All cultures cook. Perhaps not all of their foods, but certainly some. Why this strange and laborious activity? Why not eat everything as we find it?


Cooking softens the cellulose and fiber in starchy food and breaks down the protein of animal food, thereby making their nutrients more available for digestion and assimilation. Cooking also helps inactivate bacteria and microorganisms.

Although during cooking some nutrients are lost, those which remain are more easily assimilated. We obviously do better with cooked meat or chicken, boiled rice, beans in soup or casserole, rather than any of these foods raw.

Warmth, moisture, darkness, time – those are the elements of cooking. They are also the elements of digestion, what makes cooking a process of pre-digestion. Cooking takes over some of the work done by the stomach, pancreas and liver, so that its easier for the body to absorb the nutrients that it needs. Cooking saves our body energy that we can redirect for thinking. When less energy is used up in digestion, more of it is available for the brain.

Because cooking makes digestion less stressful, people with digestive problems can find relief when they avoid all raw foods. The purported “loss” of nutrients in cooking is negligible if we take into account the fact that those nutrients that are still present will be better assimilated. The higher amount of nutrients in raw foods is useless when these nutrients are not absorbed. If raw foods cause digestive disorders, as they do for some people, they can even be harmful.

Cooking contracts vegetable foods, reducing their volume; thus we get more nutrient with less bulk. This reduction in bulk also means that the food is more concentrated. For most people, cooking will therefor support mental concentration – better than, say, expansive salads with many different ingredients.

Shorter cooking times are generally more appropriate for warm weather, as they do not contract the food overmuch nor add too much heat. Long, hot cooking, as in baking and deep frying, works best in cold weather.

Too much cooked food can cause excess contractedness, concentration and seriousness, depriving us from joyfulness and fun. Too little cooked food deprives us of warmth and the feeling of community that can be found around a fire and a steaming pot.


There are seven major cooking techniques, with variations according to each ethnic cuisine. Listed here from the most expansive to the most contractive:

  • boiling
  • steaming
  • sautéing or stir-frying
  • broiling
  • baking
  • deep frying
  • pickling


Boiling and pickling are opposite methods: boiling adds water and removes minerals, thereby expanding the food, while pickling adds minerals and removes water, thus contracting it.

Boiling is one of the most basic methods of cooking vegetables and for most people should be used at least once daily. Boiling is very versatile and, depending on the method, can take a short time or a long time and can create quick energy or slow, steady energy. When boiling, use only 1/4 inch of water in the pot. If cooking a lot of ingredients, add enough water to come up about halfway. It is not necessary to fill the pot with water and submerge the vegetables completely.

Ohitashi Style Boiling

Ohitashi means “dipping” the vegetables in boiling water and is similar to blanching. Ohitashi is recommended for cooking leafy greens. Put 1 inch of water in a pot and bring to a strong boil. Dip the greens in the boiling water for about 15 – 60 seconds and take them out quickly. Root vegetables, if sliced very thinly, can also be cooked in this way, for a slightly longer time. Ohitashi makes for vegetables with fresh deep colors and a nice crispy taste.

Nishime Style Boiling

Vegetables prepared in this style are cut in large sizes and are cooked slowly for a long time over low heat. The steam in the pot allows the ingredients to cook in their own juices, so little water is usually needed. Seasoning may or may not be added in the beginning. When done, the vegetables are very juicy and are often served together with their cooking liquid. Nishime style cooking produces very strong, calm energy. Nishime style vegetables are warming and often given to sick people to restore their vitality as well as enjoyed by those in good health.

Kinpira Style Boiling

Kinpira style is a combination of sautéing and then boiling and is similar to braising. It is used primarily in cooking root vegetables. First, the root vegetables are sliced thinly and sautéed with oil for 2-3 minutes. (Oil may be omitted for those who need to avoid oil). Then water is added to half cover the vegetables or lightly cover the bottom of the pan. The vegetables are cooked with a cover until they are 80% done. Then, Tamari soy sauce is added to taste, the frying pan is recovered, and the vegetables are cooked for another 2 to 3 minutes. Finally, the cover is removed, and the excess liquid is cooked off. Arameh and Higiki sea vegetables are frequently cooked in this way along with carrots, onions, tempeh, and tofu.


Steaming is a very popular way of preparing vegetables nowadays, ass it adds only a little water and does not leach the nutrients. It is a substitute for blanching, which consists of boiling vegetables only briefly but thereby draws nutrients out into the water.  The disadvantage of steamed vegetables is that it’s hard to add any interesting flavor to them except by means of a sauce; thus they can eventually become quite boring, in spite of their healthfulness.

The basic method for steaming is to put 1/2 inch of cold water in a pot. Insert a small metal vegetable steamer inside the pot, or an Oriental wooden steamer on top of the pot. Place the vegetables in the steamer along with a pinch of salt to bring out their natural sweetness. Cover and bring the water to a boil. Steam for 5 to 10 minutes, or until tender, depending on the size and thickness of the vegetables. When steaming, be careful not to overcook the vegetables. They should be slightly crispy and will continue to cook from the heat they have already absorbed even when the heat under the pot is turned off.

To keep their bright color, rinse the vegetables under cold water and do not cover them until they are cool or they will turn a dull color.

Left over steaming water may be used as soup stock or in a sauce.


Sautéing and stir-frying are done on a hot surface with a small amount of oil and will quickly seal in nutrients while softening the cellulose of vegetable foods. These techniques lend themselves well to incorporating herbs, spices and seasoning into the food. Sautéing is often used as a preliminary stage for further cooking, as with soups and casseroles. Chinese style stir-fried dishes are cooked quickly on high heat and served immediately.

Sautéing vegetables in oil make them delicious and crispy and are a quick method. Soft vegetables, leafy vegetables, and thinly sliced root vegetables, as well as sprouts, green peas, and corn, may all be sautéed.

First cut the vegetables into thin slices, matchsticks, or shavings. Oil a frying pan. Heat the oil and when it is warm and begins to sizzle, and the vegetables and a pinch of quality salt. The salt will bring out the natural sweetness of the vegetables. If the vegetables sizzle gently when they are added to the pan, then the oil is the right temperature for sautéing. From the beginning occasionally stir the vegetables gently with a wooden implement. There is no need for vigorous stirring or constant mixing. Cooking time will depend on the type, size, and thickness of ingredients. Sautee the vegetables for about 5 minutes over medium heat; reduce heat to low and continue sautéing for another 10 minutes, or until the color of the vegetables has changed and their aroma is released. Just before the end of cooking, season to taste with tamari soy sauce or quality salt and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Sautéing may also be done without oil by using a little water instead, about 2 to 3 tablespoons.


The Chinese sauté vegetables quickly in a wok using some oil, high heat and continuous stirring. A cast-iron wok works best, though stainless steel, enamel-coated or a frying pan is also good.

Pan Frying

Another variation of sautéing is pan-frying, in which the vegetables are cooked in a little oil for a long time over low heat, with little stirring or mixing. The vegetables are usually cut in large slices and turned over midway through cooking. Large slices of tofu are often cooked in this way.


Broiling, done under high heat to sear and brown foods, is moderately contractive, as it draws water out.

Broiling gives vegetables a distinctive, slightly burnt or bitter flavor. Broiling allows soft vegetables to keep their shape without becoming mushy.

Dry roast whole grains in a cast iron or stainless steel frying pan or pot over a medium-low heat until golden brown and the grain releases a nutty fragrance

Lightly roasting nuts and seeds enhances both their taste and digestibility.


Baking is a method commonly used to prepare vegetables and casseroles. Baking requires longer cooking but gives extra strength and flavor.


Deep-frying is not recommended for regularconsumption. That said, it can be appropriate when the climate is super cold and dry, either as an external weathercondition or an internal body condition.

Deep-frying creates vegetables that are delicious and crispy and that provide quick energy. Greens, beans, sea vegetables, and most vegetables can be prepared in this way.Best eaten when crisp and dry, served with a sharp side dish such as horseradish, mustard, ginger or grated Japanese radish (daikon) to aid in the digestion of the oil.


Fermentation increases nutritional richness. The bacteria responsible for fermentation synthesize additional enzymes and vitamins and create a more digestible amino acids. The right amount of fermented food will aid in the digestion of the rest of the meal, especially when it is high in protein, fats, or grain.


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