Whole Foods Healthy Cooking: Soup

Yesterday, I overheard a woman say she’s switched to a granular butter substitute and diet cola in order to lose weight. She commented that she didn’t care what was in the stuff as long as it didn’t add calories.

Changing unhealthy eating styles isn’t an easy thing to do. In fact, most people won’t consider making significant changes in their diet just for the sake of eliminating minor symptoms or improving general overall health. Making a significant diet change usually takes something drastic like a serious illness to serve as a motivating factor. An easier way to make dietary changes is to make a series of minor adjustments, taking note of how each change makes you feel. It’s much easier to make gradual transitions. Give it a try and feel the difference.

What works for me is macrobiotics. Macrobiotics is the philosophy that diet influences how we feel emotionally and physically. It’s a way of living in harmony with nature and recognizing food as more than just fuel. Macrobiotics is an approach to living which emphasizes making conscious dietary choices based upon an individual’s physical and/or emotional condition. It’s about choices versus restrictions and that sickness is the body’s attempt to return to a more balanced condition.

Good health is dependent upon a nutritious diet. The quality of our food and water determines how healthy we live our lives. Since the advent of modern food processing, our diet has progressively gotten farther and farther away from foods in their natural state. Scientific research shows a clear relationship between our modern diet and the increase of diseases such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, etc. Research also shows that by eating a more natural, whole foods based diet, the body can help itself heal.

Guiding principles in making informed macrobiotic food choices include:

  • Eating whole foods
  • Selecting organic foods whenever possible
  • Selecting locally grown foods
  • Eating and cooking foods according to the current season

Finding a good macrobiotic cooking instructor or guidebook such as Aveline Kushi’s Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking by Aveline Kushi will also assist you in moving towards a healthier, healing diet. Remember to make gradual transitions and follow the guidelines above. If you do nothing else, at the very least, add brown rice and miso soup to your food choices every day. Your body will thank you.

Basic Miso Soup | Boiled Brown Rice | Quick-Boiled Greens | Quick Cabbage Pickles | Sesame Salt (Gomashio)


This soup is very versatile. It can be prepared as a simple, soothing broth or a heartier meal-in-a-bowl. The version I’m offering is somewhere in between and includes a few ingredients that may seem strange to those new to whole foods. Rest assured, once you try them, you’ll be hooked.

Miso, a savory paste made from soybeans, is often used to make healthy, delicious broths. It’s been used for centuries in Asia as a healing food and is a good source of protein and B vitamins. It also helps cleanse radiation and nicotine from the body.

Miso comes in a variety of flavors ranging from sweet to savory and can be found in health food stores. Long-aged barley miso is highest in enzymes that facilitate digestion and strengthen blood quality and is preferred for everyday usage.

Wakame is a sea vegetable with a subtly sweet flavor and is sold in dried form in health food stores. It is high in calcium, iron, iodine and B vitamins, all essential for good nutrition and digestion. It’s used in Asian medicine to protect against high blood pressure, strengthen intestines, skin and hair and offset the damaging effects of radiation.

4-5 cups water
1 cup onion, sliced in thin half moons
1-2 inch piece wakame
1/2 cup sliced carrot
1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
3 teaspoons barley miso
Chopped scallion, parsley or chives for garnish.

1. Break wakame into small pieces (or soak and cut with knife). Place wakame, water, onion, carrot and corn in a pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.

2. Reduce heat and simmer 3-5 minutes.

3. Place miso in a small bowl and add some of the simmering broth. Stir to dissolve the miso. Add dissolved miso to soup, cover and simmer another 2 minutes.

4. Place in serving bowls and garnish.

Note: you may also add any leftover beans, grains or vegetables to boost nutrition, flavor and heartiness to the soup.



Brown rice is a near perfect food. It’s packed with many of the nutrients we need to sustain life and it has a satisfying nutty flavor that can’t be beat.

1 cup brown rice
2 cups boiling water
pinch of sea salt

1. Wash the rice by swirling it in a bowl of cool water. Drain in a fine mesh strainer. This rinses the rice clean of dirt and dust and produces a better quality dish.

2. Place rice in a pot; add water and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer, without stirring or lifting the lid for 50-60 minutes.

A delicious variation for winter is to add 1/2 cup cubed winter squash and cook it with the rice. Add 1/2 tablespoon barley miso after it’s cooked for extra flavor and nutrition.



This method of cooking greens produces vegetables that are bright and tender. You may cook the leaves whole and cut them before serving, or cut them before cooking. An added value of cooking this way is the luscious broth you’re left with! It makes a wonderful base for soups or it can be used as a liquid to cook other vegetables.

8 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 pound of greens (kale, collards, beet greens, etc.)

1. In a large pot, add salt to water and bring to a boil.

2. While water is heating, wash greens. Discard any wilted or yellow leaves and add greens to boiling water and press down to submerge all leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until tender and bright green. Drain in a colander, reserving broth for soup stock. Shake out any excess water. If leaves were cooked whole, stack them up on a cutting board, roll the bunch into a tube shape and cut into thick or thin slices. Toss into a serving bowl.

Variation: Cut leaves before cooking, add 1 cup corn kernels and 1 cup diced carrots while cooking. Drain (reserving cooking liquid) and toss with 3 tablespoons orange juice, 2 tablespoons tamari and 1 teaspoon maple syrup or brown rice syrup.



Pickles are a great addition to any meal. (We’re not talking about the traditional cucumber versions!) Pickles will aid digestion and strengthen the intestines. Select fresh vegetables that are crisp and firm.

2 cups Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sea salt

Wash and slice the cabbage. Place it in a crock or a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt over the cabbage and toss it with your hands until it’s well mixed. Place a plate over the cabbage and weight it down with a clean rock or a heavy can. Set it on the counter for 8 to 36 hours. Store longer in the refrigerator in a covered bowl.



This is the most popular of all macrobiotic condiments. It’s fragrant, tasty and an excellent source of calcium, oil and other nutrients. For this you’ll need a suribachi and wooden pestle to grind the salt and seeds. A suribachi is a ceramic bowl with a grooved interior used for grinding. You’ll find them at most Asian food stores. It’s a great addition to any kitchen.

1 cup sesame seeds
2-3 tablespoons sea salt

1. Wash the sesame seeds in a fine mesh strainer and drain well. Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. A cast iron pan toasts more evenly, but stainless steel is fine.

2. Add salt to the hot pan and roast for a few minutes. This releases the moisture in the salt and helps ensure a fluffy product. Remove the salt and place in a suribachi. Grind it until it’s very fine. Dry roast the sesame seeds while they are still damp, constantly pushing back and forth in the pan with a wooden spoon so they don’t burn. They’re done when they crush easily between the thumb and index finger (5-10 minutes). They’ll begin to pop and release a luscious aroma when done. Add the seeds to the suribachi and grind until each seed is half crushed and well coated with salt.

3. Let it cool completely before storing.

Michelle Hirsch lives in southern New Hampshire and teaches whole foods cooking classes throughout New England. She is a graduate of the world renowned Kushi Institute where she currently work on curriculum development. Michelle can be contacted at mphirsch@yahoo.com.