Fearless Use of Salt In Cooking by Cynthia Briscoe
Salt is a critical element in the alchemy of your cooking. Good use of salt in cooking prepares the food you eat to be aligned with human digestion and human blood quality, and thus is an important factor regarding your health. How you use salt in cooking is especially important in a plant-based diet, because when applied properly, it gives vegetable quality food a strengthening vitality or good quality yang energy.
There is a lot of fear surrounding the use of salt. There are opposing viewpoints. In this series, I would like to present some tips and understanding about the use of salt, such that you can decide for yourself what is personally appropriate for your health. As David Briscoe often advises students, “Go from the land of ‘No’ to the land of ‘Know’”. I might add in behalf of all Kitchen Commandos, “Move from ‘Fear’ to ‘Fearless’’. The first point in this series, concerns giving sea salt ample time to cook with the food.
In her cooking classes, Cornellia Aihara taught students the importance of cooking the salt into the food. In most instances of cooking with sea salt, she recommended cooking the salt in the food for 15 to 20 minutes. Following is a teaching story she shared:
George Ohsawa once gave me only 20 minutes notice that he would be coming to visit. It was lunchtime, so I thought to make polenta, as it is quick to cook. In my haste, I forgot to add the salt in the beginning of cooking the polenta. I didn’t realize I had forgotten to add the salt until I tasted it. The polenta tasted very bland, so I stirred in salt after it had finished cooking.
Mr. Ohsawa ate his lunch.
Cornellia loved Ohsawa very much. It was important to her that he enjoyed his lunch. So she asked him in her Cornellia way, “You enjoy?”
When telling the story, Cornellia imitated his voice by speaking in a low, slow voice with deep intonation, “Yes. I enjoy very much. Thank you. But you add salt too late.”
Well, you might scratch your head and ask, “Really? How could Ohsawa tell that she had added the salt after the polenta had cooked?” You can distinguish, too, once you understand the difference of raw salt versus cooked salt.
First of all, raw salt has a different taste and texture on the tongue. If you look at magnified grains of salt, you will see little cube shapes with sharp edges and corners. That’s the natural structure of how the sodium and chlorine molecules adhere to one another. This structure dissolves with water. So if Cornellia had added the salt as the water was coming to a boil, the salt crystals would have dissolved and combined very nicely with the polenta. Raw salt crystals have a strong, sharp salty blast of flavor on the tongue, almost a slight initial burning sensation. If the salt has been cooked into the food, it subtly combines with the flavors and has a different slightly sweet flavor.
Also, perhaps George was very thirsty after eating lunch; another sign of uncooked salt. Raw salt makes you very thirsty. After a meal where the salt is balanced by cooking, a single cup of tea is usually enough to satisfy thirst. That’s why fast-food meal menus such as a burger and salted fries often include a ‘Big Gulp’ of a drink.
I have experienced this kind of extreme thirst after eating refried beans in a Mexican restaurant. If you cook dried beans with salt in the water, the beans stay hard. So the restaurant cooks a large pot of dried beans without salt, drains off the liquid and mashes the beans. Then salt is added to the mashed beans for flavor. The effect is much like the polenta: the mashed beans are thick and lack enough water to dissolve the salt. Thus you are eating a lot of raw salt housed within the refried beans. The next day, you may have lower back pain in the area of the kidneys and experience some puffiness or swelling. You also might experience tight shoulders or irritability.
Just hold this salt tip in mind and test it for yourself, in your own cooking or when you eat out in a restaurant. Experience and awareness are the best teachers.
How much salt is appropriate for me?
Follow your taste buds. The amount of salt you use should bring out a delicious naturally sweet flavor. The salty taste should be soft and not sharp. When planning a meal, vary the salt content in different dishes.
Enough to bring out a sweet flavor.
Goma Wakame Saved Me From a Dumb Mistake!
By Cynthia Briscoe
When Cornellia Aihara taught students how to make miso soup, she always explained the significant protection of wakame in miso soup. Wakame has the ability to chelate or bind with heavy metals and remove them safely from the body. Remembering her lesson helped me recover from an unwitting mistake.
This occurred perhaps 12 years ago. I enjoy repairing things around our home, a lovely solid Craftsman Style house constructed in 1924. The window screens and their original wooden frames sorely needed refurbishing. I bought this great little orbital sander to buzz off the peeling paint from the wood frames rather than messy stripping. I marveled at the many layers of paint. In my imagination I made up a history of the aproned women who chose yellow, apple green, peach or standard white. I pictured how they must have dressed or what color hair they had as I happily buzzed off layers of history back down to the bare wood with many changes of sandpaper.
I completed the project, but then started feeling very weak, so very tired to the point I could barely get out of bed as well as flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea and abdominal pain. A more seasoned repairman friend brought up the fact that I most likely had inhaled and ingested a great deal of lead paint dust due to the age of the house and the fact that lead based paint was used until 1978.
Who knew? I hadn’t known or I certainly would have worn a mask!
I thought, “How am I going to get myself out of this one?” Then Cornellia’s voice came into my head, “Wakame protects against lead poisoning, radiation exposure and other toxic pollutants we are exposed to every day.”
Thank you Cornellia!
I got busy and poured on the wakame – wakame in miso soup, baked wakame onion casserole, and goma wakame. Goma wakame afforded a concentrated amount of wakame that I could sprinkle on just about anything edible. I used it heavily on my breakfast porridge. It tasted great, so I knew my body needed it. After 5 days, I felt stronger. After 2 weeks I was fully recovered.
That’s the beauty of macrobiotics: the cure often lies in your kitchen. I would like to share with you a recipe for Goma Wakame (see below). It is delicious and rich in minerals. It is suitable for children or people who wish to reduce sodium, as contains less sodium than Gomashio or sesame salt. It builds strong bones and teeth and is highly alkalizing. Best of all, it can save you if you are dumb enough to sand lead paint without proper protection!
Powdered Wakame and Toasted Sesame Seed Condiment
1/2 cup sesame seeds
12 inches of dried wakame
5. Drain the seeds in the strainer.
6. Dry the sesame seeds before roasting. Place in a skillet over a medium flame. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon, drying until the seeds no longer stick to the wooden spoon.
7. Heat a stainless steel frying pan over a medium flame.
8. Cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of seeds.
9. Place a lid on the pan. Shake the seeds in the pan in a back and forward motion similar to popping corn. The seeds are done when you can crush a few seeds easily between the thumb and fourth finger.
11. Pour the finished seeds into the suribachi with the powdered wakame. Continue roasting the seeds as described above until all the seeds are roasted.
11. Grind the seeds in the suribachi with the powdered wakame until about 2/3 of the sesame seed are crushed.
12. Serve a sprinkling on grains as a condiment. Goma wakame may be stored in an airtight jar for about two weeks for maximum flavor and freshness or store in the refrigerator to keep the oil in the seeds fresh.
I was so very fortunate to have worked closely with Cornellia Aihara for eight years, managing the Vega Study Center kitchen, training staff, resident students and teaching cooking classes. Cornellia was a firm believer in making her own macrobiotic staples. We made Vega’s own miso, shoyu (natural soysauce), umeboshi, umeboshi vinegar, mochi, rice bran pickles, takuan, seitan and many other items. Sometimes students would question her, “Cornellia, why don’t you just buy these foods?” In her unique Japanese/American manner of speaking, she would say, “What if boat doesn’t come?” I reflected on those simple words when the tsunami disaster hit Japan. Only Cornellia and Mr. Muramoto taught students in America how to make their own shoyu. Especially, when students stayed for a while at Vega and ate these products, then they understood the value in terms of health and flavor.
Cornellia was always very proud of her accomplished shoyu, miso and pickles – wanting to share them with everyone. I savoured the flavors, but more importantly, the unique opportunity of learning the art of making these traditional foods. I knew of no American macrobiotic teachers who taught making these foods, so I happily engaged myself as a link between Cornellia, a first generation macrobiotic teacher, and future generations of students. Now, I’d like to share this knowlege with you.
For myself, I enjoy making these products. It gives me a feeling of accomplishment and even security. I know exactly the quality of the ingredients and how it is made. I can save money and still enjoy these wonderful and delicious products without breaking the bank. Some of these items, like miso, or mochi can be made in larger amounts with friends, extended family, groups or neighbors and shared. Producing our own food, as a community, for well-being and sustainability is a special human experience most of us no longer know within today’s social structure. The modern hurry-up lifestyle removes us from a deep connection to our food, leaving it to the chain of manufacturers-shippers-middlemen-marketers.
In my upcoming June 6-10 “Make Your Own Home Crafted Foods”course in Oroville, CA, you can learn to make many of your own special home-crafted foods, and then return home to establish a deeper sense of community with family, friends, and local support groups. You simply can’t compare the quality and flavor of these homemade foods to anything that can be store-bought. They’re sustainable, economical, ecological, practical, fun and incomparably delicious!
Please come join me for this 5-day, hands-on cooking intensive and let me share with you what I learned from Cornellia. REGISTRATION & MORE INFORMATION
Herman Aihara was born on September 28, 1920. Along with many others I had the great good fortune to have him as one of my macrobiotic mentors. I only wish that more of today’s macrobiotic teachers, counselors and individuals would have studied with him in-depth during his lifetime. I believe this would have very much deepened and broadened the view of macrobiotics for so many. Herman was unique. Like he did with all of his students, he showed me the necessity of finding real freedom through personal happiness and creativity. Many have commented over the years that the following definition of macrobiotics by Herman is their very favorite. So, I want to share it with you on this day, his birthday.
A Definition of Macrobiotics by Herman Aihara
“Macrobiotics amounts to finding our physiological limitations and trying to live within them. This is the cultivation of humbleness. When we think that we can do anything we want, we become arrogant. This arrogance causes sickness.
When we are living within our physical limitations, then our spirituality is free. Macrobiotics seeks freedom in spirit. Freedom exists in our spirit – so we can think anything. But biologically, physiologically we are unfree. We can wish to eat anything we want, but we cannot do it and still live within our natural physiological limitations.
Disciplining physical unfreedom is the foundation of spiritual freedom. God didn’t give us unlimited biological freedom, but appreciating and taking into consideration our unfree physical condition leads us to greater freedom, both physically and spiritually.”
– Herman Aihara
author of Acid & Alkaline
Learning from Salmon
and other books
Know Your Physical Limitations: A Lesson From Herman Aihara by David Briscoe
Freedom is a wonderful thing. It is wonderful to feel unlimited. Even the prisoner in solitary confinement can be free in his imagination. Our culture teaches us to think of ourselves as free and unlimited. But we are actually free only in spirit. Physically, we are not free or unlimited. Probably one of Herman’s most powerful, simple and often repeated statements was “Know your physical limitations.” Many times this was misunderstood by his students. Some saw this statement as negative, and they didn’t pay much attention, but in this statement was contained the essence of many of Herman’s most positive teachings. In order to be in the physical world for a normal, healthy lifetime, it is important to know how the physical world works. It has rules. The body, being part of the physical world, needs to operate by the rules or it will get sick much more than it normally would, and then it will age prematurely.
We all know that we need oxygen. If we go into outer space or under the water, we must take our supply of oxygen with us. This is one of our physical limitations. We just can’t go anywhere we want, we can only go where there is oxygen. We all come to learn soon in life that the body’s temperature maintains itself at 98.6 F. It can go up a little, maybe down a little, but it can’t go up too high for too long or down too low for too long. If it does, our life is in real danger. This having to maintain a certain body temperature is another of our physical limitations. Nobody can buy their way out of this. So, knowing this, we make sure that our temperature never gets too high or goes too low. It’s become common sense.
We all have to maintain a constant blood sugar level, we all have to consume food and water. These things we understand easily. When we study more about the body, we discover that it has even more, not-so-obvious limitations. In our blood we have to maintain a certain concentration of minerals like sodium and potassium.
This concentration of minerals must be maintained constantly or we are in big trouble. Fortunately, there are automatic functions in the body that maintain this internal mineral concentration.
Perhaps one of the most important physiological limitations is pH or acid-alkaline balance. Human blood must be maintained constantly at a pH of 7.4. If it varies from this number by much, we would go into a coma or convulsions. Our lungs, kidneys and blood buffer system help the body remove acid so that the pH of 7.4 can be steadily maintained. It is a natural process going on night and day without stop.
When we select food and drink, it adds acid or alkaline-forming elements to our blood after it is digested. Protein, fat and refined carbohydrates (white sugar, white flour, white rice, alcohol, etc.) all add acid to the body. Of course, we need a certain amount of protein, fat and unrefined carbohydrate, the body can handle
them. It’s when we eat concentrated amounts of these nutrients that we create an acid blood condition. Many, many health problem have their roots in an acid blood condition. When we learn how to wisely choose foods according to macrobiotic principles, we discover that we can easily support our body in maintaining an alkaline blood condition. When we do this we are learning to live with a physical limitation, and we know how to stay healthy longer. By understanding that we do have physical limitations, and that be learning to embrace them and live with them, we become stronger and happier people. Living with our physical limitations allows us to root ourselves strongly in the reality of our biological life. When we accomplish this, our spirit is able to soar freely and without limitation. It is like a majestic tree, firmly rooted in the earth, supporting its branches in their reach to the heavens.
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