Monday, December 26, 2011

Apple Caraway Sauerkraut

Traditional sauerkraut is pickled by a process called lacto-fermentation. Almost any sauerkraut you buy these days will be either faux pickled (using vinegar) or heat treated to extend shelf life, killing the healthy bacteria which gives Sauerkraut its distinct properties. The fermentation process not only lends a sour, tangy flavour, it also gives sauerkraut remarkable nutritional properties, improving digestion, encouraging the growth of healthy bowel flora, as well as offering a powerhouse of vitamin C and enzymes.

For those familiar with Chinese Medicine -
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, the sour nature of fermentation lends an astringent property that helps to conserve fluids. Conditions such as diarrhoea, excessive sweating and haemorrhage (or Yin, Jing Ye or Blood deficiency in TCM) will all benefit from its sour, astringent nature. As salt is the flavour that governs the Kidneys, a healthy amount will support nourishment of the Kidney and water element. Sauerkraut also supports strong digestive function, helping the Spleen with the essential process of transformation and transportation.

1 green cabbage
2 granny smith apples
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
Celtic, macrobiotic or himalayan sea salt (about 1/2 to 1 tbs)


Firstly find a nice big glass jar. My sauerkraut jar is a recycled 1kg honey jar, and I find it fits approximately one small cabbage once packed. Sterilise your jar following instructions I have in my previous post on pickled ginger here.

Choose a lovely fresh organic green cabbage. The fresher the better, as a cabbage with a high water content is essential for making a good brine for the fermentation process.

Chop your cabbage finely or coarsely, and place into a large bowl as you chop. Sprinkle the cabbage with salt as you go. I usually chop a layer of cabbage, a layer of sliced apple and then sprinkle with approx two big pinches of salt. Repeat until you have used the whole cabbage. Sprinkle the caraway seeds into the bowl and mix them through evenly.

The salt will pull the water out of the cabbage through osmosis, allowing it to ferment. It will also keep the cabbage nice and crunchy.

Now pack the cabbage and apple into your sterilised glass jar. Get in as much as you can with a spoon, then use a smaller glass jar that fits into the mouth of the larger one to pack it in. The packing helps to bring more water out of the cabbage; the aim is to have enough brine to cover the cabbage in order to keep it from being exposed to the air and becoming mouldy.

Once you have packed in as much as you can fit, fill your smaller packing jar with water and leave inside the mouth. Then place a heavier weight on top of the smaller jar, such as a can. Continue to press down on the weight periodically to bring more water out of the cabbage and to ensure that your cabbage is always covered in the brine. If the brine evaporates and the cabbage isn't covered dissolve about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and pour this into the jar.

Now leave it to ferment, checking it every couple of days, rinsing the smaller jar to keep it clean. I find green cabbage ferments quite quickly, even in cooler weather, it usually takes about a week. Taste it every couple of days until you get the taste you desire. You can leave it for longer if you want a more sour taste.

Once fermented keep sealed in the fridge. Eat on its own, with avocado on toast, as a side with your meals...the possibilities are endless! A little after a heavy meal will also aid digestion, the sour nature cleansing the palate and the pungency moving food stagnation.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nature meditation

Wilson's Creek, Mullumbimby

I've been lucky enough to be able to spend Christmas break house-sitting in the hinterland hills of Mullumbimby in Northern New South Wales. We've had the luxury of a big deck, hammock, vege garden and a massive sun room for yoga and meditation. Observing nature is always something that has fascinated and excited me, a practice that is extremely rejuvenating; putting the heart and mind at ease.

Salad from the garden

It's times like these that make me realise how much of a year of being busy in the city takes its toll on the body. We've found ourselves reading and napping the day away. How precious it is to allow ourselves to truly rest the mind and body.

Can't be a holiday without vegan green tea pies!

*Thanks to our new friends who so graciously let us look after their home

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Po - The Corporeal Soul

Chinese character for 'metal'

The Po is the spirit of the metal element – most often referred to as the Corporeal Soul – representing our primal urges or animal instinct. The function of the Po is to receive what is of essential worth, and to let go of ideals and experiences that no longer serve us.

Metal imparts minerals to the earth, plants, and all beings. It is strong yet malleable; capable of being remoulded. If it is too rigid, however, it can be shattered. This imagery of metal can be applied to the individual – is their perception of reality fixed and unchanging? Are they open to new experiences, able to let go of the past and move forward according to their life experiences?

The organs of the metal element – the lungs and large intestine – form a connection between the internal and external world. With the lungs we breathe in life's experiences, retaining what nourishes us, and with the large intestine we understand the letting go, discharging what no longer serves us, letting go of past experiences and ideals that are no longer of use to us on our journey. The Po is the spirit in Taoist philosophy that upon death leaves the body and returns to the earth, becoming the fertiliser that encourages new growth.

Greif is the emotion associated with the metal element, the Po and the lungs. Those with a metal constitution which is out of balance may have an inability to let go of what is no longer of value, or may be unable to hold onto what is valuable. This imbalance may manifest itself as a strong presence of grief, or a sense of longing (understood as a grief focused towards the future) leading the individual to continually react inappropriately to loss or gain in their life.

This continual reaction to grief may see the individual become obsessed with a chosen path to the point where discipline, rigidity and emotional coldness towards others are seen as necessary to help them achieve. They may also be susceptible to isolation, a lack of self-worth and loneliness – leading them to seek to fill this void with material possessions or external successes, and not recognising the short-lived nature of such pursuits. Those with a propensity to this imbalance must learn to form a spiritual connection with themselves, and accept that the value placed on the material will inevitably fade and reliance upon these external experiences (whether this be possessions, careers, relationships) as the only source of happiness will only ever be transitory; learning that true contentment will come from within, and not from attachment to the material world.

When in balance the individual will have a healthy sense of self-worth and possess the ability to appreciate what is of value in their life. They are open to change and have an inner sense of knowing of when to let go of ideals that no longer serve them.

The symbol of the flower, often used in Buddhism to represent the transitory nature of all things, is helpful to contemplate when trying to understand the metal element. Representing a need to find balance between appreciating the inherent beauty in all things, yet understanding that this beauty will fade, the flower embodies mourning and letting go when necessary.

Japanese wild flower in Kamikochi, courtesy of my mum

* Jarrett, L, 2009, Nourishing Destiny
* Rossi, E, 2007, Shen: Psychoemotional aspects of Chinese Medicine

Monday, September 19, 2011

Yi - The Earth Spirit

Chinese character for 'earth'

Yi is the spirit of the earth element. The earth provides the centre around which the transformations of the other four elements take place. The earth element allows us to establish boundaries in regards to nourishing ourselves and nourishing others. When in balance it allows us to react with a balanced response to feelings of need. Earth constitutional types are prone to living life in terms of the continual fulfilment of needs, and may suffer from either a lack of centeredness (feeling lost, confused) or an excessive centeredness (selfishness). This may manifest as excessive thought, pensiveness and worry on an emotional level. This excessive worry can lead to people caring obsessively for themselves, or so much to the needs of others that their own resources are exhausted. With excessive worry the Yi is weakened, and we have less capacity to move forward and manifest our true path in life.

The Yi is responsible for the emotional digestion of thought, allowing us to process and transform our life experiences in a balanced way. When the earth element is unbalanced, obsessive thought patterns may result and the individual is unable to manifest productive action in their lives, unable to digest and be nourished by their life experiences.

Those with a balanced earth element and Yi are able to meet the needs of themselves and others in a balanced way, resulting in altruistic behaviour. The Confucian ideal of true altruism aligns itself with Buddhism where, expecting nothing in return, the individual is able to care for self and others without attachment to a result. To bring the earth element back into balance, self reflection and meditation to centre the individual brings about the most profound change. For those with an excessive centeredness, meditation that cultivates altruism, such as 'metta' or loving-kindess* will allow the individual a way to take focus off themselves and turn it outwards to others. For those who are exhausting their reserves by obsessively trying to meet the needs of others, guided breathing meditation techniques will help to calm the mind and excessive worry, and teach the individual to reflect upon their life experiences, digesting them in a balanced way that nourishes the self.

* Jarrett, L, 2009, Nourishing Destiny
* Rossi, E, 2007, Shen: Psychoemotional aspects of Chinese Medicine
* See Sharon Salzberg's website here

Monday, September 12, 2011

Amazake - Sweet Japanese Pudding

Koji Spores

Amazake is a sweet fermented rice pudding made by converting the carbohydrates in rice to simple sugars. The process is carried out by a mold called Aspergillus orysae, bought in the form of koji (rice inoculated with Aspergillus spores), the same culture used to make miso. Amazake literally translates as ‘sweet sake’, although it contains no alcohol, if left to ferment it becomes alcoholic and the first step in the process of making Sake.

Traditionally Amazake was made into a warming tonic by heating amazake with water, and topping with grated ginger. It is still served today in Japan during Shinto festivals and in the new year. It can also be used as a sweetener for baking. Because of the fermentation process, amazake is literally pre-digested, making it an easily assimilated source of nourishment for the earth element.

How to make

2 cups rice or any other grain (traditionally sweet white rice is used but I use brown)
200 grams Koji

1. Cook 2 cups of rice (or other grain) in 6 cups of water. Using more water lends to a softer grain.

2. While cooking your rice prepare an area you can keep at a warm temperature for when you are fermenting your amazake. I'm lucky enough to have a dehydrator that I can keep at a constant temperature of 60 degrees C. Don't worry if you don't have this luxury however, you can fill a small insulated esky with boiling hot water and add other jars of hot water to maintain the heat. Put on the lid and keep in a warm place.

3. When the grain is cooked and all the water absorbed, uncover and allow to cool until you can hold your finger in the rice but it is still hot. If you let it get too cool the koji will not ferment effectively.

4. Now add the Koji into the cooked rice and stir well. The koji I have found is bought pressed into a cake-like shape, but crumbles easily between your fingers. I bought mine in Melbourne from 'Fuji Mart' at the Prahan markets, which is an incredibly exciting and nostalgic place if you've ever been to Japan. Otherwise try to order some online.

5. Pack the koji into sterilised pre-heated glass jars. I find this recipe fits into one 4 litre jar. Screw on the lid and place in either your pre-prepared warm esky or dehydrator. If using a dehydrator place a bowl of water in the bottom to keep some moisture circulating. Set to 60 degrees Celsius.

6. Check on your amazake after 8-12 hours. Taste to check for sweetness. If it tastes very sweet, then it is ready. If is isn't very sweet you may need to leave it for up to 24 hours. If you are using an esky replace the hot water and leave to ferment for longer until very sweet. If you leave it for too long however it will become alcoholic (the first stage of making sake)

7. Bring 2 cups of water to the boil and slowly add the amazake, stirring frequently. The boiling process stops the sugars fermenting into alcohol. Bring the amazake to a gentle boil and turn off the heat.

8. You can now serve the amazake like this as a pudding, or blend it with extra water (or almond or soy milk) into a liquid consistency and serve warm or cold as a drink. Season with whatever you please - Grated ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, black sesame, green tea... I will be posting some more recipes for amazake soon!

Amazake made from black glutinous rice with Adzuki bean paste

*Adapted from Wild Fermantation, Sandor Ellix Katz, 2003 (see resources)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Black Sesame and Lily Bulb congee

I came across this nourishing combination at the end of the semester as my yin reserves were depleting..

Bai He (dried white lily bulb), is sweet and slightly cold in nature. It moistens the Lung and clears heat from the heart. It can be used to treat chronic cough due to Lung Yin deficiency, chronic low grade fever, insomnia with abundance of dreams, irritability and restlessness. Black sesame strengthens the liver and kidney systems, as well as moistens the intestines to relieve constipation.

This congee is good for those with a dry cough, insomnia, irritability, menopause with hot flushes, eyesight problems or constipation. For those familiar with Chinese Medicine principles this dish is good for nourishing yin and blood, tonifying qi and calming the spirit. It clears lung and heart heat, nourishes liver, kidney and stomach yin.

1/2 cup short grain brown rice
1/4 cup black sesame seeds
10g of Bai He (dried white lily bulb) (soaked overnight)
10g Chinese Wolfberries
honey to taste (optional)

Grind the uncooked rice and black sesame together in a food processor into a fine powder. Soak overnight if you can, as this will make it more digestible and give you a shorter cooking time in the morning. Place the ground brown rice and black sesame into a pot with the dried lily bulb and wolfberries, adding enough water just to cover. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Continue adding water (about 1/4 cup at a time) as the rice absorbs. Cooking time all up should take about 1/2 an hour to 40 mins, until the rice becomes a tender, porridge-like consistency. Top with honey for a little sweetness if desired!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The controversy of the soy based meal..

There is increasing concern that soy products may not be the super food that they were once heralded for, with high consumption being linked to thyroid dysfunction due the high presence of phytoestrogens (the same phytoestrogens are said to reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers), and now even Alzheimer's is being tentatively linked to this little green bean. Not to mention its status as the king of GM crops, the patented GM RoundupReady Soy (courtesy of Monsanto) is responsible for increasing deforestation in the amazon, with environmental and health impacts that are far from responsible or sustainable.

So.. To eat or not to eat?

In regards to the health concerns of consuming soy I stick to a whole foods approach. Follow the mantra of everything in moderation, using the highest quality ingredients from environmental sustainable sources. Don't buy soy unless it is certified organic or biodynamic. You can almost guarantee it will be genetically modified if you haven't got the stamp of approval from a reputable body. GM foods do not have to be labeled in Australia yet, and buying organic is the only guaranteed way to avoid these unsustainable practices. Visit Gene Ethics - - to learn more..

Choose fermented whole-food soy products over isolated soy, powders or cheaper soy products. Mass produced soy sauce for example is often made using a chemical hydrolisation process and is very different to Tamari, a product which is aged and fermented. Other fermented soy products include tempeh, miso, natto, tamari and shoyu. Asian cultures have been consuming small amounts soy for centuries, with the majority being from fermented forms and some tofu. We tend to move towards extremes in our culture, consuming larger portions of isolated soy products, and consequently end up with health problems as a result.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fruit of the Ancestors

Pears -

In China, there are many words for describing this Yin nourishing fruit – Kuai “happy fruit”, guo zong “fruit ancestor”, mi fu “honey father” and my favourite, yu ru “jade milk”. Their medicinal properties are perfectly suited for the ailments that come with the season they coincide with (isn’t nature divine?). They help to soothe and nourish a dry irritated throat, relieve constipation and help calm a restless mind. Energetically they are sweet and cooling, clear heat, moisten dryness, generate body fluids and transform phlegm.

One of my favourite dishes is stewed pears with honey, the process giving birth to a delicious jade syrup. Pour it warm from the pot, to soothe and nourish after the heat and dryness of summer, and to fortify the fluids of the body in autumn.

Baked Pears with ginger and honey

4 ripe pears
4 Tbs of honey
3 teaspoons of fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup of water

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Cut the top ¼ off each pear and put aside. Remove the core of the pears from the top, but leave the bottom of the pear intact. Place the pears in a glass or ceramic dish.

Mix the honey, ginger and water in a bowl. You may need to add warm water to dissolve the honey. Then place this mixture inside the pears where the core has been removed. Place the tops back onto each pear, and brush the outside of the pears with the mixture also. Leave a small amount of mixture aside for glaze.

Bake the pears for 10 -15 mins, until they feel soft. Take them out of the oven, pour over the remaining sauce and return to the oven for another 5 mins at 190 degrees Celsius. The glaze should then caramelize.

Let cool slightly and devour..

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Autumn - Harvest the Spirit

One of our biggest challenges of modern day living is to live harmoniously with the seasons. Urban living often brings with it a disconnect from the energetic changes around us. With watermelon still available at woolies, when it should only be consumed in the height of a hot summer; a testament to how far removed we are from our changing environment. One of the most beautiful things about not only Chinese Medicine, but also other healing arts such as Ayurvedic medicine, is the observation of seasonal cycles and harmonising our own energy with our environment in order to avoid disease and cultivate health.

Autumn is a time to harvest the bounty we grew in summer, and to store and prepare for the winter ahead. Autumn is associated with the metal element, signifying contraction, as opposed to the upwards and outwards movement of summer. It is a time to reflect inwards to the center of our being, to receive what is of essential worth, and to let go of what is not useful to us. It is a time to avoid wind, not only the movement of air, but also any quick sudden changes in your life.

Autumn corresponds with the Lung (fei) system, which dominates the skin, fluid metabolism, respiration, immunity and the emotions of grief and sadness. The dry, crisp weather of autumn makes the lungs more susceptible to disharmony at this time, with symptoms such as a dry throat, dry nose, hair loss, dry and rough skin and dry stools. It is essential to keep warm, protect yourself from the wind, and to eat foods that nourish dryness and the yin aspects of the body.

It is important to transition into eating warmer, nourishing root vegetables, soups and stews. You can start including more pungent foods such as onions and ginger, as well as astringent natured foods such as grapefruit and lemon to prevent the loss of body fluids. I always recommend eating organic produce, not only to avoid harmful pesticides and support environmentally sound agriculture, but simply because you will only ever be able to eat what is in season. Visit your local organic market and see what appeals to your body.

Some foods that are available in autumn - Beetroot, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, kale, leeks, mushroom, potatoes, pumpkin, capsicum, pears, apples, persimmons.

Remember to care and nourish your body and spirit, and embrace the coming season!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Slurp your Soba

Soba noodles are made from whole buckwheat (a seed, rather than the grain status it is often afforded). Slurping your soba has been the authentic way of consuming this cuisine for centuries, the slurping apparently making it easier to activate all the senses when eating. They are served cold in the summer and warm in the winter, most commonly with a tsuyu dressing, which is made from a combination of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, buckwheat is considered sweet and cool, supplements the spleen, strengthens the liver and kidneys and treats food stagnation. Basically it's good for digestion, for those with a gluten intolerance or if you've been overindulging and need some simplicity to soothe your stomach.

When buying soba, be sure to check the ingredients, as there are many cheaper varieties out there which bulk up their noodles with wheat flour (look for 100% buckwheat which will be greyish in colour). You can also find green tea (cha), mugwort (mugi) and seaweed (hegi) soba. Until we can buy this tasty treat fresh from the train station (matsumoto style), look in your local health food store for authentic soba; you will pay more, but you will definitely taste the difference.

The best way to start with soba is simple. Here's a recipe for a cold soba and tsuyu.

Ingredients and method

1 packet of buckwheat soba
1 handful of chopped nori

Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add the noodles, cook for about 5 minutes, add about a cup of cold water to the pot and bring to the boil again, then taste. The soba should be firm but not chewy. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Top with chopped nori.

1 large piece of dried kombu
5 dried shitake mushrooms
3 cups of water
2 tbs Bonito flakes (optional)

Firstly soak your kombu in the water for about 30 mins. Add the shitake to this mixture and put in a pot. Bring this mixture to medium heat and simmer for 10 mins, then turn off the heat. If you wish to add bonito flakes stir them in now until dissolved.

1/2 cup dashi (recipe above)
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1 tablespoon of honey or sugar

Place all tsuyu ingredients in a pot and bring slowly to a medium, not to the boil. Warm and dissolve honey, then take off the heat. Place in a dipping bowl.

Hashi o kudasai?
This is one dish where chopsticks are absolutely essential. Pick up your dipping bowl, dip in a chopstick full of soba and slurp away!

*Adapted from Wang & Ono, 2010, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mmmmm Matcha

Matcha enthusiasts can be likened to connoisseurs of fine wine, where the search for the finest grade becomes an addiction..

Matcha - powdered Japanese green tea - with its pleasurable bitterness and brilliant shade of green, has long been heralded for its health benefits. It has been used in Zen Buddhism for increased focus during meditation, and in Japanese tea ceremonies for centuries. Becoming proficient in the art of making traditional matcha tea takes years of practice. It is available from food grade to the highest ceremonial grades, with higher grades costing around $100 for 30 grams.

Matcha Bombs! Little balls of green tea energy
I used cheaper green tea powder in the mixture, with a teaspoon of wheatgrass powder. I find wheatgrass to have a similar flavour to green tea, it complements it well and enhances the deep green colour due to the higher chlorophyll content. I then dusted the treats with a higher grade matcha powder I keep hidden for special occasions. Its colour is unmatched, a bright green, with a smooth bitterness and slightly sweet flavour.

300g of pitted medjool dates
1 cup of raw macadamia nuts
1/2 cup of LSA or Hemp meal
1/2 cup of coconut flakes
1 heaped teaspoon of wheatgrass powder
2 teaspoons of green tea powder

Place all ingredients in a food processor until blended into a consistency that can be moulded into truffle-like balls. Chill for one hour. Dust with green tea or wheatgrass powder just before serving.

Enjoy the Zen-like focus!!

Monday, February 14, 2011

New Season Ginger - Get Pickling!

I recently got really excited at the sight of all the new season ginger popping up at organic markets out and about. This fresh, delicate rhizome, with a pinkish hue is perfect for making japanese pickled ginger, so it's best to stock up now. Making your own pickled ginger means you'll be avoiding the preservatives and artificial colours that normally come with the cheaper mass produced variety. There are no measurements here, just use as much ginger as you like!

Step one - Sterilise your glass jar
First, make sure your jars are free of any cracks or chips then wash with warm soapy water. Rinse them well and place on a tray without touching with the open lid facing up. Place in a preheated oven at 80 degrees celsius for 20 mins. Alternatively you can place them in a saucepan of boiling water with the lids for 15mins. Be sure to use tongs when removing and let them cool at room temperature slowly.

Step two - Peel your ginger into thin slices with a fruit peeler or mandolin. Try to get it as fine as possible. Peel as much as you like. Place in a bowl and cover lightly with a good quality salt, finely ground. I use celtic, macrobiotic or himalayan. Let sit for half an hour.

Step three - At a ratio of 3:1, Apple cider vinegar : Mirin, place in a pot on the stove. You will need to make enough to cover the ginger completely. Add a couple of tablespoons of sugar, honey or agave to sweeten. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer to dissolve the sugars. Once your sweetner has dissolved, turn off the heat. Place your salted ginger into a glass jar and pour the vinegar mixture over the ginger until completely covered. Let cool and then place lid on top. I then keep mine in the fridge.

Step four - Use as you desire! A simple salad of greens, firm tofu, avocado and a squeeze of lemon with pickled ginger on top is perfect for spring and summer, with the heat of the ginger balancing the cooling aspects of your green leafies and tofu, and the lemon and vinegar to help move a stagnant liver.

Optional extra.. I often place a small amount of wakame, dulse or other seaweed in with the vinegar once it has boiled. You can also add some beetroot juice if you desire a pink colour. YUM!