home arrow diet and lifestyle arrow INTRO TO MACROBIOTIC COOKING - by Chris Clark
INTRO TO MACROBIOTIC COOKING - by Chris Clark - www.misohungry.org

Getting Started

There are few basic items you will need, the first is a good knife. I recommend NHS brand vegetable knives, made in Japan. Search them out on the web. A good quality wooden cutting board is also essential. Glass and plastic boards will quickly dull your knives. It is important to have at least one good, heavy pot for cooking grains and beans. Le Creuset makes enamel coated cast iron pots, they are the best. But standard cast iron pots are also fine. Silit also makes enamel coated cast iron pots. If you donít have enamel coated cast iron, the next best choice is stainless steel. It is best to avoid aluminum or Teflon coated pans because they leach toxins. Also a flame tamer (also known as flame deflector) is useful for cooking grains.

The following foods are useful to have on hand:

Sesame Oil, Olive Oil, Sunflower Oil, Shoyu, Umeboshi Vinegar, Miso, Sea Salt, Brown Rice Vinegar, Quality sweeteners (Brown Rice syrup, Barley Malt, Maple Syrup), Dried Sea Vegetables, Whole Wheat Flour, Rolled Oats, Variety of Grains, Variety of Beans, Agar Agar, Kuzu, Fresh Tofu, Fresh Vegetables


Macrobiotics typically recommends the daily consumption of whole, unrefined grains. In their natural state, whole grains are remarkably different from processed grains because they contain complex carbohydrates. In our current era of carbohydrate paranoia, an understanding of complex and simple carbohydrates is very important. Refined grains, including white rice and white flour, are simple carbohydrates which result in a sudden upward spike in energy, followed by tiresome lull. Complex carbohydrates, however, deliver time-released energy. The difference comes from time required to convert these foods into glucose. Simple carbohydrates burn fast because they are quickly converted into glucose, while whole grains convert into glucose slowly, over the course of many hours. The result is a much higher physiological efficiency for the whole grain eater.

Whole grains also contain far more minerals and vitamins than refined grains and a better quality of energy. To understand the energetic difference we can compare whole grain wheat flour to whole wheat grains (know as wheat berries). Once the grains have been ground into flour, they immediately start to oxidize, becoming much more sensitive to heat and light. Freshly milled flour is a potentially healthy food, but after several days or weeks it changes considerably. Whole grains, however, posses stored energy. For example, you can store whole grains for several years, then remove and soak them and they will start to sprout. This is because the life force has been awakened from its dormant state. However, as soon grains are milled into flour, this life energy is dispersed and within 2 weeks the flour will be rancid. It is best to eat a variety of grains, whole and unrefined.


Whole grain brown rice is the best grain for daily consumption. It is the grain highest in B complex vitamins and thus beneficial for the nervous system and brain. The germ of brown rice contains phytic acid which helps expel poisons from the body. There are many varieties of brown rice including short grain, long grain, basmati and sweet rice.

Cooking rice:

1. Rinse thoroughly.
2. Soak 6-8 hours or pan toast until rice browns slightly and emits an aromatic scent. I prefer a water/grain ratio of 2:1, for softer rice use more water. If soaking longer than 8 hours, you may need to replace the soaking water with fresh water. Smell the rice and if you notice a slightly sour smell then strain off the water into a bowl, measure and replace with the same amount of fresh water.
3. Turn on flame and allow water to come to a boil. You can cook the rice in the same water you used for soaking. If you pan toast your rice, you can boil the water first, then add rice, or bring water up to boil with the rice already in the pot.
4. Add 1-2 pinches of salt per cup of grain and stir.
5. Cover the pot, turn flame to low and place flame tamer under pot (not necessary to have a flame tamer, but makes for nicer rice).
6. Cook for about 40 minutes or until rice has absorbed all the water. If using a higher proportion of water, you may cook much longer until the grain becomes very soft.


The only alkalizing grain, millet is also excellent for daily consumption. It is highly beneficial for the stomach and spleen/pancreas. Since it is a small grain, millet does not require soaking. Pan toasting is optional if a nuttier taste is desired.

Cooking millet:

1. Rinse thoroughly.
2. Bring water to a boil, generally I use water/grain ratio of 3:1 but for millet porridge you can use up to 5:1 and for pilafs and baked millet dishes use 2:1.
3. Add 1-2 pinches of salt per cup of grain.
4. Add millet to the boiling water and when the pot returns to a boil, cover, turn flame to low and place flame tamer under the pot.
5. Cook for about 30 minutes or until millet has absorbed the water. If using a higher proportion of water, you may cook much longer until the grain becomes very soft.


Wheat is most commonly used in the form of flour for whole wheat bread. Whole wheat berries, however, can be cooked and added to salads or grain dishes for an interesting texture. Wheat is also used to make bulgur, cous cous, and noodles. Wheat has a high protein content, contains a wider range of minerals than other grains, and has a nutrient profile is very similar to the human body. For these reasons and because it nurtures the heart and mind, wheat is said to be an ideal food for human growth and development.

Many people today have allergies to wheat. However, this is usually caused by sensitivities to rancid flour. When wheat berries are ground into flour, they immediately start to oxidize. When stored in airtight containers and refrigerated, the flour will keep for about 2 weeks before becoming rancid. Many people react only to processed flour products and can eat whole, cooked wheat berries or sprouted wheat berries without any difficulty.

Cooking whole wheat berries:

1. Rinse thoroughly
2. Soak 6-8 hours. Use water/grain ratio of 3:1. If soaking longer than 8 hours, you may need to replace the soaking water with fresh water.
3. Turn on flame, bringing water to a boil.
4. Add 1-2 pinches of salt per cup of grain and stir.
5. Cover the pot, turn flame to low and place flame tamer under pot.
6. Cook for about 40 minutes or until wheat berries are tender. If the wheat does not absorb all the water, strain remaining water off and use for a soup.

Cooking bulgur wheat:

1. Bring water to a boil in a ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part bulgur
2. Add bulgur and 1-2 pinches of salt per cup of bulgur
3. Cover pot, turn flame to low and place flame tamer under pot.
4. Cook for about 15 minutes and remove from flame.

Cooking cous cous:

1. Bring water to a boil in a ratio of 1.5 parts water to 1 part cous cous.
2. Add cous cous to a stainless steel bowl or other non-plastic bowl. Cous cous expands considerably so make sure the bowl is big enough. Also make sure that it has a lid or that you have a plate big enough to cover the bowl.
3. Add 1-2 pinches of salt per cup of cous cous.
4. Pour boiling water over cous cous, stir well and place lid or plate on top of bowl.
5. Allow to stand for 15 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
6. Optionally, you may pan toast the cous cous for a nice nutty taste, before adding water. Also you can add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil to the water.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah)

Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain. It is also an abundant source of calcium, providing more calcium than an equal portion of milk or yogurt. Quinoa was one of the staple foods of the ancient Inca cultures. It has grown in the South American Andes for thousands of years. Quinoa does not require soaking.

Cooking quinoa:

1. Rinse thoroughly.
2. Bring water to a boil, 2 parts water to 1 part grain
3. Add quinoa and 1-2 pinches of salt per grain, stir thoroughly.
4. When the pot returns to a boil, cover and turn flame to low, place flame tamer under the pot.
5. Cook for about 35 minutes or until quinoa has absorbed all the water.


Vegetables are an important aspect of any healthy diet. It is highly recommended to find a reputable source for fresh, high quality vegetables grown without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. When selecting vegetables, it is most important to be mindful of your climate and the current season. When preparing vegetables, use plenty of variety to maximize your breadth of nutrient intake. Also combine root, ground and leafy vegetables with your meals. Common root vegetables are carrots, turnips and parsnips. Common ground vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, squash and cucumber while leafy vegetables include kale, collard greens, lettuce and dandelion greens.

Nightshade vegetables

The nightshades are a family of plants that contain the chemical solanine. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers. While they are safe for most people in small to moderate quantities, they are known inhibit calcium absorption and to aggravate arthritic conditions. These foods are acidic and relatively yin, creating much expansive energy. They tend to balance the extreme yang energy of meat and to alleviate meat induced liver and blood stagnancy. For those consuming a plant-based diet, the deleterious effects of nightshades can be balanced with salt and proper preparation, although they are perhaps better to avoid altogether.

Onion Family vegetables and The Yogic Diet

Some yoga practitioners discourage yogis from eating onions, leeks, scallions, garlic and other members of the onion family because these plants are believed to arouse passion and foster excessive emotional desire. Many Eastern traditions, in fact, discourage the regular use of these vegetables for similar reasons. Nevertheless, onion family plants have many healing properties. They are very rich in sulfur, a warming element that purifies the body, and they help remove heavy metals, parasites, viruses and yeasts. Also their sweet quality highly benefits the spleen while helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Furthermore, because they clean the arteries and facilitate protein metabolism, they are very helpful for people consuming meat or for those transitioning from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet.

Many yogis claim that they donít belong in the yogic diet because they hinder mental and spiritual refinement. However, this perspective assumes that everyone practicing yoga has such goals and ambitions. There can be no standard yogic diet because there is no standard yogi. Each of us has a unique physiological condition, we live in differing climates and we have highly individualized perspectives and ambitions. Perhaps these vegetables are indeed inappropriate for some yogis, however this is a personal decision based on direct experience, not the blind acceptance of any teacherís advice. In macrobiotics the idea of a guru, in the sense of someone whoís every word is always accepted and never questioned, is preposterous. George Ohsawa, perhaps the most important teacher in macrobiotics, was known to tell his students ďdonít believe anything I tell you.Ē He wanted them to learn for themselves because he knew that the only legitimate guru is the guru within each and every one of us. Teachers can guide us but we can only learn from direct experience.

Vegetable Preparation Methods

1. Oil saute: Lightly oil cast iron skillet or other pan with olive or sesame oil. When oil is hot, add spices and garlic, ginger and onions if using these vegetables (NOTE: If oil begins to smoke before adding vegetables, it has turned to trans-fat. Discard and start over!). Add a pinch of salt and saute for several minutes. Add remaining vegetables in order of cooking time, add the longest cooking vegetables first. This will depend both on the type of vegetable and on the cut. Big carrot chunks, for example, will cook much slower than tiny, slivered carrots, and tiny slivers of kale will cook much faster than tiny, slivered carrots. Experience and intuition are your best teachers! Add a small amount of water to the saute if the vegetables are getting dry. Cover the pan and adjust the flame (generally you will want to lower the flame but if you have small cut vegetables, you may prefer to cook over a moderately high flame). Add shoyu or umeboshi vinegar to taste when vegetables have finished cooking. Also it is sometimes nice to add lemon juice at this stage.
2. Water saute: Follow method above except use water instead of oil.
3. Steaming: Steam like vegetables separately or cut vegetable such that multiple varieties will have like cooking times. Sprinkle shoyu on vegetables and cover. The shoyu will bring out the sweetness.
4. Nishime vegetables: Use a cast iron or Le Creuset pot. Soak 2-3 inches of kombu in water and then cut into small pieces. Cut root and round vegetables in large chunks. Winter squash, carrots, daikon, cabbage and onions all work well. Place kombu pieces evenly about the bottom of the pan. Next place vegetables in the pan and keep all like vegetables grouped together. Carefully pour in just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Place lid on and bring to a boil over moderate flame. Next turn down flame and place a flame tamer under the pot. Cook for about 45 minutes, do not lift lid during cooking.
5. Pressed Salad: Cut variety of vegetables in small and thin cuts. Carrots, cabbage, parsley, onions and cucumbers all work well. Place all vegetables in a large bowl and add about 1 pinch of salt per cup of vegetables. Now start massaging the vegetables gently to work in the salt. The vegetables will start to release their juices and become soft. After about 5 minutes of working in the salt, form a mound with the vegetables and place a plate on top and place a 1-2 pound weight on top. Allow salad to press for up to 2 hours. Serve as is or with a sauce.

Beans and Bean Products

Beans are good sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates. They are also rich in potassium, calcium, iron and B-vitamins. The best beans for regular use are Adzuki beans because they are easy to digest, highly detoxifying and they benefit the kidneys. Bean products including tofu and tempeh are excellent sources of nutrition and easier to digest then other forms of soy. Many people have difficulty digesting beans, however, this is often due to improper preparation.

Bean preparation

1. Soak beans overnight or for at least six hours. Different types of beans require different soaking times. Lentils and split peas can simply be rinsed and cooked, or they can soak for a couple hours to decrease the cooking time. Chickpeas can soak for 24 hours if necessary (change the soaking water at least once if soaking this long).
2. After soaking, discard soaking water and fill pot with water to a level slightly higher than the level of the beans.
3. Add 1-2 piece of kombu or 2 bay leaves. These items will add minerals and help to improve digestibility.
4. Bring pot to a boil and scoop off any foam that forms at the top of the water. Then cover the pot and turn down the flame (you donít need to use a flame tamer).
5. Cook beans until they give only slight resistance when pressed between two fingers. Some beans require longer cooking times. Chickpeas can take several hours. Donít let this discourage you, you donít need to be standing over the stove for the entire time, it just takes some advanced planning.
6. When beans are cooked, remove bay leaves and discard. If using kombu, you can remove it and cut into small pieces and place back into pot.
7. If there is much liquid left in the pot, you can strain some off or let the pan simmer without the lid until it reaches desired consistency.
8. Add salt to taste, it may seem like you need a lot of salt, but donít worry because beans require much salt to balance their high fat and protein content. Always add salt after beans are soft, if you add the salt too soon, they will contract and never get soft.
9. At this stage you could add some sauteed vegetables if you like.

Sea Vegetables

Sea vegetables contain ten to twenty times the minerals of land plants. They are also abundant sources of protein and vitamins. Although many people cringe at the idea of eating seaweed, it is very easy to adapt oneís sense of taste to these plants. They are so dense in nutrients that the body naturally starts to crave them.

To prepare sea vegetables

Use kombu as described above in the beans section. Soak wakame, arame or hijiki in water, being careful not to use too much seaweed because they expand greatly. Discard soaking water, cut seaweed if desired and add to salads, sautes and soups.


It is said that to master the art of cooking is to master the use of salt. Salt is an extremely strong substance and it can greatly influence food preparation. It is of paramount importance to use unrefined sea salt rather than refined table salt. Refined salt has been stripped of nearly sixty trace minerals. Its chemical composition is about 99.5% sodium chloride. The trace minerals, which are removed and sold to industries, help to balance the sodium chloride in the body. Without these trace minerals, salt is very unstable. Some researchers even designate it as poison. Common table salt is often fortified with iodine, a mineral that is sometimes hard to incorporate into the diet. However, iodine is readily available in many fish, seaweeds and in cabbage. The question of how much salt to consume is highly personal. It depends on oneís condition and lifestyle. Trust your taste, the body is remarkably intuitive. In food preparation, remember that salt is highly yang and alkalizing, thus it can be used to balance yin and acid forming foods.

Like meat, milk and alcohol, sugar is very yin and very acidic. The worst kind of sugar is the most common variety, refined white sugar. In its natural form, cane sugar does have some alkaline minerals that act to balance it slightly. However, refined sugar has nothing of the sort and wreaks havoc on the spleen, pancreas and other organs involved with regulating blood sugar levels. Most foods we consume eventually break down into glucose, a simple sugar. Whole grains, beans and vegetables contain complex carbohydrates, molecules that convert slowly, sometimes around six hours. An over consumption of simple carbohydrates rapidly raises the blood sugar level and prompts the release of insulin to restore balance. The measure of how fast blood sugar rises upon consumption of different foods is the glycemic index. Sugar, honey, potatoes and white flour are very high on the index, so high that they usually result in an overcompensation of insulin, resulting in feelings of tiredness shortly after the initial energy surge of energy from eating these foods. Whole grains, conversely, are rather low on the index, providing long, steady energy.

Avoiding refined sugar does not mean avoiding all sweets. Most natural foods stores stock sweeteners like maple syrup and agave nectar that, while still somewhat high on the glycemic index, do provide some minerals to buffer the acidity of simple sugars. The best sweeteners, however, are grain based sweeteners including barley malt and brown rice syrup. Grain based sweeteners contain the most minerals and are lowest on the glycemic index. Raw, unpasteurized honey also contains balancing minerals and is a potentially useful food. Most macrobiotic teachers will advise against honey because it is high on the glycemic index, but plenty of research suggests that raw honey has many health enhancing properties. But if you intend to cook something using a sweetener, then don't bother with raw honey (see my raw foods page for more info). Fruits are also excellent sweeteners that contain vitamins and minerals. Simple sugars do not combine well with complex carbohydrates like whole grains. The combination leads to digestive fermentation and poor assimilation. Sweets are best taken at least 2 hours after meals or at least 1 hour before.
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