My Notes: The Miso Cookbook by John & Jan Belleme and The Big Beautiful Brown Rice Cookbook by Wendy Esko and are great companion cookbooks, because they are both written by authors who specialize in macrobiotic cooking. Thus, I am reviewing them together as a “set,” but on two different days to give each its due. The philosophy behind each book and the recipes can be used in a mix and match setting.
First, what is macrobiotics? The freedictionary.com defines it as: “The theory or practice of promoting well-being and longevity, principally by means of a diet consisting chiefly of whole grains and beans.” However, the word itself means “big” or “long life,” from the Greek makro for big or long and bio for life. (http://elfstream.wordpress.com/what-is-macrobiotics/)
The concept of macrobiotics came to the US via Japan in the 1970s and is probably one of the most popular diets among health-enthusiasts. I actually learned about it in the late 70s when I co-owned a health food store and incorporated many of its concepts in my life and diet, so these two books are welcome additions to my library.
The Miso Cookbook
In The Miso Book: The Art of Cooking with Miso by the Bellemes, we are introduced to this wonderful fermented soybean paste by learning about how it is made, with first-hand experience by the authors. Because this is a naturally aged food, it requires special temperature controls to ensure the best quality, as taught by a Miso Master who considers its creation an art form. Miso is generally made from soybeans, but can also be made from barley or brown rice. Miso can range from very light to very dark in color, which is an indication of its strong or mild taste.
Miso actually fits the quote by Hippocrates, considered the father of modern day medicine: “Let food be your medicine.” While miso is a culinary delight, it also has medicinal qualities. As the authors note, “…unpasteurized miso is abundant in beneficial microorganisms, reduce food allergies, destroy pathogenic bacteria and toxins, and aid in food assimilation” (p. 5).
Following the first 35 pages of the history and importance of miso, with photos from the authors’ journey to Japan to learn how to make miso, are the more than 140 recipes that include cooking instructions and introductory pages for each section, from Dips & Spreads to Seafood Entrées. Below is just one recipe, which I know is good, because I also make a similar soup.
Ultimate Miso Soup
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
The ingredients in this soup work together to enhance miso’s medicinal benefits.
6 cups Kombu-Shiitake Stock (see recipe below)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced in half moons
4 shiitake (mushroom) caps, thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, thinbly sliced on the diagonal
1 ½ cups chopped kale
8 oiunces fresh tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoon Hatcho miso*
*Although Hatcho (soybean) miso is recommended because it is highest in isoflavones, (a plant compound with health benefits-es) you can substitute any dark miso that lists soybeans as the first ingredient)
1. Combine the stock, onion, and shiitake in a 3-quart pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes.
2.Add the carrots and kale and simmer 10 minutes more, or until the kale is tender.+
3. Add the tofu and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.
4. Dissolve the miso in some of the broth and add to the soup. Remove from the heat and steep a minutes before serving.
My Note: The bottom of the page lists the medicinal benefits of each major ingredient.
Kombu (kelp) and shiitake (mushrooms) combine to make an especially good stock. They both offer rich flavor as well as potent health benefits. As an added bonus, preparation time is short.
4-5 dried shiitake mushrooms
6-inch piece of kombu
6 cups water
1. Place the shiitake, kombu, and water in a 3-quart pot and let sit for 15 minutes.
2. Place the pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove the kombu, reduce the heat to medium low, and gently simmer 15 minutes more. Remove the shiitake and reserve for another use.
3. Use the stock immediately, refrigerate in a covered container for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
The Miso Cookbook is published by Square One Publishers and costs $15.95 (softcover)
*Important Note: Many people shy away from Miso because of its sodium content. However, according to the authors, recent medical research plus traditinal wisdom agree that the amount of sodiumvin the diet is less important than the balance of minerals (potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. Thus, miso soup made with foods high in the first three minerals (wakame, fish stock, greens and carrots) actually lowers high blood pressure as well as preventing it in people with normal blood pressure rates. (pp. 16-18).