Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What is Kuzu and Agar-agar?

The most commonly used thickener in cooking is cornstarch, which is highly processed from the endosperm of corn and not abundantly nutritious.  Kuzu and agar agar are more natural thickening agents that are medicinal and used in macrobiotics.  

Kuzu Root is a starch derived from the Japanese plant Kuzu.  Like arrowroot, kuzu adds shine and produces translucent sauces and gravies. Kuzu powder comes in white chunks that you have to crush (or dissolve in cool liquid) before cooking.  It is traditionally used to strengthen the intestines and relieve digestive problems (by creating an alkaline condition in the digestive tract) including poor digestion, flatulence, abdominal ache, intestinal irritation and diarrhea. In China, researchers found kuzu to reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, prevent the formation of blood clots and generally protect against heart disease. Kuzu drinks and remedies can also relieve chronic migraine and is also believed to suppress a desire for alcohol.  

Ume-Sho Kuzu
This drink strengthens the blood, promotes good digestion, and restores energy.  For intestinal regulation take every morning for 10 days; after that, 2 to 3 times a week for another 3 to 4 weeks.

1. Dissolve one heaping teaspoon of kuzu in two to three teaspoons of cold water.
2. In a saucepan add one cup of cold water to the disolved kuzu.
3. Boil over a medium flame. Stir constantly to avoid lumping, until the liquid becomes translucent.
4. Reduce flame to low and add the pulp of 1/2 umeboshi plum that has been chopped/ground to a paste.
5. Add between 3-5 drops shoyu/soy sauce and stir gently. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Drink while hot.
Agar-agar (known in Japanese as Kanten) is derived from red algae, and is most commonly used as a thickener in Asian desserts (it sets like jello).  Because of it’s high fiber content (80%), agar agar provides a feeling of fullness, and actually expands after being ingested.  Agar-agar is a dietary source of iron, phosphorus, calcium and vitamins A, B1, B6, biotin, C, and D. The Chinese view agar agar as a “cooling” food, ideal for treating headaches, fever, or even acne. It’s also used in Chinese medicine to treat constipation by cooking it with Apple juice and drinking it before it sets.  

Strawberry Kanten with Creamy Topping
Delicious, relaxing, soothing, and good for regularity.  This pudding is also great without the topping.


KANTEN
1. Bring 3.5 cups of apple juice, 1/4 agar-agar flakes, 1/4 cup rice syrup, and pinch of sea salt to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 mins, stirring occasionally until the agar flakes are dissolved.  
2.  Dilute the 1/4 cup kuzu in 1/2 cup of extra apple juice.  Mix well to get rid of lumps.  Add diluted kuzu to pot, stir constantly to avoid clumping.  As you stir, bring mixture back to a boil.  Let boil for 1 min, as you continue stirring.  It should be slightly thickened and glossy like gravy.
3.  Add 1 cup fresh or frozen chopped strawberries and simmer for 2 more mins.  
4.  Remove from heat and pour into serving cups.  Let set for 1 hr in refrigerator. 

TOPPING
1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and put 1lb firm tofu in and let cook for 2 mins.  Remove from water and place in blender or food processor with 1 cup rice syrup, 1 tsp umeboshi vinegar, and 1/2 tsp of vanilla.  Whiz ingredients until smooth.
2.  Chill until cool and a little thickened.
3.  Garnish set kanten with tofu topping and sprinkle of roasted almonds.

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