Mayumi Nishimura spent twenty years working in the field of macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts. Diminutive in appearance yet overflowing with vitality and charm, Mayumi certainly seems to practice what she preaches. She initially became interested in macrobiotics a couple of decades ago while living in Japan, and is currently personal chef to Madonna. Here is a glimpse of her art.
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***What is Macrobiotics?
The word ‘macrobiotics’ literally means ‘big life’ but I take it to mean ‘great life’, a life that makes me free to do whatever I like to do. The key concept underlying macrobiotics is that of ‘shindofuji’, which literally means ‘one body, one earth’, in other words that we are continually influenced by our environment which includes the foods we eat and the climate and part of the world in which we live.
We should therefore try to eat food that has been grown in our local area as not doing so can lead to an imbalance that can result in sickness. Our diet should also adapt to seasonal changes, and everything should be cooked here (i.e. the UK) except in summer as this creates heat in the body. Food is medicine and if we are conscious about choosing our food all our worries about becoming ill disappear.
Although there is an extensive list of foods to avoid, eat occasionally and use often, basic macrobiotic principles include eating a largely organic diet with whole, unrefined foods, grains, beans and fresh vegetables, eating small amounts at regular intervals, chewing more and adopting a positive approach towards life. Dairy products and animal protein should be avoided as much as possible.
***A healthy breakfast
The stress and strain of modern life can lead to us feeling sluggish in the morning. This month, Mayumi introduces some macrobiotic ways to start the day that could boost your energy levels!
As morning energy is water (kidney/bladder) and wood (liver/gallbladder), energy is rising from the earth so it is important that we eat soft, light food to help our bodies synchronize with nature.
Breakfast should consist of steamed greens and soft cooked whole grains of your own choice. Miso soup is also a delicious option as it fires up the kidneys which respond well to the salty taste and, having a slighty sour flavour, it also stimulates wood energy and is a wonderful soup to have in the morning.
(N.B. People with hypoglycemia should have miso soup for lunch or dinner instead of breakfast as it may cause them to feel hungry all day.)
My ideal breakfast would be soft rice with miso soup: Pressure cook 1 cup of brown rice, 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt for 45 minutes. Wakame, daikon, onion and some cubed tofu can be added to the soup to increase the flavour and don’t forget to garnish with chopped spring onion.
***The Changing of the Seasons
The long dark days of winter are a distant memory, and we are now well into spring. This month, Mayumi explains how we should adjust our diet in keeping with the change of season.
During the winter, we tend to eat more animal protein and oily food. As it is important that we keep our bodies warm, we cook our food for longer, using methods such as stewing and roasting. However, with the approach of spring, we no longer need to store fat for insulation purposes so we should change our diet accordingly by using less oil and salt, consuming fewer animal products and shortening cooking time.
An alternative way of preparing food is to sautee vegetables in water. Excess fat can be reduced by drinking a 'carrot and daikon' drink, which is made up of equal portions of grated carrot and daikon, 1/4 tsp pureed umeboshi plums and 1/3 sheet of toasted nori. Water is added and the mixture is simmered for a few minutes on a medium heat.
Spring is an ideal time to practice liver cleansing, as the liver and gall bladder are associated with this season along with the wood element, which is typically concerned with growth and the harmonious flow of life. Using a splash of lemon or vinegar in your dishes can help these organs to function, with the sour taste enabling the energy in your system to become lighter and move upwards. It is also beneficial to eat fewer baked goods such as cakes, muffins and cookies, choosing instead steamed, oriental style sweets.
***Summer Cooking Secrets
Macrobiotic lifestyle expert Mayumi explains that summer is fire energy time and reveals which foods are most appropriate for summer.
She believes that each of our main organs is connected with one of the five elements of Chinese philosophy - wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and is represented by a season (spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter) and a given taste. Sourness, for example, is associated with wood - thus by eating a moderate amount of sour food, the liver (the organ connected with wood) will be nourished.
She says: “Summer is fire energy time, the main organ is the heart (and small intestines), and the taste is bitter. As spring gives way to summer, we need to start eating bitter tasting foods such as burdock and dandelion which can nourish this transforming energy. However, moderation is the key and milder tasting foods such as grains and pulses should always form the main part of the diet. It is important to choose cooling foods in summer to make us feel cool, however, if you are not careful they can cause a weakening of the small intestines.
One good way of combining fresh vegetables in a delicious and interesting way is in a ‘pressed salad’:
2 tbsps of red onion (finely chopped)
2 tbsps of umeboshi vinegar
236g shredded green cabbage
78g cup grated carrot
mix these ingredients in a flat-bottomed bowl. Add parsley and salt, cover with a plate and add some weight to it. Leave for 15 to 20 minutes and eat with your favourite healthy dressing. Enjoy!
***A Simple Summer Dessert
With the recent arrival of some warmer weather (at last), Mayumi recommends a simple summer dessert. In the summer I use a variety of different fruit to make a delicious, macrobiotic dessert called kanten. Kanten is also the Japanese word for agar-agar, a purple-brown sea vegetable extracted from seaweed. Its rich in iodine and a key ingredient of the dish. It has no calories or flavour and the processing method is remarkably simple. Having a cooling effect on the body, kanten is better eaten in summer than winter. As it induces a feeling of relaxation, it is of benefit to people who are feeling physically tense due to excess yang, which is in turn a result of too much salt or animal protein in the diet.
Apple Juice Kanten
one and a half pints apple juice
1 tbsp agar flakes
pinch of salt
1.Put juice & agar flakes in a small saucepan & leave to soak for 15-30 mins
2.Bring to boil on medium flame, add salt & simmer until agar has all dissolved
3.Pour into moulds or small serving cups & leave to cool in the fridge
4.Serve with mint leaves
This month, Mayumi talks about the role of sweet treats in the macrobiotic lifestyle, and shares a delicious dessert recipe with us. Although I still get the occasional craving, I now use rice syrup, barley malt, maple syrup, tofu, soy milk and vegetable or nut oil in my recipes as alternatives to sugar, eggs, milk, cheese and butter. I prefer non-baked goods as they are more gentle on the digestive system. However, if you have a very sweet tooth, be careful as a high intake of sugar can result in tiredness so try to limit your intake to 2-3 times per week. I'd like to introduce you to a basic macrobiotic dessert – it's easy to make, a lot healthier than conventional sweets and can be eaten hot or cold... enjoy!
(Serves 4 – 6)
125ml apple juice
1 tbsp agar flakes
125ml maple/rice syrup
pinch of sea salt
2 tbsp lemon rind
62ml lemon juice
2 tbsp arrowroot/kuzu root powder
85ml soy milk
lemon slices for garnish
Bring the apple juice and agar flakes to the boil and simmer for 8-10 mins until the agar has dissolved. Stir. Add the syrup, salt and lemon rind to the pot and stir once more. Dilute the kuzu powder in cold soy milk, then add to the simmering pot of agar mixture and stir constantly until the liquid is translucent and bubbling. Turn off the heat, add lemon juice and mix well.
***Need a vitality soup?
So far this summer, in the UK at least, has left a lot to be desired. If it has left you feeling jaded, then Mayumi has just the thing to perk you up.
In general, root vegetables such as onions or carrots are good for the digestive system. Daikon (Japanese radish) is also of benefit and is particularly good for breaking down fat. It is an ideal complement to any fish dish.
Green leafy vegetables keep red blood cells healthy and are also
high in fibre. Eating high fibre food is one of the keys to having a good digestive system and it also balances out the yang energy of animal protein.
Celery and scallions are good sources of fibre and yin (upward) energy which complements the yang (downward) energy of root vegetables and fish. There are two different kinds of protein in this dish, fish and beans. I use yellow soy beans which are more yin than other beans. You don't have to use fish and beans but they give the soup its "vitality." If you don't eat fish you can make the soup with just beans and vegetables, adding burdock root (the most yang vegetable) to make the soup more 'vital'. It goes well with noodles or any wholegrain and if you use miso for the seasoning, it'll be more hearty'.
118g cooked yellow soy beans
236g diced onion
118g diced carrots
59g diced daikon
59g diced celery
1/4 tsp sea salt
236g seasonal green vegetables
of your choice (e.g. water cress,
nappa (Chinese cabbage), kale or bok choy)
1 tbsp sesame oil
500g salmon or fish of your choice,
sliced into 1/2 inch cubes
some spring water
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp grated ginger for garnish
2 tbsp chopped scallions
1. Place sesame oil in a pan and heat on a medium flame. Sautée onions, carrots and daikon. Add celery and heat for about 8 min.
2. Add enough water to cover vegetables and place soy beans and fish on top. Add just enough water to cover the fish.
3. Bring to the boil on a high flame, then reduce the heat and cook for 15 min. Add chopped greens and soy sauce then cook for a further 5 min until greens are soft but not over cooked. They should be bright green in colour.
4. Serve in a bowl and top with scallions and grated ginger.
***A Healthy Christmas
With the mood of celebration in the air, and the pressure to over-indulge, it can seem impossible to maintain a healthy diet over the Christmas season. Here Mayumi, macrobiotic guru, tells us how. During the holiday season I tend to cook more elaborate dishes. Vegetables such as potatoes which should usually be avoided on the macrobiotic diet as they’re too acidic, can be eaten but should be blanched then baked with olive oil, garlic and dulse to create a more balanced dish which is both moist and warming.
On special occasions such as Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, we eat a special type of pumpkin called ‘Blue Hubbard Squash’ which, with its long neck actually looks like a bird! This is stuffed with couscous, bulgar or millet, onion, corn, carrots and peas. As a healthy alternative to the very fattening Christmas Pudding, we eat pumpkin pie which is made without butter or eggs. You mix pumpkin purée, tofu, tahini and maple syrup with a little nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon and cook it in a pie shell made of almond oil, unbleached white flour, fine whole meal flour, maple syrup and soya milk.
Although it can be difficult adhering to macrobiotic principles when eating out, two basic rules to remember are to avoid dairy products and choose fish in preference to meat. If you do find you have over-indulged, especially if you have eaten any dairy products, oily food or animal protein, a handy counteractive cure is grated daikon (Japanese radish) with a few drops of lemon juice, shoyu or umeboshi vinegar as this helps to digest the oil.
However, if you generally eat very well, the odd slip up won’t have too much of an effect! Another failsafe remedy is the Japanese favourite, miso soup which you should eat the following morning. If you like to drink, grain based alcohol is best (e.g scotch whisky) with cocktails possibly being the worst choice.