It has been exactly a year since my arrival in Farmington, New Mexico, and two years since the publishing of my macrobiotic cookbook. I have gained one golden retriever, two Navajo kittens, and several dramatic dietary, spiritual, physical, emotional, and ideological changes. However, I lost one of my major cats to natural causes. Arnold was the most enlightened
Farmington is a small, remote city located in Northwestern New Mexico along the picturesque San Juan River Valley , and is surrounded by several major Native American reservations. It is within sight of Colorado , Arizona , and Utah . The terrain is high desert overflowing with rock cliffs, mesas, ancient ruins, and moon-like badlands. To my amazement theres lots of greeneryfarms, pastures, fruit orchards, and meadows, due in part to the incorporation of artificial irrigation supplied by rivers and underground springs. What makes Farmington spectacularly unusual and oasis-like is its being a fertile-river-valley town amidst a haunting and often barren landscape.
It is commonly believed by the mainstream that Farmington is a three-culture town: Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American. I find myself not fitting any of these rigid classifications. I haven’t encountered anyone of the Eastern-European Jewish New York Native variety within the city limits. Coming here has been like entering a foreign country, something like a conscious choice exile. Ive suffered what they call culture shock, but for the most part have settled down into my own world, occasionally oblivious to the distinctive contrasts.
A few weeks after my arrival I was given the opportunity to work as a teacher with the Navajo children at a local elementary school. To have been able to impact lives, bond, and share a few moments in the lives of these children has been very precious. The Navajos are a magnificent people. Living, working and worshiping with them has honored my life. I have come to know the Dineh, the People as they are called, who cultivate corn, beans, and squash, and who have mastered the arts of weaving, silversmithing, shepherding, and the use of medicinal plants. Sadly, I have also seen the slow disappearance of these traditions, which have been inherited from one generation to the next. The indifference exhibited by some present-day Navajos towards keeping these priceless traditions alive is devastating, like a slow, invisible genocide. However, I am beginning to understand the reasons why. Diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, hypertension, poor nutrition, and varied physical and mental disabilities are just some of the symptoms that are common. Yet, I have observed the existence of many services in and around the reservation that have been created to manage these conditions. Included are modes of treatment that do not fall into the mainstream, such as following traditional beliefs and practices for the purposes of healing these conditions. My question is: How could a healthy, civilized, brilliant people live and eat for many thousands of years in relative harmony with nature and then spiral down to what exists today?
There is no doubt in my mind that the influence of the white Europeans and their fast-food-meat-and-dairy-based world have played a large part in altering the original Navajo ways. The repetitious installations of convenience food and supermarket chains on the reservations have recently drawn them towards imbalanced, haphazard food choices. Generic distribution of white flour, white sugar, and refined oil always has been, and always will be, a detriment to the well being of a once agriculturally independent people. In my opinion it all began hundreds of years ago with the relocation of Native Americans from their original lands to lands most often barren that stifled the practice of traditional farming. Empty harvests replaced whole natural (macrobiotic) foods grown in nutrient rich soils. The introduction of alcohol, used in a politically manipulative manner, combined with the repression of language, customs, and spiritual beliefs including forced conversions, was the beginning of the end. This is why the Native American people are now in a state of massive reconstruction.
The original philosophical-religious beliefs of the Navajos concerning the earth and cosmos are basically the same as those of macrobiotics. It is reflected in their artwork, planting, harvesting, and prayers. They are peaceful and passive, having lived in total synergy and synchronicity with the laws of nature. Great progress has been made in healing and rebuilding what was lost. Interestingly, the Navajos I have encountered that have consciously become Christians and transcended any unforgiveness towards the past have made the most progress. It seems that once this happens, their positive energy is more easily released and can be channeled into creative, regenerative work. I believe we should not forget our history, and should use it in a productive mannerone that aids in inspiring us to create a better life.
I never have been able to understand the absence of recognition and appreciation by our ancestors towards the Native American people. Our relatives and other pioneers from different parts of the world came to a space that was already occupied. How can anyone accept the personas created in Hollywood , John Wayne style and the like, that has presented such an inaccurate representation of these groups? This has always disturbed me. I have wanted to break the myth-like quality I have felt towards Indians in the past. I have wanted to view them as real human beings, living and working somewhere on the planet.
Well, the tables have turned since my arrival here in Farmington . As one of the only Jews of Eastern-European ancestry in the vicinity, the Navajos looked at me as some kind of exotic creation. During many talks about religion and culture, I have thought it strange to be the one encouraging them to eat more in harmony with nature and the environment. My idea was to come here and learn from them, which I have, but I never expected to re-teach them part of their heritage. There are great multitudes that I do not know, and as I receive more knowledge from them I am positive I will understand even more. Until then I am content planting tiny seeds.
After a few months of being here, I was given the special opportunity to cook a macrobiotic dinner for about thirty formerly incarcerated Navajo men in a transitional Christian living shelter called The Victory Home on the Shiprock reservation. This place is really a miracle from God. Mr. Robert Tso, the Navajo pastor who is in charge of this operation, okayed the event and gave his blessings. However, this was no minor undertaking. I had to personally bring all of the ingredients and some of the cooking utensils. Everything turned out splendidly, and everyone enjoyed the food. Of course, I gave a brief explanation about what they were eating before everyone got in line (it was served buffet-style) so there wouldn’t be that much mystery about this strange cuisine.
The menu reflected the three sisters, corn, beans, and squash. Although honey is not a common macrobiotic ingredient, it was the only sweetener available and is widely used by the Navajos. I used raw although I would have preferred maple syrup. Here is the menu followed by some of the recipes.
- Red Lentil Soup with Mild Curry
- Boiled Long-Grain Brown Rice
- Marinated Cabbage and Cucumber
- Salad with Three Vinegars
- Simple Polenta Bread with Tahini-Squash Spread
- Braised Marinated Tempeh
- Steamed Kale
- Apple Pastry (made of cornmeal)
- Twig Tea
Red Lentil Soup with Mild Curry
- 2 cups red lentils
- 9 cups water
- 2/3 teaspoon sea salt
- 2-inch-strip kombu
- 1/2 teaspoon curry powder (or use a combination of ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and nutmeg in equal amounts)
- 1 onion, finely chopped, using a sharp knife
- 1 handful fresh parsley, finely chopped, plus some stems, finely chopped
- 1 – 2 medium carrots, scraped, ends cut off, and cut into quarter-inch rounds on the diagonal
- 2 – 3 tablespoons olive or faxseed oil Rinse lentils thoroughly several times and place in a large heavy pot with 6 cups water. Add sea salt, kombu, curry powder, onion, and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer with lid partially ajar. Skim off some of the foam if desired. Stir occasionally with a wooden utensil. After 30 minutes, lentils will have absorbed most of water. Add 3 cups more water and carrots, continuing to cook in the same method, stirring intermittently.
Lentils should start melting. Continue to add water as necessary. It should take another hour or more after the carrots are added. When done, add a few tablespoonfuls of expeller-pressed olive or flaxseed oil. Let soup sit completely covered for a few minutes before serving.
Note: This is a sea-level low altitude recipe. If cooking at altitudes of five thousand feet or higher, soup takes much longer to cookin this case after about 90 minutes, let it cool, and then puree three quarters of the soup and return to the pot. You may want to puree some of it anyway to have an even creamier soup, but leave some of the carrots and wholeness still intact.
Marinated Cabbage and Cucumber Salad with Three Vinegars:
- 1/2 head cabbage, medium
- 1 medium-large cucumber
- 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon umeboshi plum vinegar
- Remove outer leaves from cabbage and discard or reserve for other use. Slice remaining cabbage crosswise and then lengthwise. Place in a shallow bowl or dish. Then, take cucumber and peel off the skin. Slice cucumber in half lengthwise, hold down with one hand to anchor, and cut into one-eighth-inch thick slices on the diagonal. Place in bowl with cabbage. Combine vinegars, pour over vegetables, and stir. Cover, and let stand for one hour, or refrigerate overnight. Stir when you get a chance. Serve.
Simple Polenta Bread
- 2 cups hot, cooked millet
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 7/8 cup spring water, cold
- 2 to 3 tablespoons mechanically pressed canola or olive oil
- In a large bowl, place hot cooked millet and set aside. In another bowl, place cornmeal and sea salt. Slowly add water, stirring constantly until evenly combined.
- Add cornmeal mixture to millet and stir. Add oil, then knead with hands, squeezing through fingers until well combined.
- Oil a loaf pan and spread mixture evenly, using dampened hands. Let sit, one or more hours, covered, until ready to bake.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees 20 minutes before baking. Bake for 50 minutes covered, then for 13 minutes uncovered to brown top. Let cool before slicing.
- Note: This is a relatively pure bread and closest to Kneeldown Bread made by the Navajo people during the corn harvest season.
- 1 – 1-1/2 pound acorn, butternut, or buttercup squash
- 3 tablespoons tahini
- 2 – 3 tablespoons raw honey, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup
- few sprinkles sea salt
- water as needed
- 1 teaspoons miso, pureed
- few drops of umeboshi vinegar, to taste
Scrub squash and cut in half. Remove seeds, cut into wedges, and place in a heavy skillet. Put a few sprinkles of sea salt on top and add water to one-half to three-quarters of an inch. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until squash is tender. Let cool. Remove squash meat from skin, place in blender (add a small bit of skin if unwaxed), and add leftover cooking water and all other ingredients. Puree until smooth and place in a bowl. If desired, add plum vinegar last after all is pureed to taste. Serve spread on cornbread.
Options: Add cinnamon to spread, or, steam a finely chopped onion with squash, which will naturally sweeten the resulting spread.
Braised Marinated Tempeh
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup or 3 tablespoons mirin
- 3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons expeller pressed oil
- 1 teaspoon barley miso
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 cloves garlic
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.
- 1, 8 ounce package soy tempeh
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 2 teaspoons water
Cut tempeh widthwise into strips about one-fourth-inch thick. There should be about fifteen or so strips. Place in a dish and pour marinade on top, making sure each piece is well coated, then cover the dish. Let sit a few hours, or put into refrigerator overnight. Then, put mixture into a large heavy skillet and turn the flame to medium high. Put cover on top, leaving it very slightly ajar. Let cook for a few minutes or so, until all the marinade is absorbed. Turn flame up a little and remove cover, stirring and turning constantly as if stir-frying until both sides begin to brown. Use a flat wooden utensila rice paddle is easy to maneuver and handles the food best. This process will take only about ten minutes. The tempeh will look dry and ever so slightly almost burned. Remove from heat and place the cover back on and let sit for fifteen minutes. Surprisingly, one is reminded of barbequed ribs. Remove to a plate, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon oil and 2 teaspoons of water, stir and serve.
- 1 cup rolled oats (quick cooking)
- 2-1/2 cups cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/3 cup mechanically pressed oil
- 1-1/2 cups water (more or less)
- 1/2 cup ground raw, hulled sunflower seeds or walnuts (grind in blender)
Preheat oven to about 425 degrees, more or less, depending on altitudehigher degrees for a higher altitude.
This will make one gigantic pastry or two medium-small ones. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add oil and stir thoroughly with a flat wooden paddle. Slowly add water so as not to cause any lumps. Knead with very wet hands until mixture is like a sticky wet dough, very pliable. Divide in half, form a ball, and press one half of the dough into center of an oiled, shallow baking pan or round pie form. Reserve the other half of the dough for later use. (If making two pastries, divide dough in four and proceed in same manner.) Press dough out from the center of the pan with very wet hands (keep hands wet continuously throughout) to the sides and up the sides to a thickness of about one eighth inch. Prick holes all over with a fork. Pre-bake for about 18 minutes. Fill with apple filling.
- 11 medium large McIntosh or Cortland apples
- 1/8 cup whole wheat pastry flour or 1-1/2 tablespoons kuzu dissolved in a few tablespoons of water.
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or apple pie spice, or a combination of cinnamon, ginger, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, or whatever
- 1/3 cup brown rice syrup, maple syrup, or raw honey
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/3 cup water
Turn oven down to 400 degrees. Peel, slice, and core apples and cut into coarse wedges. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle flour on top (or kuzu) and mix thoroughly. Add rest of ingredients and mix again. Place in pre-baked pastry form. (Again, this will fill one gigantic pan or two medium-small ones.)
With the other half of the dough: Take a small piece of the dough and roll it into a 1-1/2 inch ball. Then, flatten into a round shape one-eighth-inch thick and press on top of the apple filling, starting from one side until the top is almost covered, leaving a large hole in the center exposing apples about 4 inches in diameter for a large pastry or 2-1/2 inches for each smaller pastry. Prick holes all over with a fork. Seal edges. Cover with tin foil leaving room at the top for expansion. Bake for 53 minutes, then remove foil. Bake for another 30 minutes or until apples are done. Baking time can varythis timing is for a high altitude, for sea level or lower altitudes, you may need to shorten time.
In addition, I would like to offer you a neo-traditional Navajo cornbread recipe. This is original, as far as I know, and it was traditionally used either as a matrimonial cake or prepared as part of the ceremony when a girl comes of age. I was told by a very knowledgeable Navajo woman, whose husband makes corn-grinding stones (incidentally I bought one, and it works phenomenally), that the girl was made to chew the sprouted wheat and spit it out into a large vessel where it was then mixed with the other ingredients in order that the batter would naturally rise. Others have told me that juniper ashes prepared in a special way were used as the leavening agent. A third option used in recent years is baking powder or baking soda. It was then poured into a large pit in the ground, covered with stones, lined with corn husks, and then baked. By tradition, she was not allowed to eat any of the bread she had made. Were not going to do all that here, and I wouldn’t recommend this method unless you are very curious. Heres the recipe:
Navajo Blue Cake
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups blue cornmeal
- 1 cup yellow cornmeal
- sea salt to taste, if desired (this was not in traditional recipe)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup or more to taste (traditional recipe ingredient was 1/4 cup brown sugar or morethe Navajos said maple syrup is okay)
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup sprouted wheat, ground (use whole wheat berries to sproutI just let them soak for 24 hours and then grind in a blender)
- 4 tablespoons corn or sesame oil (since the cornmeal you are using is probably not fresh ground from dried corn, the natural oils have mostly evaporated and the addition of oil is desperately needed to compensate for thisI tried the cake without it and it had a very dry texture)
- Bring water to a boil. Place cornmeal and sea salt in a large skillet and lightly roast on medium-low flame, stirring constantly with a wooden rice paddle or other wooden utensil, until aromatic. Transfer to a large bowl. Bring water to a boil and slowly add to cornmeal, mixing well after each addition until smooth. Add maple syrup and stir. Add rest of ingredients and mix until uniform in consistency. Pour into a large oiled and floured baking pan and cover with aluminum foil, or other healthier material, and bake in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Note: For the best results, first lightly roast the blue and yellow cornmeal together in a large heavy frying pan, stirring constantly with a wooden rice paddle for a few minutes, uncovered, until you begin to smell the aroma of the corn. Then place in a large bowl. (This will yangize the grain and balance the taste.) Proceed with recipe.
Variations: You can use two cups yellow cornmeal and one cup blue cornmeal, which I like to do, for a less bitter cake. Theres lots of variations here and Im going to try it with one cup ground raw hulled sunflower seeds in place of one of the cups of cornmeal. Or, use one cup whole wheat pastry flour in place of one of the cups of the cornmeal, adding one cup chopped walnuts and one-half teaspoon baking sodathis still preserves the intrinsic quality of the cake but is lighter in texture. The Victory Home on the Shiprock reservation, in addition to other community facilities, functions almost solely on donations and grants. They are open to cookware, cooking utensils, (currently in need of a suribachi and pestle), and financial donations to purchase bulk miso and twig tea. The address is: Pastor Robert Tso, c/o Victory Life Church Inc., PO Box 3543 , Shiprock , NM 87520
Thank you for reading my article. Written questions and comments are invited care of the publisher. May God Bless