Go macro like Madonna



By Mayumi Nishimura (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2010, 160 pp., $29.95, hardcover)

Macrobiotic lifestyles have steadily become popular and mainstream over recent years thanks to Hollywood stars, who rave of their benefits. As Madonna’s personal macrobiotic chef for seven years, Mayumi Nishimura is an expert at creating dishes that she claims will not only give you more energy, but also have the power to improve your skin, mind and body. Her recipes generally avoid meat, eggs, dairy or anything processed. Sugars and artificial sweeteners are also avoided, although she does use maple syrup and agar-agar flakes in her dessert recipes. Nuts, oils and seafood are also used, although sparingly.

While this food regimen may seem rather restrictive, Nishimura has compiled a book of over a hundred recipes that support a macrobiotic lifestyle. A macrobiotic diet puts a large emphasis on whole grains, vegetables, beans and sea vegetables, with a more moderate emphasis on fruits, seafood, nuts and seeds.

This cookbook uses plenty of enticing full-color photos, and the layout is fairly straightforward. Chapters are organized mostly by type of dish, such as soups or condiments. Nishimura also includes a section that explains macrobiotics more concretely, as well as a glossary of ingredients and a section on basic techniques she uses. Also included are recommended menus for those who have specific goals, such as losing weight or improving skin. For macrobiotic beginners, Nishimura recommends starting with a 10-day detox diet that introduces people to basic dishes that can be built upon later.

There are a handful of recipes in this book that are probably exclusive to the hard-core macrobiotic eater, such as tofu cheese or grain coffee, a caffeine-free coffee substitute made with barley and rye. However, there are many recipes that have translated beautifully, and would be enjoyed by anyone, such as the soba salad with Asian-style dressing, a colorful and beautifully plated dish served with a rainbow of vegetables including myoga ginger, shiso leaves, purple cabbage and yellow bell pepper. The sea bass with green lentils, fresh corn and parsley is also visually arresting, and would be perfect for a dinner party. For dessert, the mixed fruit tart provides a stunning finish to a meal, baked with an almond base and garnished with berries, kiwis and an apricot glaze.

While there are a good number of Japanese-style recipes, Nishimura has also created dishes that borrow influences from ethnic cuisines, such as her vegetable lasagna, brown rice mochi waffles and tahini sauce. Nishimura’s array of dressings, sauces and drinks is impressive, and help add more variety to her menus by accompanying other dishes, widening the range of flavor to an otherwise simple dish.

While this book is obviously recommended for those who want to reap the benefits of following a macrobiotic diet, it is also strongly recommended for vegetarians, vegans and anyone who might want to incorporate healthy dishes into their regular meals. Whether you decide to follow a full-blown macrobiotic lifestyle, or simply want to learn how to make a healthier brownie that doesn’t use a stick of butter, “Mayumi’s Kitchen” will surprise you with its sheer creativity in finding healthful substitutes for your diet.

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