Gentle Cleansing with Hato Mugi

HATO MUGI SPRING STEW

I decided to go a bit Asian with my menu and cook with Job’s Tears—in Japanese “Hato Mugi.”  Hato Mugi resembles barley and is sometimes called “Pearl” (not “pearled”) barley. But it is actually not related to the grain known as “barley.”

Hato Mugi is great for spring because it is said to be a cleansing grain. I am not into big, dramatic cleanses or fasts for spring but prefer to adjust my cooking, starting in early February, toward spring and toward not only lightening up the menu, but choosing foods that do help the body get rid of excess fats, dairy and other animal products that may have been consumed over the winter.

Hato Mugi is an ancient grain that has not been hybridized as far as I know and it is gluten-free.

It is purchased dried and should be soaked for as long as twelve hours to make cooking easier. Before you cook Hato Mugi, sort through the dried grains for any dirt or stones or whatever. Wash it quickly in cold water and then soak it in spring water until it has expanded and softened somewhat.

I am using some other mildly cleansing foods with this dish including kombu seaweed and shiitake mushrooms—both of these can help break down excess fat and dairy.

Hato Mugi has a rich, earthy flavor and I love to pair it with young spring vegetables such as leeks, scallions or dandelion greens.

Hato Mugi Spring Stew

  • 6 inch piece of dried kombu seaweed
  • 1 cup of Hato Mugi (Job’s Tears)
  • several dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 cup of cooked black beans
  • shoyu (soy sauce)

There’s a lot of soaking you’ll need to do in advance.  Sort through the hato mugi removing any stones or other items that don’t belong (yes it does sometimes happen!) and then wash thoroughly in cold water. Soak the hato mugi in spring water for several hours. Overnight is fine.

Brush off the dried kombu and soak it in a medium-sized pot in a little spring water. The kombu will expand as it softens. When it has done that (takes maybe 10 minutes) then remove it from the pot leaving the soaking water there. Cut the kombu into bitesize pieces (any shape you like—squares, strips, etc.) and put the cut kombu back into the bottom of the pot.

The mushrooms also get soaked in spring water. I just grab a small bowl for that. When the mushrooms are soft enough to slice, remove any stem parts because they are tough and don’t soften in cooking. Then cut the shiitake up into bite size strips.

While things are soaking you can wash and dice a large carrot.

Next is the cooking method which is layering:  the kombu is at the bottom along with the water you soaked it in, then add the shiitake mushrooms and you can use that soaking water too, then the hato mugi on top of that. Cover with water and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it all simmer with a lid on it. Cook it for about 30 minutes. You don’t stir it around, you leave it cooking in layers. If the water cooks away but the dish is not finished you can add a little more water.

Toward the end of cooking is when I like to add the carrots because in spring and summer I’m not looking for stewy soft vegetables. I like the carrots to keep their bright color and cook until just soft enough to fit in with the other ingredients..

I used a can of organic cooked black beans for this and added one cup at the end of the cooking time so the beans would heat up.

Once everything is done, season with some soy sauce and now you can stir it up to distribute the seasoning.

Garnish with some ginger, some parsley, slivers of scallion or whatever you wish. I did serve this with a side of fresh spring dandelion greens sauteed in olive oil and garlic and a side of salad.

Hearty and filling, yet not heavy.

Where to buy Hato Mugi?

I have seen hato mugi in Asian grocery stores but I can never tell for sure if it is organic. My primary requirement for food is that it is labeled organic which also encompasses the question of whether it is GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). Organic includes being non-GMO.

My local natural food stores don’t carry hato mugi. If there is a store near you that has a really good selection of macrobiotic foods, you might find it there. Otherwise I highly recommend ordering online from Gold Mine Natural Foods. They have all the good healthy stuff that the commercial natural food stores are no longer willing to carry. This is because enough of us aren’t demanding the very highest quality and variety of foods and so they don’t use shelf space for it. But it doesn’t hurt to continually ask for things to be brought in and create a little ruckus over the fact that natural food stores (not naming names but you probably know which ones) are becoming more and more “homogenized” — to put it politely.

It’s easy to say, “They are only interested in making money.” Well, of course they are. It’s a business and they are supporting as much of the healthy choices as they can and still make a profit. But that’s the point. They are CHOICES as in, yours and mine. If we don’t choose healthy, there is no way the stores are going to be able to make money stocking healthy. Right?

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Souper Bowl Sunday

When I hear “Super Bowl,”  I think:  Souper Bowl.  That’s because I absolutely love soup!

Soup became one of my favorite types of food when I was very young and the Campbell’s soup company was offering a “Campbell’s Kid” doll if you sent in labels from your soup cans.  My flavor was tomato and I ate lots of it to get that doll.

Other than that, I pretty much ignored the existence of soup until I studied macrobiotics and we had miso soup for breakfast every day.  Really?  Soup for breakfast?  How odd was that! Turned out miso soup is incredibly satisfying to make and eat and is a wonderful thing to start your day out with.  It gets your digestive system going, it alkalizes your blood, and there are unlimited variations you can create in the way of miso soup!

Miso Soup

Image via Wikipedia

So I learned how to make that and found out I really, really love soup.  I also learned as a cooking student to make lots of other soups to serve as a starter for dinner as well as for breakfast.  Bean soups, whole grain soups, veggie soups – seems we never ate the exact same soup twice.  That’s because the world of soups is infinitely variable!

I used to make huge batches of eight different soups for my local health food store to sell.  That was back in the 80’s. I had a five-gallon soup pot!  I found out that soup is one type of dish that is very easy to make in large batches without much trouble.  That’s probably why we have “soup kitchens” for the homeless or unfortunate.  You can feed a crowd with soup!

Coco Eating His Soup, 1905, by Pierre-August R...

Image via Wikipedia

Soup-making solves many family diet issues and it is economical.  You can get people to eat more veggies by putting them in soups.  You can get people to eat more complex carbs by using beans and whole grains in soups.  Soup can be comfort food.  It can also be food a sick person is willing to eat when they don’t want other foods.  A young child can quickly become very handy with a spoon if he or she is given some not-too-hot soup to eat.

You can make your soups light or hearty, or start with a light soup and make it richer later on and vice versa.  You can also use up your kitchen leftovers and last wilting bits of veggies from the bottom of your refrigerator crisper by putting them into soup.  And of course you can make enough soup to last a few meals or freeze the soup for later.

Soup is easy too.  There are lots of recipes around for soup and if you haven’t tried making your own soup then I recommend starting with a recipe or two until you get the hang of it.  Mostly you may want to know about the broth for the soup and how to get that.  That is the only part that may seem a bit labor intensive.

Most of my soup broth comes from saving the water I used to boil vegetables.  I don’t always even use a special broth and just make the soup using water and using seasonings to bring out the delicious, natural flavors of my ingredients.  Sometimes my “broth” consists of bringing spring water and a 2-inch piece of kombu seaweed to a boil.  The seaweed adds plenty of minerals and a mild flavor to the water.

My only caution on the subject of soups is to be alert if you’re buying soup that’s already made or in a mix.  Even in the natural food store, you really have to read the labels because cane sugar juice is in a lot of the canned or pre-packaged soups and broths.  You can also buy powdered miso soup mix and soups that only require adding boiling water.  All of these are pretty salty and the quality of the ingredients is definitely not equivalent to what you can make at home from fresh ingredients.  I don’t recommend these salty mixes.  Same goes for the “ramen soup” mixes you can buy in the dollar store.  Read the ingredients sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

Probably I should include a recipe or two here.  I hesitate because there are so many good ones around and my recipes are very simple.  My soups (and yours) become unique by how they are varied, how high-quality the ingredients are, and in the care and attention given to preparation.  So before I slap down a recipe, I’d like to give you my top five tips on soup-making:

1. The broth is the basis of the soup and should be of the highest possible quality.  If you are using water, make it spring water.  If you are buying pre-made broth, don’t buy one with sugar in it and make sure it is organic.

2. If you are going to make soup with beans in it, use kombu seaweed also.  The minerals in the seaweed help you digest the beans without getting flatulence.

3.  I love an immersible hand blender!  You can make a creamy soup without cream by blending the soup especially if it is something like a winter squash soup.  Some grains, beans and even vegetables can be blended into a nice, creamy consistency.  This also works for a cold cucumber soup.

4.  To make a richer-tasting soup, try sauteeing some of the ingredients before adding water or broth.  Sauteed onions and garlic, for instance, can really change the taste of the soup.

5.  Garnish your soup.  You can use parsley, ginger, sliced scallions and many other interesting touches.  These add another layer of flavor to your soup and make the presentation beautiful and appealing.

And here are a couple recipes to start out with:

Miso Soup

4 cups of spring water

4-6 inch piece of wakame seaweed

1/8 small onion (organic)

1 large kale leaf (raw) or ¼ cup of cooked & sliced kale (organic)

1/8 cup of firm tofu (organic)

½ – 1 Tsp. barley miso

1 scallion

Put the spring water into a small pot.  Soak the dried wakame seaweed in the water for about 2-3 minutes until it’s soft enough to cut.  Take out the seaweed and cut the thick spine off.  Cut the spine into small pieces and add back into the water.  Cut the leaves of the seaweed up and put them back into the water.  [Alternative would be to buy pre-cut pieces of wakame and just add a tsp of that to the water.  No soaking or slicing is needed then!]

Slice the onions into very thin slices.  Bring the water and wakame seaweed to a boil and add the onions.  While the onions are cooking, wash and cut the big kale leaf into small pieces.  You want everything in the soup to be small enough to pick up with the spoon when you’re eating it, i.e. bite-size.

Cut the tofu into small bite-size cubes.

When the onions have become translucent and sweet-smelling, add the kale.  When the kale starts to turn bright green (this only takes about a minute) add the tofu.

Simmer all this for a few minutes until the kale becomes tender.  Just simmer, no heavy boiling.  Meanwhile take the miso paste and dissolve it in a little of the soup broth so there are no lumps of miso.  You can use the back of a spoon or anything you have that works.  I use a special Japanese bowl called a “suribachi” that comes with a special masher called a “surikogi.”  This works perfectly and I have them because I make miso soup very often.

When the soup ingredients are tender, turn the soup down so it isn’t boiling at all.  Then add the miso dissolved in hot broth.  At this point you can turn the stove off and the miso will cook in the hot broth.  The miso will break down and look cloudy and it is done.

Serve it out garnished with a few slices of the white end of the scallion.  This makes 2-3 servings.

You can add small, thin cuts or slices of your favorite vegetable(s) to vary the soup recipe as you like and experiment from there.

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Hearty Barley Soup

1 cup rinsed barley

2-inch piece of kombu seaweed

pinch of sea salt

5 shiitake mushrooms

2 quarts of spring water

2 onions, diced

1 cup of diced parsnip

1 cup of diced rutabaga

1/2 cup of minced parsley

3-4 cloves of garlic

soy sauce to taste

sliced scallions as garnish

English: Close-up of a piece of homemade seita...

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1 cup of diced seitan (vegan “wheat meat”)

Optional protein: diced beef or chicken if you are not vegetarian

Bring the water, kombu and shiitake mushrooms to a boil.  Simmer the stock until the mushrooms are tender.  Remove the mushrooms, discard the stems and dice the mushroom caps and add them back to the pot.

Add the onions and simmer until sweet and translucent.  Then add the garlic, parsnip, rutabaga, seitan and barley in that order.  Simmer the stew with enough water to cover the barley until it is tender, about one hour.  Add a little more water to get your desired thickness.  Add the parsley at the last minute and season with soy sauce to taste.  Serve in a bowl with scallion garnish.  Some lightly boiled greens or a salad with some whole grain bread would go well with this dish.

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So I say make every Sunday “Souper Bowl Sunday!”  Take some time to make a great soup that you can eat all week!

(No offense to you football fans, but Super Bowl Sunday means to me that we have but a few short months before Opening Day of Baseball Season.)