A Feng Shui Thanksgiving
Last year I attended a “Cooking for the Holidays” class and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had seen the listing on a schedule of healthy cooking classes. Because the holidays are all about cooking and eating, I thought it might be educational to get another spin on holiday food. I mean, how healthy can holiday food get? Well, the food made in the class was pretty darn healthy and pretty darn yummy. I’ve made the recipes I learned in that class on multiple occasions. It almost feels wrong to eat food so good and so good for me. Anyhow, the holidays are coming around again, so I went in search of healthy holiday food again. This year, vegan chef Michelle Samples was offering three classes on healthy festive food. I decided to attend the first one called “Thanksgiving Dinner.”
This particular class had about 16 people in it. Most of the people in the room had taken multiple classes from her, including one guy who hadn’t missed a class in 16 years, which is how long Michelle has been teaching cooking. He said he would never miss a chance to eat Michelle’s cooking. When I got there, she was behind the kitchen counter, waving a wooden spoon and demonstrating the many ways her magnetic necklace could be worn. Michelle is a lovely, free-spirited woman who seems to have boundless energy. She is also a vegetarian chef who has degrees in Microbiology, Medical Technology and Public Health.
Michelle cooks with the goal of balancing every meal with five tastes. Most of us have heard of Feng Shui, the balance of the five Chinese elements in one’s environment. These elements also carry over into food and tastes and, as in Feng Shui, the elements are associated with a color. The five tastes are pungent (metal, white), sweet (earth, yellow), sour (wood, green), salty (water, black) and bitter (fire, red). Michelle believes that if a meal contains all these tastes, then hunger can be satisfied and cravings and overeating can be avoided. Another aspect of this food feng shui is to balance with texture as well. All foods should be cut differently and textured to balance while bringing out certain health properties of the food.
Michelle’s classes are informal and informative. She cooks and talks while the students ask questions and eat. During the class I attended, she made some incredible holiday dishes that were also extremely healthy. She started the meal out with blancha twig tea. This is a nice, light tea that starts the digestive process going and prepares the body to eat. She then served an appetizer of incredibly tasty butternut squash soup (sweet) made from five, only five, ingredients—and, one of the ingredients was water. The main course was seitan (a wheat protein) with pecan sauce (pungent, salty), sourdough bread dressing (sweet, bitter), salad (bitter, sour), mushrooms with a walnut arame sauce (salty, pungent), mustard pickles (bitter, pungent, sour), and the dessert was an old Thanksgiving tradition, pumpkin pie (sweet) made in an untraditional manner. The seitan was absolutely delicious and I was amazed at how complex the flavor was. Also, the pecans were roasted on low heat for two hours before grinding so they added a sweet, roasted flavor to the dish. The dressing contained sourdough bread, sunflower seed bread, cherries, onion, celery, flax seeds and a number of other unrelated, but complimentary ingredients. It was very flavorful and a dish I will make in the future. During the fall and winter, Michelle presses cold greens with her hands. Pressing is tossing the salad with the hands and pressing the leaves against the fingers and bowl while doing so. This brings up the heat in the vegetables so that the body doesn’t have to work as hard to digest them. She also pressed the mustard pickles, which are made by blanching mustard greens and adding pine nuts, soy sauce and mirin. These were very fresh and wonderfully spicy. The mushrooms with arame sauce were fabulous. Arame is a type of mild flavored seaweed and one of my favorite foods, thanks to Michelle. The pumpkin pie dessert put a great finishing touch on the meal. And the amazing thing was that no simple sugars or butter were used to prepare the whole feast. The pumpkin pie contained maple syrup and vanilla. The dressing contained cherries, breads, seeds and spices. As Michelle cooked, she talked about what elements the food represented and what part each dish had in the digestive process. This class was not another “cut down on sugar” lecture, it was a tasty invitation to think differently about food.
Michelle Samples teaches healthy cooking classes based on balance and the five elements. The next two holiday classes are Hors Devours on Tues., Nov. 29 and Christmas Dinner on Tues., Dec. 13. Call 584-3864 for reservations or more information .
Healthy Holiday Recipes for Thanksgiving 2005
About this menu Michele Samples says, “I have made this Thanksgiving dinner the simplest to prepare without compromising flavor or that "home for the holidays" feel. Please enjoy the extra time with your family which is by far more important.”
Put squash and water in saucepan. Cover and simmer 30 min. Put aside.
Seitan with Pecan Sauce
Step 1: Pecans
Mix and knead together until spongy (about 5 min). Cover with water and let sit 1 hour. Knead a handful at a time under running water alternating between hot and cold water to clean out bran and starch. This can be made the day before.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onion and celery in olive oil. Mix all other ingredients in large bowl. Add sauted onion and celery. Spoon into casserole dish. Cover and bake for 35 minutes. Add more vegetable broth if it looks like it is getting too dry.
Mix all ingredients and let sit for 1 hour before serving.
To pan, add washed arame, water and mirin(a cooking sherry). Cover and cook for 15 min. Add cooked arame to blender with walnuts, shoyu, parsley, garlic and toasted sesame seed oil. Blend until creamy. Stuff this into mushrooms and place in pan with ¼ cup water. Cover and steam for 15 min on medium heat. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve.
Remove outer onion skin and then remove the tops by cutting a pointed cork 1 inch into the onion. Stuff each onion with 2 tsp dark barley miso. Replace cork of onion. Place inions in pan in 1 cup of water. Cover and steam for 40 min. The onions will become sweet.
Mix and pat into an oiled pie pan. Bake for eight minutes at 350 degrees. Cool. The crust can be made ahead of time.