Archive for the ‘quality ingredients’ Category


Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D.

For several days I have been hearing lots of commentary about an article written in Time Magazine by Dr Mehmet Oz, who I’ve known for many years.  He seems to say that choosing organically grown foods is elitist because it costs more than conventional, and he seems to assume that in a choice between more expensive foods and cheaper ones most people will choose the less pricey kind.

When I started out noticing food and its effect on health, I didn’t care how much it cost. Even when I was flat broke, I spent the money on organic and health-supportive foods.  I couldn’t have justified giving my children harmful, pesticide-laden foods because they were “cheaper.”  I would imagine there are still people out there like me, who go for good quality regardless of price.

Dr Oz does not seem to think so. He says “a lot of the foods we ate in childhood can be good for you and good to eat” – IF (note the caveat) you know how to shop.  Of course, the food that he and others of his age ate in childhood was better, less contaminated, less industrialized.

It’s true that in many neighborhoods it’s hard to find fresh produce, whole grain bread, and the like.  But why should we settle?  Why not educate people to demand fresh food from the corner bodega?  They’ll stock it if we demand it and buy it.

Dr. Oz considers frozen and canned food equivalent to fresh.  Hm.  Years ago journalist Suzanne Hamlin of the New York Times wrote about someone who was eating only frozen and canned foods, and the health problems this person encountered.  I couldn’t find the article, but I remember it was dire – also, that it disappeared quickly from the archives, for obvious reasons.  Who wants to know that such common food could kill you and, what’s more, that it could cause memory loss and mental confusion.  Frozen meats may be OK – frozen vegetables maybe not.

Go on, Dr. Oz. Try a week eating only canned and frozen vegetables. I bet not even you would be willing to do that. As a “food lover,” he ignores the subtler aspects of food: “Nutritionally, an egg is an egg. Cage free is kinder but much pricier.”   Perhaps, but it also tastes very different.  Commercial eggs taste sulfuric and, if you happen to pass some wind (forgive the indelicate reference) it smells really bad. And if you burp – forget it.  You stink yourself up.  For that reason, I only buy organic or free range eggs. They taste much better. And your whole body smells normal.

Dr. Oz points out that free-range chickens and pasture-fed meats are also kept free of hormones and antibiotics. If that is important to you and you have the money to spend, he suggests, by all means opt for pricier organic meats.  Otherwise, obviously, you’re stuck eating all those hormones and antibiotics.  Considering antibiotics are given to cattle so as to fatten them up, we need to ask what these elements contribute to the epidemic of obesity everyone is wailing about.  I wonder. The heaviest people, young and old, are the ones who eat these “cheapest” foods.  Well, as has often been said, you get what you pay for.

In Dr. Oz’s article, canned foods are considered “winners.” He considers canned salmon equivalent to fish fresh out of the water.  But that is not all that counts.  I will never order a dish in a restaurant that gives me a slab of canned salmon instead of fresh, would you? I find they taste very different, although they may have the same amount of protein. Well, if I’m in a bunker, war is coming, and there is no other food, OK, it will keep me alive, thank you very much.

I appreciate the fact that the risk of famine has pretty much disappeared from our world – but we are left with a completely different problem: How to choose foods that are good for us?   That is just as important as choosing foods that will keep us alive.  The two are not equivalent, as a heart surgeon would know.

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Roberta Roberti, Chef's Training Student

Our Chef’s Training student, Roberta Roberti, shares her appreciation and knowledge of tempeh, the renowned traditional and vegan protein source . . .

Vegetarians have enjoyed tempeh for years, but it’s been only in the last 10 years or so that non-vegetarians became aware of it. Today it is a commonly found ingredient in supermarkets. Still, I don’t know many serious carnivores who have ever heard of it, much less tasted it. I’m proud to say even meat-lovers who try my tempeh dishes are won over.

I eat tempeh because it’s a whole food, as well as a good source of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins. It can be used in so many ways. Because it of its chewy, dense texture, it makes a fantastic meat substitute.

Whole, sliced, chopped, crumbled, marinated, jerked, sautéed, baked, broiled, sliced, grilled, and braised―tempeh works with any technique you can thing of. Roll it in sushi or tuck it into a sandwich (one of the most well-known tempeh dishes is the Tempeh “Reuben”). Crumble it and use it in a stir fry, chili, tacos, casseroles, or stew.

Okay, it doesn’t really taste like meat but, in dishes where meat is prominent, you can substitute tempeh and not feel like you’re missing anything. In fact, it is often called “Javanese meat,” as it is particularly popular in Java as a protein source. Speaking of protein, tempeh is a richer source of protein than tofu, as well as a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins.

A traditional food of Indonesia, tempeh is made by binding partially cooked soybeans in a fermentation process until it forms a solid, firm cake. A white substance called mycelia is interlaced throughout the soybeans.

There are different types of tempeh sold in markets — such as wild rice, 5-grain, flax seed, vegetable — but you can also find different prepared versions of tempeh. Some are marinated in barbecue or teriyaki sauce, while others are ready-to-heat-and-serve meals, such as tempeh kebabs and tempeh cubes in lemon sauce. Tempeh’s versatility is amazing. Find tempeh in health food stores and places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. Because of trends in healthy eating, vegetarianism, and global cuisine, many large, well-stocked supermarkets also carry it.

traditional tempeh wrapped in banana leaves

The recipe below is for Tempeh Mendoan, also known as Mendoan Beancake. In American terms, I guess you can call it Indonesian Battered Tempeh. It’s adapted from and courtesy of Indonesian-Culinary.com. Note that in the Spice Paste ingredient list, they call for “lesser galangal.” This type of galangal is smaller and more reddish than “greater galangal.”

All I have left to say is…Yum!

Tempe Mendoan
(Mendoan Beancake, or Indonesian Battered Tempeh)

tempeh mendoan

Shoyu Sambal
5 shallots, thinly sliced
5 green birds eye chilies, seeded and minced

1 kafir lime, juiced
6 tablespoons shoyu or tamari

Spice Paste
5 shallots, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon coriander seed
¼” piece lesser galangal or ginger, peeled and sliced

Meandoan Beancake

4 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons rice flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ to ½ cup water as needed

1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 block (package) tempeh,  1/4″ sliced

½ cup coconut oil for frying

  1. Shoyu Sambal: Combine shallots, chilies, kafir lime juice and shoyu in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Spice paste: Puree shallots, garlic, coriander, and galangal in a food processor. Set aside.
  3. Mendoan Beancake: In a separate, large bowl, combine flours, salt, and pepper. Add water to flour mixture, little by little, whisking until the mixture forms a thick batter. Add scallions.
  4. Prepare a platter with paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet over a medium flame. Dip tempeh slices in batter and fry on each side until golden, approximately 30 seconds per side. Transfer tempeh to platter to drain.
  5. Serve mendoan beancake with shoyu sambal and spice paste.

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Elliott Prag, Instructor

What is it?

Kuzu (or kudzu) is a proliferating plant native to the Orient, particularly China and Japan. While for centuries the Chinese cooked and ate the leaves, seeds, and flower of the plant, modern culinary use is primarily limited to the starchy root, which is dehydrated to make a powdered thickener. The Chinese call kuzu starch gok fun; the Japanese call it ko fen. In Asia, kuzu is valued as both food and medicine. In the West, Kuzu comes packaged in the form of a lumpy, white powder, sold primarily in health food stores.

The massive, vine-like kudzu plant was first brought to the southeastern United States to feed livestock and prevent soil erosion. Because of the favorable soil and climate of the American South, it spread wildly, choking out all other flora in its path. Tenacious, to say the least, its roots can weigh in the hundreds of pounds.

Kuzu Gone Wild

How is it made?

The roots of the kudzu plant are harvested in the autumn and cut into chunks. The chunks are then crushed and flushed with water to form a thick paste. This paste is repeatedly washed and filtered to extract the pure white starch, which is then air-dried and sold. Kuzu can be found in most health food stores, usually among the macrobiotic ingredients.

How is it used?

Kuzu is a flavorless powder that thickens any liquid in the same manner as corn starch and arrowroot. Use it to thicken sauces, soups, stews, puddings, and pie fillings. Before stirring kuzu into a cold liquid, crush any chunks with a spoon. Make sure all lumps are dissolved. Bring the liquid and kuzu to a simmer on the stove, whisking constantly, until the sauce goes from cloudy to clear, from thin to thick. Dissolving 1 tablespoon kuzu per cup of liquid will yield a sauce-like consistency; 2-3 tablespoons per cup of liquid will create a more pudding-like texture.

Kuzu, in its powdered form

Why do we use it?

Our founder, Dr. Annemarie Colbin, has for years cooked with and recommended kuzu, both as a thickener and a powerful healing agent. The charms of corn starch, by contrast, extend only to its thickening power. It may be worthwhile to note that corn starch is highly processed, bleached, and chemically extracted, and, if it’s not organic, probably made from genetically engineered corn.

Kuzu is alkaline and is therefore a good antidote to the acid-forming effects of sugar and alcohol. In her book Food and Healing, Dr. Colbin recommends kuzu preparations for 2 different conditions:

Shoyu-kuzu with umeboshi: effective for treating dietary excess, colds, hangovers, diarrhea, and rashes. Combine 1 tablespoon kuzu, 1 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon shoyu or tamari, and 1 mashed ume plum (or 1 teaspoon umeboshi plum paste) in a pot. Bring mixture to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring constantly until thick.

Apple juice-kuzu pudding: counterbalances contraction, tightness, cramping, as well as tension, stress, and insomnia. Combine 2 tablespoons kuzu, 1 cup apple juice in a pot, dissolving well. Bring mixture to a simmer on the stovetop, stirring constantly until thick. Remove from the stove and stir in a teaspoon of vanilla, if desired. Eat hot before bedtime for a relaxing effect.

In Chinese medicine, kuzu is credited with reducing high blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, preventing blood clots, and relieving chronic migraine. Most interesting is research from China and the US indicating kuzu can reduce the craving for and effects of alcohol.

If you haven’t already, give kuzu a try. From our experience at NGI, and the emerging scientific research, kuzu is a home remedy that deserves a place in your kitchen.

Some links about kuzu’s health benefits:








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Chef's Training Student Patricia Diaz

Growing up in Venezuela, my mother and sister had a strong interest in the aloe vera plant. While my mother studied its botanical aspects, my sister was more interested in its medicinal and nutritional properties. You could say that I benefited from their experience and knowledge, as I was exposed to the healing powers of aloe at a very early age. For this reason, I’d like to share part of our family wisdom and our country’s beautiful traditions.

Patricia Diaz (left) and her sister in Venezuela where the aloe grows

The arid climate of certain Venezuelan regions is ideal for the growth of the succulent aloe plant. In our culture, it is cultivated in pots, not only for its ornamental beauty but also for its medicinal properties and, in some cases, for luck and good fortune!

The aloe vera plant

In fact, there is a popular belief that one is supposed to own three aloe plants: one you purchase on your own, a second you get as a gift, and a third borrowed from someone else. By having these three plants at home, one is well equipped with good fortune and protection. While there is no science that supports such claims, there is something to be said about the positive energy around this plant and the faith in popular traditions.

The medicinal properties of aloe vera are considered controversial among scientific communities. Many studies of the medicinal uses of this plant have yielded conflicting results. In spite of these differences, there is some evidence that aloe vera is useful in the treatment of skin burns, wound healing, skin infections, diabetes, sebaceous cysts and elevated blood lipids in humans. The positive effects are attributed to some compounds present in the aloe plant such as polysaccharides, mannans, lecithins, and anthraquinones. My hope is that science can gather more conclusive evidence in the near future.

From a nutritional standpoint, the aloe plant is a good source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids, enzymes and other essential nutrients. A simple way to incorporate these nutrients in our diet and obtain the alleged health benefits of the plant is by including a few slices of the aloe crystal – the fleshy, translucent part after you peel off the skin and  wash away the yellow sap – in your favorite smoothie. Sweeten with maple syrup or honey.

While aloe vera’s medicinal properties are still highly debatable, there is definitely something about this plant that, in the right context, can be beneficial to our quality of life. Throughout history, aloe’s crystal and its bitter sap have been providing relief from some of the dietary and environmental excesses we are exposed to in our daily lives. You can see some of the current medicinal evidence for treating specific illnesses, such as constipation, seborrheic dermatitis, cancer prevention, canker sores, type II diabetes, and other illnesses at the MayoClinic website. You can also find information regarding side effects, interactions, and uses at WebMD.  However, keep in mind that the information on WebMD refers to aloe as a supplement and not as a whole food.

Whether you use aloe topically or consume it as food or medicine, I would suggest doing some research and seeking advice from your doctor or an herbalist. Our bodies are different and will react differently to certain foods. Context and individual experience are very important to the benefits you are expecting to achieve. For me and for my family, the use of this plant as a whole food proved to be very helpful. So although I am biased, I would suggest you do your homework and have your own experience with this amazing gift from Mother Nature.

Aloe Syrup Home Recipe

Our homemade recipe was very rudimentary and definitely did not meet the “delicious” principle the Natural Gourmet Institute teaches to its aspiring chefs (at least not delicious to my taste buds, but you be the judge). We prescribed it as medicine and consumed it as such, just like you would any cough medicine. This home remedy is my sister’s adaptation of Dr. Keshaba Bhat’s* Aloe Punch recipe. We used it as a remedy for sore throats, colds, and digestive ailments.

One leaf of aloe vera (2-3 inches)

Honey (1-2 tablespoons)

Juice of 1 lime or lemon


Peel the aloe leaf carefully cutting the serrated edges first. Save the yellow sap or use it for the skin. Wash any excess of sap off the crystal. Blend the aloe with honey and lime.

Dr. Bhat adds pepper grains and ginger root to his depurative punch and recommends drinking it in the morning before breakfast. Dr. Bhat’s version when taken for a specific amount of time is to purify the liver.

Here are some links to websites with additional recipes for aloe vera chicken soup, poached aloe with lime, aloe juices, and many others:




*Dr. Bhat is an ethnobotanist promoting a Natural Health Re-Education Movement. He teaches and trains people about his philosophy in different countries around the world. He believes the solution to combating health problems around the world, especially in developing tropical countries, is promoting self-sufficient means, education, proper use of local natural resources available and adequate living conditions. Per Dr. Bhat, aloe can be used to help detoxify the body, as a natural antibiotic, for arthritis, to help menstrual cramps, to retain moisture in the skin, to increase the elasticity and resistance of the cells in the skin, amongst other health benefits.

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Here are some photos from the Sea Vegetable Practicum in our professional program.  This class explores both the healing properties and culinary versatility of one of the world’s most nutrient dense foods. In addition to being a vitamin and mineral powerhouse, seaweed is anti-carcinogen, anti-viral, nourishing to the thyroid, heart healthy, and cleansing to the blood.  And when you know how to prepare it, it’s delicious.  Check it out!

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CTP students gathered last night to hear CTP graduate Tricia Brown speak about pairing vegetarian food with wine. Tricia, a 2008 graduate of the Chef’s Training Program, is a caterer, food blogger, and culinary tour entrepreneur (New Mexico, Sonoma, North Fork). Tricia also holds an an advanced certification certificate from the International Wine Center.

The evening focused on how to evaluate and discuss attributes of wines (by look, smell and taste), the major wine grapes, and the basic principles and guidelines of pairing wine and food.

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Wandering about the office a few days ago, I found something useful atop the water cooler: a little business card from the World Society for the Protection of Animals.  The card advertises the WSPA website, promoting ethical treatment of animals and identifying “humane” treatment through meaningful food labeling.  The labels in question apply to dairy, poultry of various varieties, beef, bison, rabbit, lamb, and pork.

Part of NGI’s mission is to teach health-supportive cooking – and we recognize for some people that means eating meat, poultry, or fish.  While our professional and public classes emphasize and showcase mostly plant-based cuisine, high-quality animal protein is occasionally prepared.  Part of what we deem “quality” at the school includes the most humane treatment possible for the animals in question.  That treatment includes, among other things, meaningful access to pasture or outdoors, space to engage in natural behaviors, humane slaughter, and a clean living environment.

We have a sizable contingent of committed vegan and vegetarian students at the school for whom humane treatment would mean not raising animals for slaughter or consumption.  Eating animals, however, has and will endure as a way of life.  In this context, humane labels are a meaningful step toward bettering the lives of animals raised for slaughter.  So too is an examination of the quantity of meat and poultry we produce and consume in the US.  Check out the WSPA website’s article, “Consider Reducing Meat in Your Diet,” for some disturbing statistics.

The site provides a search engine for locating animal-friendly foods at local stores and restaurants as well as free consumer guide downloads and pocket guides.  Most importantly, it clarifies the meanings of various “humane” food labels.  Not all so-called humane food labels represent the highest standard of treatment.  The USDA definition of “free range,” for example, is vague enough to allow industrial producers to continue many of the most inhumane, sometimes brutal practices.  The highest labeling standards, according to the site, are “Certified Humane,” “American Humane Certified,” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”

There’s also a useful Glossary of Terms, which explains the particulars of the more inhumane practices associated with commercial meat and poultry production.  In short, I think this site performs a much-needed service: educating the consumer to make better – in this case, most humane – choices.

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