Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nabe Vegetables

I've enjoyed learning a bit about macrobiotics recently. I'm reading A Hip Chick's Guide to Macrobiotics, by Jessica Porter and This Crazy Vegan Life by Christina Pirello. Christina dabbles in macrobiotics as well as vegan food, and makes her food choices for health reasons, so what she is putting out there resonates with me.

In Jessica's book, she explains the framework and philosophy behind a macrobiotic diet. The "energies" of foods, yin, or expanding, upward-growing and yang, or contracting, downward-growing. I like the way Jessica explains there is no judgement, no "right" or "wrong" only consequences for our choices. Perhaps most interesting to me was the notion that extreme yin and extreme yang do not cancel each other out, they just create extreme conditions for the body. The idea of macrobiotics is to engage yin and yang foods which are much less extreme on the spectrum, and thus easier for the body to assimilate.

Traditional Japanese methods of cooking are well-suited to a macrobiotic diet, as they are mindful of these energies. One such method is Nabe (pronounced "Nah - Bay"), a boiled preparation that sometimes contains seafood. Jessica presents a vegetable version in her book. There is no recipe per se, since the variations on this theme could be endless, but there are some guidelines which I followed, and I will share them with you here.

Nabe is essentially boiled vegetables, and  is not typically eaten with grains. Traditionally it is prepared on a portable burner in the center of the table, and is shared as it is being cooked similar to the way a fondue would be. Individual dishes of dipping sauce are provided to each diner, but this is not mandatory, since the sauce can be salty, resulting in too much yang. I liked the dipping sauce, and I watered it down with plenty of boiling liquid, so it was not too salty. The energy this dish imparts is very calming and healing. The vegetable bulk is quickly filling, but you may find yourself going back an hour or so later for seconds. When making nabe, a ratio of two upward-growing (yin) vegetables to one downward-growing (yang) should be followed, but the choice and amount of vegetables is entirely up to the chef.

For my nabe, I chose:
organic carrots (in macrobiotics, root veggies are not peeled, so organic is best)
bok choy

To begin, in a 4 quart pot, soak for at least ten minutes a 2" piece of kombu and two dried shitake mushrooms in spring water, filling the pot halfway. While soaking, wash and prepare the vegetables. Large chunks work best. When the seaweed and mushrooms are soft, slice them and return them to the pot, then bring the water to a boil. add a variety of the vegetables to the boiling liquid, removing them when they look softened with a slotted spoon and adding more raw vegetables. The veggies do not need to be cooked a certain length of time. It is all up to your personal taste. I found the bok choy to be the quickest-cooking and the carrots to need the most time.You may eat as you go, or collect the whole batch of vegetables first.

For each dipping sauce I used:
1 Tbsp. Shoyu
1 C. boiling liquid
1tsp. grated ginger
scallions for garnish

I did enjoy this dipping sauce. Jessica calls for squeezing the juice from the ginger, but I was too lazy, and I like a bit of root roughage anyway. I did go back for seconds, and at the end, rather than packing up the leftovers separately, I opted to not discard the flavorful boiling liquid and turned the whole thing into a light soup. I even tossed the unused dipping sauce into the soup. I ate the "nabe soup" this morning for breakfast. It was a great way to start my day.

I enjoy the mindfulness surrounding macrobiotics and will definitely be incorporating more macrobiotic principles into my vegan diet. Jessica cautions that foods begin to lose their vital energy with each passing day, so leftovers are not often a part of macrobiotics (!) Also she never microwaves, saying that our western culture is undergoing a "mass experiment" about the unknown dangers of living with all this radiation on a daily basis. These two notions fly in the face of the kind of lazy, waste-no-want-not chef that I am, so I will have to sit with them for a while and see if I can conceive of a way to alter my paradigm about food energies/radiation safety. The whole microwave thing is something that has been bothering me for some time already, actually, so that will likely leave my life before leftovers.

In February I will have been vegan for two years, and during that time my mind has opened in ways I never would have expected. The example of how I've handled my B12 deficiency is a good illustration.  Many folks, upon discovering the deficiency, would opt to chuck the whole vegan lifestyle. Instead, I'm grateful that I'd had enough time with the bountiful vegetable kingdom to understand its health benefits before needing to consider the deficiency. The vegan diet stopped my MS progression in its tracks, as evidenced by MRIs. Removing dairy has most dramatically changed my quality of life, providing so much more energy, a level, positive mood, a clearer head and no more seasonal allergies. Because of these benefits and more, I was not about to lose the veggie lifestyle due to a pesky lack of B12. Who would have imagined that these days I look forward to the day each week when I give myself my B12 injection. That day is an amazing gift, full of strength, energy and a quick mind, even more than what I otherwise experience. Problem solved, and no benefits lost!

This is just a long way of saying that an open mind during new discoveries has always benefitted me, so I won't be surprised if I find myself warming foods in the oven or on the stove instead of in the microwave, or even making smaller portions, more often, and loosening my dependence upon my old standby, the leftover.


  1. Cheryl,

    I really enjoyed reading this post. You have given me something new to think about. Many thanks for the recipe.

    Be healthy

  2. Thanks, vegantummy! Hope you enjoy your nabe veggies!

  3. Just got home from NYC. Tons of vegan and macrobiotic restaurants. I need to read up on macrobiotics. I know what it is, but I don't really know the ins and outs.

  4. Hey Emily -- yes, macrobiotics is a bit overwhelming, but so interesting -- lots of food for thought. I think the most daunting thing for me is that I ordered the "Hip Chick" book on Kindle, so I'm not as easily able to flip back and forth to work with the recipes as if it were an actual book. I'd better join this century now and get comfortable with "highlighting" and "bookmarking" virtually!