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Macro Monday Secret Ingredient

Happy Macro Monday everyone!
Today's post is about another secret macrobiotic ingredient. It's clear. It comes from the sea. You can buy it  in the form of bars, flakes, or powder.

AND, most importantly, you can make macrobiotic jello with it.

Classy, I know.

MM: Agar Agar

A bar of agar agar soaking.

A bar of agar agar soaking.

What is it?

It is a gelatenous substance that comes from a seaweed/red algae. It has been used for centuries in China & Japan. In Japan, is in known as kanten. It is commonly used as a vegan thickener and is completely odourless, colourless, and flavourless, making it a great substitute for gelatin.

Health Benefits

Agar is very high in fibre (80% fibre!), and is good source of iron & magnesium, and also is a source of calcium. Agar has been found to relieve certain digestive orders, as well as some liver conditions (it can absorb bile, which can lower cholesterol levels).

How do you use it?

Agar should be combined / soaked with liquid and then brought to a boil in order for it to completely dissolve. It will set as it cools down.

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There are a few different forms of agar agar. Agar powder is much more concentrated than the flakes, so you can use 1 tsp of powder in place of 1 Tbsp flakes. If you are using it in bar form, the instructions usually say to soak the bar in a bowl of water for about 30-60 minutes. Then drain and wring out the bars, rip into small pieces, and then bring to boil with whatever ingredients you are using in your recipe.

To thicken one cup of liquid, in general, you'll need 1 tsp agar powder / 1 TBSP agar flakes or about 1/3 of a typical bar. I find though that each brand can be different, so definitely read the instructions on the back of the package.

For quick reference and an estimate based on the brands I've used:
To thicken 1 cup of liquid: 1 tsp agar powder = 1 tbsp agar flakes = 1/3 agar bar

Kinds of Foods you can make with it

Creamy Desserts

Agar agar is often used to create a creamy thick filling for pies, or in puddings (usually combined with kuzu).

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  • I use it in my favourite pumpkin pie recipe.
  • I have also used it to make a delicious tahini custard.
  • Easy Simple Pudding: You can make a very simple pudding that can be flavoured after, in whatever way you like by simply combining agar with your milk of choice, and cooking it, then letting it set up. The next day blend until soft like a pudding, adding in whatever you like: cocoa, vanilla, banana, peanut butter, cinnamon etc.

Lighter Fruit Jellies & Puddings.

You can make lighter dishes that are great for spring or summer, such as jelly or jello-like dishes combined with fruit. These are often referred to as kantens in Macrobiotic cooking.

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  • A Delicious Strawberry Kanten
  • I have also made a kanten like the strawberry one above using various fruits such as mixed berries, thin apple slices, and grapes. It's SO EASY! Just bring the soaked agar and liquid of choice (water, tea, juice, milk) to boil, let it dissolve, then pour overtop of fruit in a pyrex dish. Let it set, and enjoy!
  • I have also made a very simple kanten with no fruit, and just flavoured the agar itself by cooking it in apple juice and mint tea. Another delicious one is to cook it with your milk of choice and chai tea, along with your preferred liquid sweetener.  After it sets you can eat as is, or you can blend into a pudding texture. YUM! (In these cases I made some very strong tea first, using multiple teabags, and used this as the water to boil the agar in).

 

I'll leave you with a fun fact: agar is often used in science as a stable growth environment for bacteria in petri dishes. Cool :)

Have you ever cooked with agar agar? What's your favourite recipe using it?

 

Macrobiotic Pumpkin Pudding / Custard

On Monday, I talked about KUZU - Macrobiotics' secret thickening ingredient that is also very useful when prepared medicinally for healing and helping many conditions. I promised you a recipe using this ingredient.

Seeing as how it's Autumn, almost Canadian Thanksgiving, and there are as many beautiful colours of leaves as there are beautiful pumpkins, I thought I'd stick with the theme. I've had pumpkin pudding on the brain since my Pumpkin Pie Showdown last Thanksgiving. I've made quite a few different variations and random throw-together quick puddings in the kitchen, but this time I sat down and wrote it all out, so I'd remember it for next time. The extra filling from one of my pumpkin pies last year, that I ate the next day pudding style, was my inspiration behind this recipe.

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Macrobiotic Pumpkin Pudding / Custard

Dainty Pig Style

Ingredients:

  • 1 can of pumpkin (398ml or 14 fl oz.) 
  • 1 cup of almond milk (or your choice of milk - coconut or soy would make it a bit creamier) 
  • 4 TBSP maple syrup or brown rice syrup
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon (this amount is for cinnamon lovers, so reduce to 1 or 2 tsp. if you'd like it a bit more subtle)
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/3 cup (6 TBSP) Kuzu diluted in 1/3 cup water.  *** Edited to add: I tried this again, and you can totally get away with 4 TBSP Kuzu diluted in 1/4c water
  • Maple flakes, cookie, cinnamon, pecans! as an optional garnish
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Directions:

  1. In a small saucepan combine the pumpkin and almond milk (I used a fork, but you could also whisk it together). 
  2. Add in your sweetener - I used maple syrup - and mix it in. 
  3. Heat it up, stirring often, over medium-low heat.  Mixture will begin to bubble a bit, so be careful of splatters.
  4. Stir in the vanilla and spices. 
  5. Prepare the kuzu: in a small bowl or mug: add 1/3 cup water to 6 TBSP kuzu, and stir until liquidy and combined. 
  6. Add kuzu mixture to the pumpkin mixture on the stove, stirring continuously to avoid lumps. 
  7. Continue stirring until mixture thickens - maybe 3 minutes or so, and then simmer for 1-2 more minutes (it may get a bit translucent, depending on the kind of milk you used).
  8. Pour into 4 separate bowls or ramekins. 
  9. Enjoy warm, or leave (covered) overnight in the fridge to thicken and for the flavour to develop.  {I had a bit warm & it was delicious, but then I left the rest in the fridge overnight to see what it was like the next day}

Enjoy! 

If you eat it right away it has more of a pudding texture (my favourite). If you wait until the next day it is thicker, like a custard. I topped mine with a store-bought macro friendly ginger cookie, and a few sprinkles of maple flakes and cinnamon. I recommend serving it with a nice cup of chai tea. Divine!

***This makes a lightly sweetened pudding, so if you're planning on serving this to regular eaters, you might want to consider adding in a bit more maple syrup :) 

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I'd love to know what your favourite pumpkin recipe is!