|The definition of real magic (not tricks, the real stuff) is the power of transformation. It is the knowledge and power of changing one thing into something else. In cooking that means taking whatever is given and using fire, water, time, seasoning (the five tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent or "hot"), oil, cutting styles, and pressure to change its qualities, to enhance or to contrast its original character. In the alchemist's kitchen we can change the original qualities, the yin-yangness, the personalities, to better suit our specific goals and needs. Visually, in the serving bowls and on our plates we can sense and judge when the magic has worked. We see it in the colour, variety, and textures (crunchy, soft, chewy,etc.). If everything is shades of beige, brown and mushy, chances are the spell was a bit murky. Intuitively, the magician looks for brightness, harmony, and polarity in the end results, in the tastes, and also afterwards in the people he or she has cooked for.
Using what you know about the characteristics of yin and yang gives you the power to change them. To make anything more concentrated in flavour and strength apply more cooking time, higher fire, more salty seasoning, use pressure, use heavier pots with closed lids. Do some or all of these things.
To make anything lighter, more cooling or relaxing serve it cool, possibly raw, use less seasoning and cooking time, use relatively more water in cooking, and use lighter weight pots and pans.
Let's take a look at one recipe to see how this works. Old Timey Lentil Stew is a basic recipe. It is a fairly hardy version, as the ingredients, onion, carrots, sea vegetable, and miso are all tipping towards the yang side. To change the character of this dish radically, follow the "Spice it up" variation, add a little more water, slightly less salty flavoring , and add plenty of freshly chopped spring onions to top it off at the very last moment. Instead of cooking until the lentils and vegetables are of a melty texture, shorten the cooking time to preserve a little more 'bite'. The energy will become more up, more yin, compared to the original version.
Another example of two dishes using almost identical ingredients with a completely different outcome are High Fire Matchstick Vegetables and Mellow Vegetable Pot. Comparing the cutting and cooking styles reveals the secret of their different characters.
The idea of yin and yang can be applied to individual dishes and to whole meals. You can use exactly the same ingredients and create two very different summer and winter menus. Every balanced meal includes elements of both, so don't get lopsided, keep ping-ponging back and forth.
In our One Hour Countdown Menu, Chapter 2, Starter Pak Brown Rice serves as the centre pole while the Basic Lentil Stew dish takes on the thicker, more filling role. Even though it is primarily a rich dish, there's a touch of garlic and mustard to partially break through the heaviness and give it a lighter tone. In contrast to those two dishes, the Broccoli Quick is just that- quick, crisp , fresh , light, with lemon juice or ginger juice giving it an extra kick. This meal might still be a little tipped towards the yang side, so the light Apple Glaze dessert is an ideal way to complete it.
Using this same strategy you can also influence your own feeling of well being. If you feel fatigued and washed out, are too inactive or cold, give yourself a good dose of robust cooking. Prepare a long, slow-cooked, thick stew of barley and beans, or bake onions in the oven, or grill some fish, or just choose slightly more yang vegetables and apply more yang cooking elements. The opposite is also true. If you are too tense, restless, or hot-tempered, try cooking your food more lightly,eating fresh salads, and a little more fruit. Experiment like a witch over her cauldron, exploring the secrets of nature's ingredients and observing the effects of her newest love potion. For more ideas on the magic of opposites, see Chapter 6 on cooking for men and women.
Though enchanting, the principles presented here are certainly no more mystical than nutritional analysis and certainly may prove to be more useful (how many of us have a science lab set up downstairs anyway?) This system places the responsibility for your well being directly and safely in your own hands.
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