I heard an idea I really agree with this morning, a snippet of a conversation on a podcast while I was in between places. Fittingly, it was the idea that we really like beginnings and endings in our culture. But not so much the middle.
We really get into the beginning of a new project, a new adventure, a new wellness routine or dietary protocol, a new workout routine or training plan, a new way of being…
And we relish the celebratory endings. The race after all the weeks and months of hard work, the “after” photo to a renovation project or “our new self,” the feeling of triumph when we turn a big project in on the deadline day. The feeling better after months or years of feeling run-down, depleted, and in pain.
But we don’t love the messy middle. We get sidetracked or completely turned off course here. We lose motivation. Nothing is glamorous. It’s just work and there’s often nothing to show for it. Or none that we can see.
I’m personally starting to really lean into the messy middle more in the last few years.
Chalk it up to having a Taurus sun (incredibly stubborn and will not give up, ever), or the literal get-back-in-the-saddle, work’s not done until it’s done mentality that must have been instilled in me since birth or before by way of my upbringing. In any case, I first remembering enjoying the messy middle in my first couple marathon training build-ups. I realized I just loved the training process, the stacking bricks that was happening over weeks and months and then years, followed by both the routine and shifting nature of it. If you’re a runner or athlete, you might relate.
Or at least maybe you’ll relate when those bricks are being stacked instead of taken away?
In the nutritional realm, the messy middle is often where all the magic happens, and unfortunately, it’s where most of us just plain give up or get distracted.
If the goal is to feel better…or perform better…or look better, the messy middle is the training plan that works like magic only because of it’s consistency.
So this is my little mid-week reminder for you. Keep up the better-lifestyle eating and cooking practices you know are the right ones for you right now. If you feel stuck or circling, just choose one thing to focus on. And focus on it until it’s routine again.
For you, that might mean making a meal plan again and shopping so you have a stocked kitchen when weeks are busy. Or it might mean closing the laptop, and the phone, and the TV…and the tablet. And sitting down with yourself at your table and just eating your meal, chewing each bite.
And it might mean returning to making and eating balanced meals when you’ve gotten off track. Getting off track here is one that used to happen so much with me, and still does sometimes. But I’ve been working on it and thankfully, creating balanced meals has become more or less ingrained as routine.
In that light, here is a balanced meal I’ve been making lately in the past few weeks. Initially, I simply called it a Sushi Bowl. But it didn’t really remind me of sushi in any way other than the light touches of seasoning and sticky rice. To make it more of a sushi bowl, add some seaweed if you’d like, and roll all the fillings up inside. I basically never do that. So we’ll just call it what it is.
The idea with this recipe–and making any balanced meal–is that there’s a protein source, a grain, a vegetable component that’s sweet, and a vegetable component that is more pungent, astringent (drying), or bitter. Like dark leafy greens! Or radish! And those components are all in proportion.
For this version, I’ve used a variety of daikon radishes called Baby Purple Daikon. We grew three successions this summer and something about the location and timing of the weather and planting has made for an incredibly robust and delicious third crop. Daikon can be found at nearly any specialty/natural foods grocer, especially in the fall and winter when they’re at their peak. We love them best cooked as they are here, simmered in a little oil, spices, turmeric, and water until they are soft all the way through.
If you make no other component of this meal, try the daikon and add it to your fall and winter meals!
And try to enjoy that messy middle.
Sushi Rice with Red Lentil Miso Soup, Carrots and Cucumbers, and Turmeric Daikon, serves 4
Lots of substitutions can be made depending on your ingredients to create a balancing sushi-inspired meal. For the soup, use either red lentils or split mung beans. Adjust your vegetables depending on the season, omitting the cucumbers in cool late fall and winter by adding a couple additional carrots. Additionally, the daikon can be interchanged with early summer asparagus, cabbage or broccoli. If you do not have access to many different oils in your cooking cabinet and/or do not eat ghee, choose untoasted sesame oil throughout the recipe. Using toasted sesame oil throughout will overpower the recipe.
Red Lentil Miso Soup
2 Tbs. untoasted sesame oil
½ tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. dried wakame seaweed or kombu
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¾ cup red lentils
4 + cups water
1 Tbs. light miso
1 cup short grain sushi rice (or half white sushi rice, ½ short grain brown rice)
¼ tsp. mineral salt
½ tsp. ground coriander
2 cups water
Carrots and Cucumber
1 Tbs. ghee (or untoasted sesame oil)
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
1 tsp. minced/grated fresh ginger
½ tsp. ground fennel seeds
2 large carrots
2 large cucumbers, peeled and seeded
water to ¼ the height of veg
minced cilantro leaves
1 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
⅛ tsp. mineral salt
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. ajwain seeds
Water to ¼ the height of veg
Squeeze of fresh lime
sushi nori , optional
- First begin with the red lentil soup. Warm the sesame oil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt, chopped seaweed, cumin, fenugreek, and black pepper and stir. Continue to heat just until the spices become fragrant. Then stir in the red lentils and water. Bring to a boil and then turn down and partially cover. Cook for 25-35 minutes, until soft. Then mash in the miso paste. A good way to do this is to take out a couple spoonfuls of the soup into a small dish and then mash the miso into it thoroughly. Then stir the mixture back into the soup and distribute throughout. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- For the rice, add 2 cups water to a medium saucepan along with ¼ tsp. salt, coriander, and rice. Give it all a good stir and bring to a boil. Once it’s boiling, turn down to a simmer, cover and cook for 25 minutes. When the rice has finished, take the lid off and allow the steam to escape for a few minutes.
- For the carrots: heat the ghee or sesame oil in a sauté pan and simmer the salt, ginger, and fennel until an aroma is present. Then stir in the carrots and stir to coat in the spices. Add water to about ¼ the height of the carrots and simmer until nearly tender, about 15 minutes. Then stir in the sliced cucumbers and stir to mix with the carrots and spices. When the carrots are fully tender and the cucumber is warm, turn off the heat.
- For the daikon radish: warm the toasted sesame oil in a small sauté pan and simmer the salt and spices until the aroma is present. Stir in the daikon pieces. Add water to about ¼ height of the daikon. Cover and cook over medium-low until it is fully tender, about 10-15 minutes. Turn off the heat, squeeze in the lime, and let sit for about five minutes.
- Serve the rice and vegetable components together, topped with minced fresh cilantro and pieces of nori seaweed, as desired, along with the red lentil miso soup on the side (see notes below).
Notes: Learn more about Ajwain seeds here. You can purchase them from Mountain Rose Herbs or Diaspora Spice Co. Or alternatively, use oregano, thyme, or fennel instead.
Also, the miso soup can truly be soupy and served in a bowl, or you can cook it longer (or add less water), and make it thick and more of a puree. This latter version would be great if you are actually going to use nori and roll the various components into a sushi roll.