Menu of the Week: A Taste of Jerusalem On Our Plate


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Jerusalem: if there is a city with a a more dense and layered history, and a more contested and drama-filled present, it is hard to imagine what city that would be. Symbolic center of Judaism, third holist city of Sunni Islam, and according to Christian belief, the place where Christ died and ascended, it would seem to be almost more than one city can bare. And yet today Jerusalem is a vibrant city with a diverse population of nearly 900,000. And according to Jerusalem A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, it’s a city with a rich and diverse food culture as well. The two authors, business partners in a handful of well-regarded London restaurants, both grew up in Jerusalem. Tamimi is a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, an Italian Jew from the western part of the city, but it wasn’t until they were both living in London that they met. And a creative collaboration it has turned out to be. I don’t get excited by many cookbooks, but this one has really captured my imagination. And so, inspired by Jerusalem, the city and the cookbook, I wanted to create a menu for our Monday night dinners which would capture a bit of the flavor of that ancient city. On the plate above, you can see what we came up with. I didn’t get pictures, but there was also a chickpea soup flavored with the spice mixture ras  el hanout, and an almond cake over which I poured a syrup made with orange juice concentrate, brown rice syrup and maple syrup.  More pictures and a recipe for baba ghanoush after the jump.

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Photos: Top–This is the plate we created to celebrate Jerusalem. Clockwise from center top: Whole wheat pita bread, baba ghanoush, chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, green beans and green onion, mixed baby greens and arugula salad with a citrus dressing created by Susanne, roasted sweet potato and red onions, rice with lentils and caramelized onions.  Photo above: Susanne prepares the rice and lentil dish for take out volunteers Kate and Judy. In the foreground, other components of the meal in various stages of preparation.

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Kushi Summer Conference Is Upon Us…


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A number of years ago, I had the good fortune to participate as a volunteer at the annual Kushi Institute (KI) Summer Conference.  I spent a lot of my time in the kitchen, of course, but also was able to attend a number of classes given by some the country’s leading teachers in the fields of natural cookery, healing and macrobiotics. I particularly remember a cooking class with the always-enthusiastic Christina Pirello. That conference was held on a college campus near Providence R.I., and was memorable because in addition to the hundreds of slim conference attendees, also on campus were the bulky members of the New English Patriots football team who were engaged in their preseason training camp. The contrast could not have been more stark!

This year’s conference, which runs from July 26th to August 9th, is being held at the Kushi Institute itself, at their 600-acre site in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.The folks at the KI have told me that registration is still open and you may attend all, or any part of the conference, and they will offer a 10% discount to MacroChef readers. Time at the conference could be a refreshing and inspiring way to spend a vacation, and a great place to make new friends. Full info is here.  If you do attend, could you  tell MacroChef readers about your experience in the comments section of this article?  Thanks, and I hope you are having a great summer!

Robyn’s Two Week Adventure at the Kushi Institute

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Editor’s note: Robyn Swanson (pictured above), prep cook and sous chef for our Monday night dinners in Palo Alto, recently traded two weeks in sunny California for the snowy Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts. What drew her there was an immersion course in macrobiotics at the Kushi Institute.  This is her report:

I have been interested in macrobiotics ever since I became a vegetarian, back in 1995. I never cooked a lot of truly macrobiotic meals, since I enjoy simple things like taste and flavor, but I was still interested. I had always wanted to attend a program at the Kushi Institute  (K I) in Massachusetts, but living in California all of my adult life, I just never found the time. I finally decided that it was an easy enough thing to cross off my bucket list (unlike, say, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro), and so off I went. The K I is housed in two main facilities: the North Hall and the Main House. The Main House has cozy rooms and shared bathrooms, while more dormitory-style rooms and bathrooms are in the North Hall. Classes are held in both. I was housed in the Main House and was quite happy there. The place is old, as are the beds and pillow—the Four Seasons this is not—but there is both heat and wifi, so I was content. The Main House  (photo below) is old and rather spooky looking, but there is an air of calm and peace that prevails throughout both the house and the rest of the facilities. I went in March, and when I arrived, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground. Spring was waiting around the corner however, and by the time I left, much of the now had begun to melt. Main+House+in+the+snow

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The Good News Is–Our Monday Night Dinners Will Continue!

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We had an a great crowd last Monday in Palo Alto, serving nearly 100 dinners, and with lots of positive energy. And, we were happy to announce that our 25-year tradition of weekly dinners will continue–at least for now. Susanne Jensen and James Holloway will each cook two dinners in August, and James and I will share cooking duties in September. Jay Whitcraft, who’s been our de-facto dinner manager for the past few weeks offered to come in for a couple more weeks to help with the transition. Claudia Tomaso will serve as temporary dinner manager, and nearly all of our faithful volunteers have said they will continue. All of which I find really gratifying. Apparently there are plenty of people who value our dinners enough that they will do what it takes to see that they go on.  Meanwhile, we continue our search for a dinner manager, or managers.  Perhaps we will find a new solution to that as well. With this transition, other things may change.  We will probably need to raise the price a little. We should take a look at having a new generation of people involved, especially in the cooking, and we may want some people with fresh energy to serve on our board. Change, as always, is a bit unsettling, but, in the end, is unavoidable. Next week’s menu, and all the menus for August and September are after the jump. To reserve a spot for Monday’s dinner, call 650 599-3320, or make a reservation on line here.

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Photo: Fumiko Arao and James Holloway, hard at work, preparing one of our Monday Night Dinners

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Monday Night Dinners: After 25 Years, Could This Really Be The End?

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As many of you know, this blog grew out of my work as chef for the Monday Night Gourmet Vegetarian Dinners in Palo Alto.  Eons ago, when I was asked to be chef for a new community group, I was skeptical that it would be a long-lasting gig, but it seemed like too interesting an opportunity to pass up. Twenty-five years later, I’m still cooking on Monday nights. But unless a miracle happens, this amazing event could soon end.

What precipitated this possibility was the announcement a couple of months ago by Ilona Pollak, our longtime dinner manager, that she didn’t wish to continue. Ilona has been manager for a decade and a half, and is one of the main reasons our dinners have been such an enduring success.  She has given valiantly of her energy, time and financial resources, and it’s completely understandable that she needs to move on.

Perhaps I should say something about how crucial the dinner manager is. She (and so far, all the managers have been women) is the nexus which makes it all work.  She takes reservations, greets the diners, makes take-outs, creates publicity, finds and supervises volunteers, and attends to the finances by collecting money, paying expenses  (which include pay to the chef and sous chef, rent to the church and take out supplies). If income is greater than expenses, the manager keeps that as her pay, and as you can imagine, on nights when attendance is low, the manager makes little or nothing, and may even lose money. It’s true that during cycles of good times, when our hall is consistently full, the manager does reasonably well, but, largely it is a labor of love, a service to our community (one of the ongoing conundrums is that although food costs have tripled in 25 years, we’ve only dared to raise the price 50 per cent).

In the past when a manager needed to move on, someone else stepped forward to train for the role and we were able to make an almost seamless transition. This time, that hasn’t happened. So far, no one has come forward to say they will take on this necessary role. If you think you might be able to do so and you’d like to learn more about the dinner manager’s job, click here. If you wish to apply, send an email to: pmcdinnermanager@aol.com.

And so, that leaves us uncertain as to what is next. It seems to me there are three possibilities: 1) having run out of steam, the dinners will end (after all, that which has a beginning, has an end), 2) the dinners will take a break during August, and during that time our community will find a manager or a team of managers to somehow keep things going, 3) we’ll hurriedly put together a plan for the dinners to continue in August and beyond. I could make a logical case for any of these possibilities, but let me simply state that I hope the dinners continue.

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More Secrets of Japanese Vegetarian Cooking: My Lunch With Fumi

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I drove down recently to Fumiko (Fumi) Arao’s home in the lush hills above Silicon Valley where we planned to test recipes for our upcoming cooking class. When I arrived, to my great pleasure, Fumi told me she was putting the finishing touches on lunch which we were to share with her husband, Ken. In a way, it was a simple lunch, but even so, it was apparent that Fumi had expended no small amount of thought and preparation time. Eating Fumi’s food is always interesting because she subtly combines traditional techniques she learned from her mother and grandmother in Japan with the principles of macrobiotics she’s studied in the U.S. Into this mix, of course, is the reality that Fumi is well-travelled and has been exposed to a rich mix of cuisines.

On a cool, rainy day, lunch consisted of warming foods, well cooked and seasoned. There was kabocha squash, baked and stuffed with seasoned tofu, thick fried tofu simmered with red wine, soy sauce and dried figs, blanched kale tossed with olive oil, umeboshi vinegar and toasted pumpkin seeds, and short grain brown rice cooked with ample quantities of fresh ginger. Well satisfied, we headed into the kitchen to work on recipes for the class.  But that is a story for another post. Fumi’s recipes are after the jump…

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Photos: Top–Fumi smoothes the tofu filling in the kabocha squash. Above: Our lunch of stuffed squash, thick fried tofu and figs simmered in red wine, and blanched kale with pumpkin seeds, with rice in a separate bowl.

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Where to Eat: New Vegan, Macrobiotic Cafe Opens in Berkeley

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It’s too soon to give a detailed review, but I know all of you who live in or visit the Bay Area will want to know about the Green Earth Cafe and Bakery in Berkeley.  Open just a few weeks, proprietors Barbara Johnston-Brown  and Ciren Zhuoga and their staff offer a welcoming menu of organic, vegan, macrobiotic dishes. I tried the Green Earth special plate of the day (pictured above), which also comes in a smaller version in a bowl. It included a veggie stir fry with seitan (or was that tofu?), baked sweet potato and apple, fried polenta sticks, rice with kamut, and pickles. Everything on the plate was prepared with a delicate hand, and completely delicious.  Even though I live twenty miles away,  I hope to pop in frequently to check on progress. I worked ten years in the restaurant business and know very well how tough and competitive it is.  So, to Barbara and Ciren I say: I wish you well, you’ve got a good start and I hope you can take it the rest of the way to long-term success.

Details: Green Earth Cafe and Bakery, 2124 Center Street Berkeley, CA 94704 (one block from downtown Berkeley BART). 510-981-8404 /Hours: Light breakfast 8:30-11 a.m. / Lunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. / Dinner: 5:30-9:30 p.m. / Saturday Brunch: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Closed Sunday (as with most new businesses, it’s good to call ahead, as hours can change).

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Barbara Johnston-Brown (pictured) and Ciren Zhuoga are proprietors of the new Green Earth Cafe and Bakery in Berkeley (more photos after the jump).

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Aduki Beans Pair With Garnet Yams In A Colorful, Autumnal Potage

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One of the great things about dried beans is that they’re always in your pantry, ready to use. And while it’s never wrong to cook any bean at any time of year, I just think kidney beans and aduki beans (sometimes spelled azuki) go especially well with winter squash, sweet potatoes, and root vegetables which are so much in season now. A dish I love to make in the autumn is roasted chunks of kabocha, red kuri or butternut squash, mixed with tender, sweet cooked aduki beans. Everybody seems to like it, and this soup is really a variation on that theme.

If you’re not familiar with aduki beans, look for them in Asian stores and well-stocked natural food stores. They’re a favorite bean in East Asia, especially in Japan where they’re often sweetened, mashed and used as a filling in pastries, and even as a topping for ice cream.  I read that Pepsi Japan released an aduki-flavored Pepsi product a few years back , but I have no idea if was a hit or not! I do wonder if adukis aren’t prized as much for their red color, the color of celebration and good fortune in East Asia, as they are for their mellow, sweet flavor. They’re an easy bean to like, especially with their nutritional profile of being good sources of protein, iron, magnesium, potassium and folic acid. So, try your hand at this soup, it’s easy to make, warming and hearty enough to be a main course. If you do try it, leave a comment telling us how you liked it.  Recipe after the jump…

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Best of MacroChef: Six Savory Recipes To Make For Thanksgiving

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I always have to chuckle when I see the sign in a friend’s house which reads: “Martha Stewart doesn’t live here.” Not to pick on Martha (I quite respect her), but Martha Stewart doesn’t live in my house either. And unlike Martha, who probably planned her menu months ago, I’m still wondering what to conjure up for Thanksgiving. If you’re like me, you may also be in doubt as to how to handle that turkey-centered holiday. Fear not. Today and tomorrow I’m reprising some of the most Thanksgiving-appropriate recipes I’ve posted in the past two years. They’re all vegan, but they’d be a welcome contribution to any Thanksgiving dinner, whether it involves a plump bird or not. Today, I’m reposting recipes for Butternut Squash Soup, Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts, Wild Rice Croquettes, Creamy Mushroom Gravy, Roasted Butternut Squash Savory Bread Pudding, and Cornbread.  Tomorrow, I’ll repost recipes for Cranberry Sauce, Pecan Pie and other seasonal desserts.  Happy cooking!

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Photos: Top–Butternut Squash Soup with Roasted Corn.  Above: Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Hazelnuts and Lemon Zest (all recipes are after the jump).

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Condiments You’re Going to Love: Starting With Sesame Salt

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From time to time, people come to me with a question which goes like this: “I’m trying to eat a more natural, whole foods diet, but sometimes it gets a little dull.  What can I do to perk it up?”  You could perhaps interpret this entire blog as an attempt to answer that question, but today I want to focus on condiments, little bits of seasoning you apply at the table. And the condiment I highlight couldn’t be simpler: sesame seeds toasted with a little salt and then ground. We call it sesame salt or by its Japanese name, gomashio (go-mah-she-oh, goma= sesame, shio=salt). There are at least a couple of reasons we prefer sesame salt to plain table salt. First of all, it delivers a lot more flavor per gram of sodium. Secondly, sesame seeds are highly nutritious, containing as they do iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, and calcium, along with thiamine and vitamin E.

Here’s how to make sesame salt: 1) Rinse 1/2 cup unhulled brown or black sesame seeds in a fine mesh strainer and shake dry. 2) Heat a cast iron or similar thick-bottomed pan and pour in the seeds along with 1 to 1  1/2 teaspoons good quality sea salt. 3) Toast this over low heat, shaking or stirring constantly, about five minutes or until the seeds smell aromatic, turn a slightly darker color and begin to pop. 4) Grind with a mortar and pestle until about 75 % of the seeds are ground. 5) Cool, then store in a container with a lid. No need to refrigerate. Sesame salt will keep for weeks, but you’ll probably use it before then.  Sprinkle on rice, other grain dishes, noodles, even toast. Adjust the amount of salt to suit your taste. If you double or triple the recipe, it will take longer to toast the seeds. Yes, if you make a larger batch, a food processor works great, but using a mortar and pestle is more traditional and more fun.

Variations: Change up this recipe by substituting other seeds: flax, sunflower, pumpkin. Another variation: toast pumpkin seeds in a 325˚ F oven just until they begin to smell great and look a little golden, then sprinkle them lightly with umeboshi vinegar and toast for a few minutes more, or until they are dry. Watch closely! Chop coarsely in a food processor–an incredibly tasty condiment.

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Photos–Top: Grinding sesame seeds and salt with a mortar and pestle. Above: Toasting sesame seeds and salt in a cast iron skillet. Every kitchen needs one!