“‘What ingredient is underrated?’
‘Shiitake mushrooms. People don’t realise how versatile they are. You can use them to create a whole depth of flavour. They add texture, make a great base and are also a good meat alternative.'”

Chef Jeremy Pang (School of Wok), interviewed by Hannah Evans in The Sunday Times

 

shiitake mushrooms

Shiitake mushrooms – useful for all kinds of things…

 

The most unexpected people write cookbooks, and I was astonished to find that Boy George – a seventies rock singer best known musically for his hit single, Karma Chameleon, as well as for being generally outrageous with a particularly androgynous sartorial style – was one of them.

But yes, indeedy, he has co-authored, together with Dragana Brown, The Karma Cookbook, which contains recipes broadly styled around a macrobiotic (see note at the bottom of this post for more about this) approach.

The first time Boy George met his co-author he tells us that healthy eating was the last thing on his mind as he chomped on “Welsh Rarebit, full English breakfasts and evil French pastries. I was using drugs and generally living a life of debauchery. And my diet was appalling – meat, meat and more meat.”

His lifestyle nearly destroyed him and three years later he explains, “I was finally free of drugs and trying desperately to sort out my diet…..I started visiting Dragana for cooking lessons and began to realise that there was more to life than tinned soups and take away food.”

Saucy Dressings is not averse to Welsh Rarebit, or full Englishs, but a good fresh salad is also welcome, and the recipe below, included in the book, certainly hits that sweet spot.

 

Recipe for shiitake and watercress salad

Serves 4 as an accompaniment 

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin oil
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • 150g/ 5 oz shitake mushrooms
  • 200g/ 7 oz watercress
  • 1 tbsp thick, good quality soy sauce – go here to find out more about soy sauce
  • generous grinds of Indonesian long black pepper

Method

  1. Warm a pretty serving dish.
  2. In a large frying pan dry fry the pumpkin seeds.
  3. Meanwhile clean and roughly halve the mushrooms.
  4. Put the pumpkin seeds into a small bowl.
  5. Add the olive oil to the frying pan and heat. Add the mushrooms and fry for three or four minutes.
  6. Wash and roughly shred the watercress. Add it to the mushrooms, mix in well. Don’t be surprised to see that the watercress reduces down, rather like spinach, to practically nothing.
  7. Add the soy sauce, mix. You can make ahead up to this point, and then reheat.
  8. Put the lot into a pretty serving dish, drizzle with the pumpkin oil, and garnish with the seeds.
  9. Serve immediately.

 

shiitake and watercress salad recipe

 

What is a macrobiotic diet?

Macrobiotics is more of a philosophic approach to eating and drinking, rather than a specific diet. It was first conceived in the 30s by a Japanese philosopher, George Ohsawa, with the aim of enabling followers to live life to the full (macro meaning ‘great’ and biotos meaning ‘life’), and it’s not to do with losing weight.

Part of the approach is based on the idea of Yin and Yang, of balance.  The idea is that some foods are more yin, and others, more yang. Some, oats, spelt, rye, teff are thought to be pretty much in balance.  These form the basis of the macrobiotic diet, with vegetables (except the ‘nightshade’ vegetables – eg potatoes, tomatoes, and aubergines which contain glycoalkaloids – possibly causing inflamation) making up most of the rest, and seaweeds, nuts and miso making up the remainder. Caffeine and alcohol is out.

With regard to pots and utensils metal and plastic should be avoided – wood, glass and pottery being considered more natural. Electricity (including of course microwaves) shouldn’t be used. Food, wherever possible, should be locally sourced and seasonal.

Macrobiotic meals are generally made up of various small plates, and the idea is to stop before you feel 100% full. Every mouthful should be vigorously chewed.

Exercise and a cheerful attitude is encouraged.

Much of it sound sensible and healthy, but the diet lacks a number of vitamins – in particular vitamin C, and it tends to be low on protein. It’s not recommended, for example, by the American Cancer Society, or Cancer UK.

 

Boy George sings The Crying Game