Whole Foods Healthy Cooking: Eating Green with Macrobiotics

Think green. Go green. It’s not easy being green. Give green a chance. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Earth: Love it or leave it. Got green? Worried… why wait? Green… just do it.

The list of slogans is endless, each asking us to think about our individual and collective environmental impact on our planet and to take action to become stewards of the earth. And, many of us have responded by doing things like watching our energy consumption, switching to greener cleaning products and giving more thought to the purchase of new items when existing ones are still functional. These are all great steps to take. If you’re ready to kick it up a few notches and make a more significant impact, move your efforts into your kitchen.

Think about the number of food choices we make each day. Each one of those decisions affects our carbon footprint — the impact our activities have on our environment. It’s important to understand the level of greenhouse gases produced as a result of our everyday decisions. There are two parts to a carbon footprint. Part A is the direct carbon emissions we generate, like the energy we consume by heating our homes and water, driving cars, etc. Part B is emissions linked to the products and services we choose to buy, which allows us to influence business practices for an even greater environmental impact. Consider these actions:

  • Buy local. Local farmers have a vested interest in keeping their farmland healthy. Get to know who’s growing the food. If they grow their crops responsibly, buy from them. You’ll discover some great varieties you won’t find in a grocery store and your taste buds will thank you. Transporting foods a few miles is much gentler on the environment than trucking it across the country. By supporting local farms you help ensure they’ll be able to continue farming their land and not have to sell to developers.
  • Buy as much food in its natural state as possible. Choose products that are minimally processed. Food processors are leaders in energy consumption AND the foods produced are among the least nutritious.
  • Go for less packaging. Buy from bulk bins and choose products without excessive packaging

You may choose to take small steps, like including one meatless meal a week, visiting a farmer’s market or local farm and buying veggies for a meal or buying brown rice from the bulk bin instead of a box. If you’re ready to try something a little more adventurous, try macrobiotics. It’s one of the greenest eating styles around with its foundation based on whole foods that are local (nutrients in the soil are in balance with needs of the area), seasonal (again, it’s about balance and taking a cue from nature), prepared at home, and consumed with gratitude (for the grower as well as the cook). It nourishes body, soul and planet.

Going macro starts with a clean kitchen. It affects the energy of the cook, who then transfers that energy into the food, affecting everyone who eats it. It’s all connected. Here are the basic guidelines of following a macrobiotic diet:

  1. Grains. 50–60% of meals are based on whole grains; grain products have a place in meals, but whole grains prepared in their whole form are front and center. Staple grains consumed daily include brown rice, millet and barley. Occasionally supplement with buckwheat, rye, oats, quinoa, amaranth and spelt. Grain products such as rolled oats, cracked wheat, corn grits are included several times a week.
  2. Soups. 10% of daily diet. Miso soup is eaten each day. Other soups containing grains, beans, vegetables, noodles, tofu can also be included.
  3. Vegetables. 25–30% of meals. Green leafy (bok choy, collards, kale, mustard greens, scallions, turnip greens, etc.), round (acorn squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cabbage, cauliflower, onion, rutabaga, turnip, etc.), and root vegetables (burdock, carrots, daikon, parsnips, radish, carrot, etc.) are eaten daily and prepared in a variety of styles (sautéed, steamed, roasted). Smaller portions are eaten raw as a salad or pickled.
  4. Beans. 5–10% of diet, included every day in a variety of ways. Adzuki, chickpeas, lentils and soybeans are the most frequently consumed.
  5. Sea vegetables. Nori, wakame and kombu are eaten daily. Arame, hiziki, dulse and agar are usually added a few times a week.
  6. Pickles. Sauerkraut, tamari, miso, vinegar, salt are included in daily choices.
  7. Seasonings and condiments. Sea salt (for cooking only in small amounts), gomashio, umeboshi plum, brown rice or umeboshi vinegars, shoyu and tamari are all used to season foods.
  8. Oils. High quality, unrefined oils such as plain or toasted sesame oil, olive, sunflower, safflower or corn oils.
  9. Teas. Bancha (twig tea), roasted brown rice, dandelion, kombu or barley tea are daily beverages.
  10. Chewing well. At least 20 times starts the digestion process.

Foods that are avoided include:

  1. all foods with artificial colors and preservatives
  2. any sprayed or chemically processed foods
  3. all refined and polished grains and flours
  4. tropical fruits and beverages
  5. tropical and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes) are avoided or limited to very occasional consumption*
  6. animal products**

*nightshades contribute to arthritis

** raising animals for food causes more environmental pollution than any other source (40% more than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships in the world) and uses up huge amounts of natural resources. For example, according a UN report, it takes 990 liters of water to produce one liter of milk, so that drinking milk instead of water requires almost 1,000 times more water.

Shop in markets that stock the basics you need in bulk bins. Most offer grains and beans in bulk. And some even have the sea vegetables as well as high quality oils in bulk. Frequent these stores and let them know that’s one of the reasons you shop there. Get the word out that it’s important to reduce packaging and that it’s a way to attract and keep customers.

Here are some good, basic recipes to get you started. They’re some of the first recipes I learned to make when studying macrobiotics and the ones I continue to make frequently. Try them and pay attention to how you feel. If you aren’t ready to make the leap into macrobiotics, but want to reap some of the benefits, include a bowl of miso soup and a serving of brown rice daily. You’ll do your body a world of good.

Roasted and Baked Brown Rice

Brown rice is the mother of all grains in macrobiotics. It’s very balanced, versatile and the foundation for everyday eating. Make up a pot and use it for cereal, in soups, salads, desserts, croquettes, casseroles, stuffings, etc. Before cooking, soak rice for two to twelve hours. It makes it easy to digest. I think this recipe is easy, convenient and brings out a sweet, nutty flavor in the rice.

1 cup brown rice, rinsed and roasted

2 1/2 cups boiling water (non-chlorinated is best)

Sea salt, a pinch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a stainless steel skillet over high heat. When skillet is hot, add the washed rice. With a wooden spoon, move rice constantly back and forth until water has evaporated. Reduce heat to medium and continue roasting for two or three more minutes or until the rice gives off a nutty aroma and turns lightly golden. Remove from heat.

Place boiling water in casserole dish and add roasted rice. Add sea salt and cover casserole dish with a tight fitting lid (or foil if you don’t have one). Place covered dish in preheated oven and bake for one hour. Remove from oven and serve.

Barley Salad with Ginger Sauce

Hippocrates recommended barley soup to restore health and vitality. In addition to its nutritional value, it’s used in macrobiotics not only to lend a delicious, chewy texture to dishes, but also to dissolve excess fat from consuming animal products. Look for pearl barley (pearled barley is different; it’s been milled and most of its nutrients have been removed). Hulled barley is readily available and also an excellent choice. The mushrooms are thought to reduce cholesterol levels and protect against hardening of the arteries. This dish makes a great meal on its own or is a good side dish. And, leftovers are easy to pack for lunch the following day.

  • 3 cups cooked barley (1 1/4 cups barley boiled in 2 1/2 cups water and a pinch of salt for 40 minutes)
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup carrots, diced
  • 1/4 cup corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup peas
  • 1/4 cup celery, diced
  • 5 shiitake mushrooms, soaked until soft and diced
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon shoyu (additional for adding to mushroom water if desired)
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/2 cup water

In a large mixing bowl, add barley and onion.

Add 1/4 inch of water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the carrots, corn and peas. Cook for one and a half minutes. Remove from pan and drain. Add to barley and onion.

Place ½ inch of water (add a few drops of shoyu if desired) to the saucepan and add the shiitake mushrooms. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain (cooking water can be used to make soup). Add to barley mixture.

Place the shoyu, ginger and water in saucepan and heat until warm. Add to barley mixture.

Adzuki Bean Soup

This is one powerhouse of a soup. Adzuki beans have less fat than other beans and are beneficial to the kidney and bladder and they’re particularly delicious paired with winter squash. The kombu strengthens the blood and helps eliminate toxic wastes from the body. The addition of squash gives a calm energy and nourishes the pancreas. And, it’s delicious and easy to make.

  • 1 cup adzuki beans, washed and soaked overnight (save soaking water)
  • Kombu, 1 inch square, soaked and thinly sliced (save soaking water)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup onion, diced
  • 1 cup winter squash, washed and cubed (butternut and kabocha are my favorites)
  • 1/2 cup carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Shoyu – to taste
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced for garnish

Add beans, kombu, soaking water and water to a pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for an hour and a half. Beans should be 80% done. Add onion, squash, carrots, corn, salt and shoyu. Cook over medium low for another 30 minutes or until beans are soft. Remove from heat and garnish with scallions.


No macrobiotic meal is complete without gomashio. It’s a condiment made from roasted sesame seeds and salt and is perfect paired with grains and vegetables. If you’ve ever purchased pre-made gomashio from a grocery shelf, you’ve never tasted real gomashio. Try making it. It’s rich in protein, B vitamins and calcium. I make it fresh every week or two.

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons sea salt

Place the seeds in a fine mesh strainer and wash under running water for about 30 seconds. Drain. While the seeds are draining, dry roast the salt. A cast iron frying pan is excellent for this; it cooks evenly, but stainless steel does a great job too. Heat the pan over medium heat and add the salt. Using a wooden spoon, move salt around the pan to roast for a few minutes. Salt should be shiny and release a chlorine aroma. Remove salt from pan and place in a suribachi (Japanese mortar and pestle). Use a food processor if you don’t have a suribachi. Grind or process until fine.

Add the seeds to the frying pan. Make sure the pan is large enough for seeds to be in a single layer. If your pan is too small, roast them in batches. Using the wooden spoon, push seeds back and forth for about 5 minutes or until the seeds begin to puff our and pop (like popcorn) and give off a nutty aroma.

Add the sesame seeds to the salt and grind until seeds are half crushed. Don’t over-grind into a powder, it has a sweeter, better flavor when the seeds are only half ground. Let cool completely and place in a glass shaker or storage container.

Basic Miso Soup

What isn’t to love about miso! This sweet, delicious, fermented soybean product is aged like a fine wine, up to several years. It’s not only a cooking staple, it’s chock full of living enzymes that help with digestion, strengthens blood quality and adds protein, vitamins and minerals to the dish. The wakame is high in calcium and vitamins and helps protect against high blood pressure and offsets radiation. I often have this soup for breakfast. When serving for an evening meal I add some diced tofu and vegetables and udon noodles or leftover brown rice.

  • 5 cups water
  • 1 cup onion, sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 carrot, washed, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 inch piece of wakame, soaked to soften and thinly sliced
  • 4 to 5 teaspoons miso (I like barley miso, but sweet white miso is excellent also)
  • 1 scallion, sliced thin for garnish

Place water, onion, carrot and wakame in a pot. Cover and place over high heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 3 minutes. Turn off burner.

Place miso in a cup, add about a quarter cup of broth from the pot. Using a fork or chopstick, stir the miso until it dissolves. Add to the pot of soup. Garnish with scallion and serve.

Fruit Pudding

A great dessert that’s satisfying and a healthy alternative to commercial gelatin desserts. Use whatever fruit is in season. If preparing with melons or berries in the summer, simply pour the hot liquid over the fruit and allow to gel. They don’t need to be cooked. The agar is an excellent source of iodine, it’s really soothing to the intestines and helps improve digestion. Not bad for a sweet treat.

  • 2 quarts of apple juice or cider (or use half juice and half water)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8–9 tablespoons of agar-agar flakes
  • 2 pears, washed and sliced thin
  • 4 apples, washed and sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons of tahini (optional)

Bring juice/water, salt, agar and fruit to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until agar flakes are dissolved (about 3 minutes). Stir frequently.

Pour into a dish and refrigerate until jelled (about an hour). After set, eat as is or put into a blender and add tahini. Blend until smooth and serve in parfait glasses.

Michelle Hirsch is a graduate of the world-renowned Kushi Institute where she also worked developing curriculum. Michelle is the author of Venturesome Vegetarian and can be contacted at mphirsch@yahoo.com.