheet pan. Sprinkle ⅛ teaspoon or less of salt on each round and gently massage it into the eggplant. Let rest for 10 minutes. Use paper towels to remove the water that is being expelled from the salting process.
Flip the eggplant and repeat process. For best results, remove the salt and expelled liquid. For the lasagna, preheat the oven to 350°F. Cover the bottom of a 9- by 13-inch cake pan in a thin layer of sauce, then cover with a layer of the lasagna noodles.
Place the salted eggplant rounds on top of the noodles. Place a dollop of tofu ricotta every 1 to 2 inches. Cover with the zucchini noodles, followed by a layer of sauce.
Cover with the spinach, followed by a layer of sauce.
Finish with a top layer of lasagna noodles, covered with sauce and sprinkled with dollops of the tofu ricotta.
Cover loosely with aluminum foil or a baking lid and bake until it is hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes.
Optional: Remove foil during the last 10 minutes of cooking to brown the ricotta topping. Remove from oven and set it on the countertop for 20 minutes before serving.
Recipe courtesy of Lisa Books-Williams.