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by Holly Davis (Ten Speed Press)




You didn't log onto a macrobiotics website. You didn't pick up a copy of The Macrobiotic Way at your local bookstore. And you didn't have miso soup for breakfast, as do many who practice macrobiotics (the lifestyle that balances yin and yang whole foods for a potential life of peace and harmony). But if you read Nourish by Holly Davis, you just may have found yourself fed some of the benefits of macrobiotics without even realizing it.

Davis is a Brit who made it big in Australia as a health foods restaurateur and caterer. Her initial leap into the whole "whole foods" arena was via macrobiotics and she's since developed an intriguing cuisine called "Real Food" that deliciously sprouted from those roots, while incorporating other health-food tenets and ingredients along the way.

Consequently, you'll be taught not only how to make your own miso soup (miso is soybean paste which has been fermented for anywhere from a month to several years with sweet or salty flavor resulting accordingly) and dishes like miso and ginger pumpkin tartlets. Seaweed and sea vegetables are also a staple of the macrobiotic diet and, therefore, you'll find a recipe for a delicious dip made with arame (a sea vegetable); as well as one for chives, sesame oil and chile oil; and a wonderful soup made with wakame (another sea vegetable), sweet corn and miso.

A la the style of the macrobiotic diet where fruits and vegetables are generally eaten only when in season and harvested from nearby sources, recipes are categorized by season. The pumpkin recipe and another for roast vegetable-pecan pie including pumpkin, sweet potato and eggplant, for instance, are designated for autumn-winter. A tart prepared with asparagus and tofu-cheese (a cheeselike substance that's made from tofu) is for spring-summer, as are the memorable garlic pickled mushrooms. (Recipes, however, are not organized by season, but rather by categories such as "soup." Therefore, for those trying to create menus by season, a seasonal index would be helpful.)

If you weren't familiar with macrobiotics before picking up Davis' book, though, you might not even know you were getting a taste of it. Virtually the only direct reference she makes to it (other than her book jacket flap mentioning that she studied it in Japan) is a few words in the introduction: "They introduced me to macrobiotics, an Eastern philosophy that describes the order of the universe and offers ideas such as 'you are what you eat.'"

Okay, so she's not a poet when it comes to the diet that some hold so sacred as to treat it much like a religion. But she is a poet in the kitchen when it comes to creating the aforementioned recipes. And her Real Food concept broadens to include other gourmet health foods as well which, although tagged by season, don't necessarily adhere to the yin and yang balance of food followed in a strict macrobiotic diet. But, boy does it taste good. Steamed ginkgo nut custards with salmon is a masterpiece flavored with shiitake mushrooms, green onions and mirin as well as the delicately sweet nuts from China. Green tea noodles and rosemary with baby octopus is smooth and pungent at the same time. As she does often in the book, proving her versatility, Davis travels to Morocco for a succulent pheasant and preserved lemon casserole on a bed of steamed almond couscous.

Health-conscious Davis knows there's no reason to skip dessert. She offers a number of delicious choices including green tea gel with gingered pineapple made with agar-agar (clear gelatin made from sea vegetables) and palm sugar; and rosemary lemon syrup cakes featuring golden raisins, toasted pine nuts and almond meal.

Due to all the health-food and ethnic ingredients sprinkled throughout the recipes, you may end up doing some of the shopping in specialized markets, but if you are interested in out-of-the-ordinary healthful dishes with out-of-this-world flavor, the trip is worth it.

Sweet Corn and Wakame Soup
Garlic Pickled Mushrooms

(Updated: 12/16/08 SB)
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