Umeboshi plum paste

Pantry Top Five: Powered by Macro

Chef Elliott Prag explores Japanese pantry staples.

Umeboshi plum paste

The paradox of the pantry. How many times have you stocked up end-of-days style with “the essentials” only to have hundreds of dollars of condiments, herbs and spices rot from the ravages of time? Or maybe you keep it so minimal that every time you’re inspired to revolutionize cuisine as the world knows it you have nothing in your arsenal.

I’m going back to basics and thousands of years of Japanese tradition. My introduction to the culinary world began years ago with the study of Macrobiotics. Say what you will about “Macros,” but they know more than a thing or two about quality ingredients that manage to be delectable, shelf-stable and health-giving. \

Here are my top five Macrobiotic-inspired essentials for the pantry:

  1. Gomasio: 1 cup toasted sesame seeds ground with ½ teaspoon sea salt or 2 tablespoons toasted, ground seaweed. This condiment tastes amazing on everything – vegetables, beans, grains, fruit (I’ve even put it on ice cream). But it’s so much more than that. Sesame seeds are rich in vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat. Gomasio is powerfully alkalizing and strengthening to digestion. Eat a little of this stuff before you eat, on what you eat, after you eat. PS, it’s a great cure for a hangover.
  2. Miso: Cancer-fighting, blood cleansing, probiotic, enzyme rich. I prefer the salty-sweet taste of white miso, but the dark malty-salty taste of red miso has its charms too. Miso soup is the single healthiest thing I can think to eat daily to balance our predilection for acid-forming food. Miso is an umami flavor bomb; it makes a great substitute for cheesy, meaty flavor (think Reggiano parmesan). It’s great for sauces, dips, and marinades.
  3. Rice vinegar: I adore the subtlety and versatility of this vinegar over to the in-your-face pungency of Western vinegars. I use it in everything – dressings, sauces, even desserts. Try making a sweetened cashew cream with a bit of rice vinegar thrown in for balance: it tastes like cream cheese frosting.
  4. Umeboshi plum paste: The salty “pickled” plum from Japan. I love umeboshi with grain (rice balls!) or anywhere I want a bright, tangy flavor. This condiment is also serious medicine: healing to an acid indigestion and reflux, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea and -wait for it – a hangover.
  5. Kuzu: The Japanese culinary root starch. Imagine corn starch with healing properties. Kuzu soothes digestion, calms anxiety, and promotes relaxation. We all need a little of that in our lives. If you can’t sleep, dissolve 1 tablespoon of kuzu in 1 cup apple juice and heat that over a low flame until it thickens. Drink up.

This post was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

Add new comment