Articles in Health w/recipe
Why let gingkos jar this glorious New York City scene? It’s late November. Central Park is at its peak in fall color. The Conservatory Garden up on Fifth Avenue and 105th Street is all decked out with its fall array of chrysanthemums.
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Yet it happened on my afternoon doggie walk, as I passed under a ginkgo tree, and the pungent smell about bowled me over. I am familiar with what is often called “nature’s stink bomb” and have developed a kind of acceptance and regard for the ginkgo, knowing its benefits, but simply, it smells like vomit. The stench is supposed to keep animals from eating the fallen fruit from this ancient Asian tree.
Ginkgo’s famous healthful qualities
But as a baby boomer who is keen to stave off memory loss, I know ginkgo biloba made from this tree species is one of the best-selling herbal medications. It is used in traditional medicine to treat blood disorders and improve memory. It also is an antioxidant, so I welcome the stench.
This time of year in Central Park, one will find many older Asian people on their knees, some wearing rubber gloves, picking through the fruit that has fallen on the ground. And each year, I ask myself, why don’t I collect a bag and try them out? So this year I did just that.
Ginkgo leaves are fan-shaped and green until the fall, when they turn a bright yellow. The leaves contain two types of chemicals, flavonoids and terpenoids, which are antioxidants. Studies show that ginkgo is good for promoting blood flow and treating anxiety, glaucoma, premenstrual syndrome and Reynaud’s disease.
It is important not to use ginkgo for at least 36 hours before surgery or dental procedures because of the risk of bleeding. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also not take ginkgo. Ginkgo may also interact with some medications and antidepressants. As with any supplement, it’s good for users to read up on ginkgo before ingesting it. Also keep in mind, the nut can be toxic to eat raw, and even picking it up can cause a rash like poison ivy.
Recipes from around the world
Asian women to whom I’ve spoken say it is no mistake that the nuts fall at this time of year because when they are cooked, they helps fight flu and colds.
The best way to use them is to remove the fleshy insides and skin from the nut. The flesh is discarded, and then the nut is boiled in salt water, fried, roasted or broiled. The nuts are used in Asian rice porridge and other desserts. Another chef used the nuts to make dried scallop and ginkgo nut congee, but instead of hassling with fresh ginkgo he uses tinned nuts because they are easier.
In a piece called “Gathering Ginkgo Nuts in New York,” a couple wrote about collecting the ginkgo nuts and trying various ways of cooking them. They finally hit on something when they separated the smelly pulp from the nut, washed the nuts, coated them in egg, salt, pepper and flour and dropped them in hot oil. Delicious was their assessment of this cooking method for a local, sustainable nut.
I have now collected about two pints of ginkgos, and today is the day I intend to try them. A friend gave me this recipe, which seems easy enough.
Roasted Ginkgo Nuts
2 pints of ginkgo nuts
Oil for frying, such as coconut or olive oil
Salt to taste
1. Using rubber gloves, collect the yellow squishy nuts from the ground. You know they’re ripe because they have fallen from the tree and they stink to high heaven. Still using rubber gloves, separate the pulp from the nut. (I did this outside on Park Avenue.)
2. Wash the nuts thoroughly and let them dry.
3. Pour a half-inch of your favorite oil into a pan. Salt the nuts. When the oil is hot enough to sputter, place the nuts in the pan. The nuts should pop like popcorn, except much louder. When they have split open and you can see the green of the nut.
4. Drain, and let cool. Eat like popcorn.
Top photo: Roasted ginkgo nuts. Credit: Katherine Leiner
Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, has quickly become my favorite winter squash. The texture is somewhat like a chestnut or potato, unlike most squash and pumpkins, which, when cooked are very soft.
Kabocha can be cooked in a multitude of ways, including roasting, mashing, baking and even in soup. They can be used to make pies and other desserts. When eating in a Japanese restaurant, if there is kabocha in the vegetable tempura, I will always get an order.
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I often substitute kabocha squash in recipes that call for other winter squash, such as butternut or acorn squash. The difference in flavor profiles can completely change an old standard into a brand-new classic.
One Thanksgiving, about five or six years ago, I decided to add a kabocha squash recipe to my dinner. Every year I used to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and extended family. This is usually very traditional fare, featuring turkey, dressing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, green salad, maybe a Jell-O mold fixed by my mother, and rolls. My sister would always make the candied yams and sweet potato pie, and bring them over.
Interested in bringing slightly healthier fare to my Thanksgiving table, I wanted another option to balance the buttery sugary overload of the candied yams. I brushed the kabocha squash with a very small amount of melted butter and spiced it with warm spices, including cinnamon. When the squash was done, I drizzled pomegranate molasses over the top. The tart and sweet molasses blended beautifully with the spiced sweetness of the squash.
Of course, once the family saw the kabocha squash, everyone asked what in the world it was.
One cousin even remarked, “Black folks don’t eat that!” I replied, “You do today” and explained what the dish was.
Gamely, everyone took a small piece to try. And wouldn’t you know, they loved it. They all came back for more. So I guess black folks do eat kabocha squash.
This soup has an additional layer of flavor added by roasting the squash before use in the soup. You can roast the squash a day before, or if you have leftover roasted kabocha squash it can be repurposed in this recipe.
Roasted Kabocha Squash Soup With Kale
3 pounds kabocha squash, seeds removed, cut into 4 pieces
3 (15 ounce) cans low sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger powder
½ teaspoon ground smoked paprika
2 cups torn kale
1. Heat oven to 400 F.
2. Place squash onto a baking sheet skin side down. Roast squash for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender.
3. Remove the squash from the oven, set aside to cool slightly. (This step can be done a day ahead.)
4. Scoop the flesh from the squash.
5. In a large saucepan, combine the cooked squash, chicken broth, salt, allspice, ginger and smoked paprika.
6. Using the back of a spoon or a potato masher, break the squash up.
7. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook the soup for about 30 minutes, until the flavors have melded.
8. Carefully purée the soup using a blender or food processor.
9. Return the puréed soup to the pot, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
10. Add the kale, and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the kale is tender.
11. If needed, add a small amount of water to thin the soup if it becomes too thick.
Top photo: Roasted kabocha squash soup with kale. Credit: Cheryl Lee
in: Fruit w/recipe
Eat more vegetables? You know you should, but it isn’t always easy. These bright summer days, however, there’s a quick, easy and delicious way to add a boatload of fresh vegetables to your table.
Gazpacho, spicy chilled Mediterranean tomato soup, is just the thing for hot summer days, when farmers markets and produce stands are bulging with deep red and juicy tomatoes. In southern Spain, where I learned to make this, cooks keep a big jug of it in the refrigerator at all times — ready for a snack or a cool beginning to a meal.
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The best thing about it? No cooking at all is required — just boiling water to help skin the tomatoes. You will, however, need some sort of blender or food processor for the best and easiest results. Even a handheld blender, sometimes called a stick blender, can do the trick if you’re patient.
Should it be chunky, like a liquid salad, or smooth enough to sip as a drink? You decide. Make it one way this week and another way next week. And vary the ingredients too. Add more peppers and cucumbers, or make it very garlicky, or spice it up with an exotic chili, like Aleppo or Turkish red pepper, or piment d’Espelette from southwest France, or smoky merkén, a spicy mixture from Chile.
Variety is the spice
Once you’ve made the soup and set it to chill in the refrigerator, think about how to serve it. Maybe in tall glasses with a slice of lemon or lime, something you can sip like a gin and tonic or a glass of iced tea. Or in deep bowls with a garnish as simple as a scattering of chopped fresh parsley and basil, or small croutons cut from a slice of stale bread and fried until crisp and brown in a little olive oil.
In Spain, gazpacho often is served with a sprinkle of chopped hard-boiled egg and minuscule cubes of Spain’s favorite ham, jamon serrano, on top. Alternatively, think about frying a few strips of bacon until very crisp and then crumbling them over the top of the cold soup.
The most important ingredient is the tomatoes, and there you must select ripe, red, juicy ones — otherwise the soup will have no flavor. (Cooked or canned tomatoes simply will not do it.) Sometimes I skin them and sometimes I don’t bother. (To skin tomatoes, simply bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in two or three tomatoes at a time and simmer for about 15 seconds, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander in the sink. When all the tomatoes are done, you’ll find the skins slip off easily with the help of a paring knife.) Core out the center white parts and cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
Season the soup as you make it but, because chilling mutes flavors, be prepared to add more seasoning before you serve it up.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pounds ripe, red tomatoes, peeled if you wish and chopped coarsely
2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
½ medium red onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
½ long, skinny “English” cucumber, seeded and chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons aged wine vinegar, preferably sherry vinegar
1 slice stale, country-style bread, 2 inches thick
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste
Pinch of ground red chili pepper, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
Unless your blender or food processor is very large, you may find this easier to do in two batches.
1. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, onion and cucumber and process or blend to purée thoroughly. With the lid ajar, while you continue to process, add the olive oil and the vinegar.
2. Tear the bread into small chunks. (Remove crusts if they are very tough.) Soak the chunks in cold water. When the bread is soaked through, gently squeeze out the excess water and add the soaked bread to the pureéd vegetables, along with cumin and cayenne. Process to incorporate everything very thoroughly.
3. If you’ve done this in two batches, combine the two in a jug or a bowl and taste again for seasoning. Add salt and a pinch of sugar to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes, and more cumin and/or chili pepper if you wish. You could also add a bit more vinegar if it seems necessary. The soup should have a nice balance between sweet and tart.
4. Keep the soup, covered, in the refrigerator for at least half an hour, or until ready to serve. Taste once more before serving and adjust the seasoning. If it seems too thick, stir in a little ice-cold water with a few ice cubes until it is thin enough to serve.
5. Garnish the soup if you wish with chopped herbs (cilantro, parsley, or basil are good), or chopped hard-boiled egg and finely diced ham, or with a handful of small croutons fried in a little extra-virgin olive oil until crisp and brown.
Variation: Gazpacho has been called, rightly, a liquid salad, so why not make it into a salad? Years ago in an old Gourmet magazine, I came across directions for making a gazpacho salad for a picnic, layering all the principle ingredients in a very tall Mason jar, then pouring over a dressing made from the olive oil, vinegar, cumin, red pepper, salt and sugar. The vegetables steeped in the dressing while we made our way to a picnic spot on the coast north of Beirut and were perfectly seasoned by the time they were served.
Top photo: Tomatoes and a pepper. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Although some Buddhists may swear off onions and garlic because they allegedly arouse both anger and libido, these aromatics have powerful nourishing properties. Experts say you can enhance the many health-promoting and cancer-fighting effects of onions and garlic by adopting certain culinary habits. Are you ready to embrace the almighty bulbs?
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I’ve been involved in a steamy love affair with onions ever since a Thai waitress admired my father’s long, droopy earlobes, a sure sign of longevity in her culture. Other than the hunks of salami he used to beg for at bedtime, what food do I most often associate with my dad? Why, onions, of course!
But what does real science have to say about onions and their garlic cousins? Like leeks, chives and scallions, the other “forbidden spices” of certain Buddhists and Hindus, onions and garlic are members of the allium family of vegetables, so named because they contain the enzyme allinase, which converts the sulfur-containing compound alliin to allicin, its active form.
Alliums have long been prized for their ability to lower cholesterol, blood sugar and pressure, to thin the blood and to attack microbes. Recent research shows they fight cancer, too.
Studies in human populations “suggest that allium vegetable intake reduces the risk of cancer,” writes Italian researcher Carlotta Galeone, “and laboratory investigations have provided convincing evidence that selected substances contained in garlic and other allium vegetables inhibit a variety of chemically induced tumours in animals,” including cancers of the breast, endometrium, colon and digestive tract.
The “selected substances” include those stinky, pungent, tear-inducing molecules of sulfur.
Imagine an insect biting into an allium’s leaf and getting sprayed. “Plant scientists believe that a plant’s chemical system develops as an evolutionary defense against pests,” said Irwin Goldman, an onion expert and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Alliums originated in central Asia, just north of Afghanistan — a rough neck of the woods, by any measure.
In addition to more than 50 variations on sulfur, onions have another trait going for them: They contain flavonoids, compounds that give plants color and contribute to a host of healthy benefits. Quercetin, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, antihistamine and antioxidant, is the most exalted. It’s also has been shown to inhibit estrogen.
Garlic breath and onion sense: Top 5 practices for using them
To maximize the health benefits of onions and garlic, Goldman said, you must adopt some simple culinary habits:
Tip 1: Attack alliums first, as soon as you get to the kitchen.
By cutting onions and garlic, you break their cell walls, thus releasing those allinase enzymes. To develop the full complement of sulfur compounds, you have to let the cut vegetables sit for a while so that the enzymes have time to go to work, Goldman said.
How long is that? Goldman suggested 30 minutes for onions while garlic researcher Suhasini Modem suggested about half that time for cloves of garlic. And sulfur expert Eric Block said shorter times may suffice. In other words, nobody knows for sure, so hedge your bets by choosing the least risky course of action.
You could even cut your onions and garlic far in advance, Modem said, as long as you let them sit on the counter long enough, then refrigerate them to keep the sulfurs stable. Chopped garlic should last six to eight hours on the counter, she said, and two to three days in a cold fridge.
Tip 2: Don’t cut alliums too finely.
If you do, the enzymes will undergo a short-lived reaction and quickly evaporate, Block said. (Crucifers cut too finely react the same way.) But what if you desire a subtle mince? My solution is to keep the cut chunky at first, then cut the vegetables even more just before you’re planning to consume them.
Tip 3: Choose small red and yellow onions grown in colder climates and peel them gently.
Pity the poor Vidalia. She may be southern and mellow, which could be attractive qualities in a mate, but the harsh northern varieties of onions grown in latitudes above 40 degrees are higher in healthy sulfurs, Goldman said. Red and yellow onions, including the small yellow-skinned shallots, also contain more flavonoids than other varieties while white onions appear to have the least.
Quercetin and other flavonoids concentrate in the outer layers of onions, so peel them slightly and throw the skins into soup stock or compost. Smaller onions are simply better value. Why pay for those hunks of flavonoid-free interiors?
Tip 4: Eat alliums raw or slightly cooked.
In the case of garlic, Modem found that cooking it — even a quick saute for two minutes — destroyed its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Other researchers, however, have found that cooking in the microwave for 60 seconds or even 45 minutes in the oven only partially destroyed garlic’s anti-cancer properties as long as it had time to percolate beforehand. Again, hedge your bets.
Sulfur compounds in all alliums do get destroyed by cooking, Goldman said, but the flavonoids in onions may get enhanced with slight exposure to heat. For that reason, he recommends raw or quickly sautéed onions, cooked for four to five minutes, max.
Tip 5: Combine alliums with alliums and other healthy plant foods.
Even if you insist on cooking your alliums, you can increase their cancer-fighting qualities by throwing in some raw garlic, onions or their juices at the end. Combining garlic with olive oil, said Modem, may also add some anti-cancer synergy. Some studies also suggest you can get a similar boost by combining garlic with tomatoes or with selenium. And if you’re really angling to hedge your bets, you could always snort those piercing fumes. Funny you should bring that up, Goldman said. High on his bucket list is a study of people who work in onion factories–and cry “sulfur” every day.
Green Beans With Brazil Nut-Garlic Paste
This recipe combines raw garlic with Brazil nuts, one of the few food sources of cancer-fighting selenium. Eaten together, the two may pack an even powerful anti-cancer punch.
2 cloves garlic, smashed and allowed to sit 15 minutes before using
5 Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 large handfuls raw green beans
Salt to taste
1. Grind garlic and nuts to make a paste.
2. Whisk in lemon juice.
3. Using a steamer and very little water, steam the green beans for a couple of minutes until bright green, then combine with paste.
Top photo: Green beans with Brazil nut-garlic paste. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller
I pause, unsure how my question will be received. “Have you had kale chips?”
That was the first time I posed the question to a patient in a medical exam room. With more than a decade of practicing internal medicine under my belt, I had never felt particularly inspired or successful in counseling my patients about their weight. Then I attended Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives (HKHL), an annual medical conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., a gathering aimed at training doctors in nutrition and cooking. Within weeks upon my return, I was “prescribing” my first recipe.
Like many of my patients in the San Francisco Bay Area, John, who is in his late 40s, is overweight. He has never been successfully motivated to slim down because no “diet” has ever worked for him. When I bring up his chart and show him his body mass index (BMI), he says, ”I’m fat, but nothing I try ever works.”
Chipping away at the weight issue
“What do you eat on an average day?” I ask. “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” John says he loves vegetables and loves to cook. He even volunteers at a local farmers market. But he has a weakness: “Chips,” he says. “I can’t stop eating chips.” John’s idea of chips is the potato variety, soaked in fat, fried and overly salted. I suggest he try kale chips and give him a simple recipe (see below). I tell him he can eat as many as he likes.
A month later, John has lost 5 pounds and is perceptibly happier and more confident. “Doc,” he says, “No doctor has ever given me a recipe before. Those kale chips are so good! Thank you.”
Granted, obese patients need more than a recipe for kale chips to find their way to a healthy weight, but a simple nutritious and non-fattening recipe is a first step and a great incentivizer. By giving John a fantastic-tasting substitute for his beloved chips rather than forbidding him to eat one of his favorite treats, I was able to convey that a different way of eating would allow him to enjoy snacks while feeling healthier and losing weight along the way.
Healthy recipe Rx
When doctors discuss food, it’s usually in the context of nutrition rather than flavor, as in: “You’ve really got to cut back on the junk food.” Well, patients know that, they just may not know what to replace their junk food with. What if doctors began giving out simple recipes for healthful, whole-food alternatives before they handed out prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering medication? Or gave a prescription for exercise and a decadent tasting fruit-based dessert to help control blood pressure?
Traditionally, medical schools do not include coursework in nutrition or, certainly, in cooking, and insurance companies are unlikely to reimburse for nutritional counseling. It’s much faster and easier to write a prescription for a drug, and because it may require no change in lifestyle or self-discipline on the part of patients, they may prefer a pill as well. And if the doctors themselves aren’t the best role models, due to long work hours and the same poor dietary and exercise habits she is asking her patients to rectify, they may not have credibility behind their message.
How do we change this? First, doctors must learn about nutrition and healthy cooking. Showing patients how to shop and cook, and giving them actual recipes should be the next step doctors take. This would instigate a cultural shift and require advocating for insurance coverage, but the change would improve the nation’s health and save health-care dollars in the long run.
Cooking for the cure
Dr. David Eisenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is devoted to this idea. He founded Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives with the goal of turning physicians into foot soldiers in the war against obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Over a four-day course each March, doctors swap scalpels for chef’s knives, and white coats for aprons, as they attend cooking demonstrations and get hands-on in the kitchen. They leave the conference with a changed perspective and a renewed zeal to talk prevention.
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An HKHL alumnus, Dr. John Principe, completely restructured his Chicago-area practice and now has a teaching kitchen. Principe, who says that he had been “burnt to a crisp by the methods of conventional medicine,” credits Eisenberg and HKHL for saving his career. “The ability to empower people to take control of their health through the simple tools of a knife, fire and water is amazing,” he says. “It’s primitive but essential!”
A sprinkling of other programs around the country are also taking the initiative in teaching doctors how to cook. Dr. Robert Graham, associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, runs a six-week program to instruct medical residents in nutrition, weight management and exercise. Students take cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers cooking classes tailored to physicians’ medical specialties, and Tulane University’s Medical School and Johnson and Wales University recently established the first Culinary Medicine collaboration, with the goal of pairing physicians and chefs.
So picture this: At your next checkup, you’ll be weighed in, get your blood pressure checked, and your latest cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Then your doctor will hand you her favorite kale chip recipe or one that turns frozen bananas into ice cream. It seems far-fetched now, but it would make medical and fiscal sense to make such a scenario a reality in the immediate future.
Dr. Shiue’s Kale Chips
1 head kale, washed and completely dried
a few pinches of salt, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Wash whole kale leaves, shake out or dry in a salad spinner, then place on a rack to dry thoroughly. Depending on your temperature and humidity conditions, this can take an hour or several hours. Alternatively, dry thoroughly with towels.
2. Preheat oven to 275 F.
3. Once kale leaves are completely dried, tear leaves off the fibrous central stem into bite-size (potato chip sized) pieces and place onto two baking sheets in a single layer with some space around each leaf.
4. Sprinkle on salt and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per baking sheet. Toss with tongs to evenly distribute salt and oil.
5. Place prepared kale leaves into the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes, turning over leaves halfway through baking.
Variations: Experiment with tasty seasonings, including cayenne pepper with a squeeze of lime juice, Bragg Nutritional Yeast and nori furikake.
Top photo: Baked kale chips. Credit: iStockphoto
“One of the most significant medical discoveries of the 21st century is that inflammation is the common thread connecting chronic diseases,” writes Dr. Mark Hyman, author of several books on health and wellness. The conditions he’s talking about include diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even cancer, all driven by inflammatory foods in your diet. But the good news is there are lots of foods to decrease inflammation, too.
Cut your finger, and observe what happens: redness, swelling, thumping pain. That’s the process of inflammation — the immune system rushing in, sending growth signals to the skin and blood vessels to help repair damaged tissues. Now imagine you have a chronic wound that just won’t heal. ”It’s like wild fire out of control,” Dr. William Li told USA Today, describing the inflammatory process that drives the proliferation of cancerous cells.
When the immune system detects cancer, it produces inflammatory molecules to help put out the fire. But tumor cells are sneaky. They mask themselves to keep the immune system from prevailing and feed off the growth signals that inflammation creates. What’s more, cancer cells initiate inflammation on their own, secreting inflammatory chemicals that cause more proliferation and growth, and the cascade continues. The cancer cells increase exponentially, refusing to die like normal cells, producing masses called tumors that generate blood vessels on their own so they can nourish themselves, grow bigger and spread.
Fat cells, too, secrete inflammatory chemicals, underscoring the link between obesity and chronic disease.
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So what causes chronic inflammation?
Hyman blames the usual culprits, including lack of exercise, stress, overeating, refined carbs, processed foods, sugars and artificial sweeteners, imbalances in gut bacteria, insufficient fiber, dairy, gluten and bad fats.
Unlike proteins, which our body breaks down into amino acids, the fats we eat get incorporated directly into our cell membranes, said Jeanne Wallace, a Ph.D. in nutrition who has reviewed the thousands of studies on diet and cancer. In a multi-step process, those fats then signal our cells to secrete chemicals that are either inflammatory or anti-inflammatory. The good fats — the ones that get converted into prostaglandin E3s and signal cells to reduce inflammation — include omega 3 fatty acids, she explained, found in abundance in wild, fatty fish, in animals raised on pastures and in a few plant foods, including flax, chia and walnuts to some degree.
The bad guys are certain omega 6 fatty acids from commercially-raised animals and trans fats from fried and processed foods, including oils that are hardened via the process of hydrogenation and turned into shortening, into some margarines and sometimes into commercial nut butters. These fats get converted into prostaglandin E2s and other chemicals that promote inflammation.
The bad guys, however, can also include plant sources high in omega 6 fatty acids– beans, grains, nuts, seeds and especially their oils, Wallace said.
The problem here is that fat conversion can go either way, she said. The fat may be converted into healthy or unhealthy prostaglandins, depending on your insulin levels and other factors in your body, and we have very little control over the process. Wallace, who counsels cancer patients on diet and supplements, recommends eating these whole plant foods in moderation and avoiding most plant oils, which contain an overabundance of omega 6s. Olive oil is her oil of choice because of the abundance of omega 9 fatty acids, neutral in their effects on inflammation, along with other compounds that impede it.
Through her extensive research, Wallace has identified these foods to fight inflammation.
Top foods to decrease inflammation:
10 Apples and apple cider. Wallace, however, advises her clients with blood sugar issues to avoid fruit juice because of the sugars and to eat apples along with a little protein or fat, which will slow down the sugars’ absorption.
9 Brightly colored berries. These are also on Wallace’s top 10 list of foods that regulate blood sugar.
8 Olive oil. Buy cold-pressed, extra virgin oil in dark bottles, Wallace advised. And when you cook with it, use a low temperature and don’t let it smoke.
7 Hot peppers. They’re high in capsaicin, a potent compound that generates heat and inhibits inflammation.
6 Onions. Have you ever known a vegetable so sweet yet so mighty? According to onion experts, the best ones are the red and yellow-skinned varieties grown in northern soils. Peel them gently, then cut them and then let them sit for a half hour to develop the full complement of healthy compounds.
5 Grass-fed, grass-finished (often called pastured) organic meat, dairy and eggs. Visit the Eat Wild website to find good local sources of these products. And when in doubt, ask farmers what they feed their animals to increase omega 3s. You don’t want “grain-fed,” which increases omega 6s.
4 Leafy green vegetables, especially spinach. Wash these vegetables well even if the package says they’ve been pre-washed because the threat of the E. coli contamination is real. Cook spinach to help you absorb its minerals.
3 Green tea. Look for fresh-smelling, green leaves, especially gyokuros and senchas
2 Wild, fatty, cold-water fish Choose fish that are small and eat low on the food chain, including anchovies, sardines, herring and wild salmon. Here’s a list of some good salmon choices, including canned salmon from BPA-free cans. Also, eat the fat, which contains the healthy omega 3s.
1 Culinary seasonings. Curry, ginger, garlic and parsley top the list of foods that fight inflammation. All herbs and spices are rich in antioxidants, Wallace said, which help protect fragile omega 3 oils from turning rancid when heated. Even more significant, they inhibit inflammation-promoting molecules (called nuclear factor kappa B) that cancer cells secrete. In fact, some scientists suggest that spice consumption might explain why cancer incidence is so much lower in India than in most Western countries, giving “the spice of life” its most significant spin yet.
Simple Spicy Salmon, With Ginger Juice and Garlic
My secret to moist, tasty salmon is a clay baking dish, which is available in most kitchen specialty stores. You have to soak it in cold water for half an hour before using it and then place it, along with the ingredients, in a cold oven. Trust me. I’ve cracked many a clay vessel.
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided in half
3 heaping tablespoons grated ginger
4 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 large pieces of wild salmon
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1. Soak the pot in cold water for half an hour.
2. Prepare the sauce. Chop the garlic first. It needs to sit about 15 minutes before cooking to develop its host of cancer-fighting compounds. Grate the ginger, then squeeze the juice out of it into a mixing bowl. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper and half the garlic and stir.
3. Place the fish in the clay pot and add the sauce. Sprinkle red pepper on top and then cover.
4. Place covered clay pot in a cold oven, then turn the oven to 350 F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until fish is flaky. Add the remainder of the garlic at the end.
Top photo: Simple spicy salmon, with ginger juice and garlic. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller
Eat more fish. That’s one of the prerequisites of the Mediterranean diet. We all know fish is good for us, yet Americans eat less than 16 pounds a year, man, woman and child. And for a lot of us, this sumptuous route to a healthy diet is simply unheard of. Astonishingly, there are people in this country who have never tasted fish.
Well, I was lucky. I grew up and learned to eat and cook in New England, on the coast of Maine where fish and seafood are considered a normal, customary part of each week’s menu. We weren’t Catholics, but we still ate fish on Fridays, possibly because there was a greater selection on that day. And of course we ate Maine lobster, scallops and crab. But the chef d’oeuvre of my mother’s kitchen was baked stuffed haddock, which I loved so much that later, when I went away to school, my mother always made it for that first welcome-home supper of vacation. She stuffed the whole fish with something like poultry stuffing — sagey, bread-crumby, oniony, thymey, peppery, and delicious — and then served it with a white sauce with sliced hard-boiled eggs in it. This doesn’t sound as enticing now as it was back then; tastes change with time, but I think if my mother were alive now and made that for me, I would tuck into it with just as much gusto as I did when I was 15.
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Explore beyond tuna and shrimp
I’ve always been perplexed at the indifference so many Americans, especially those away from the coasts, display toward seafood. Tuna is our favorite fish, but the greatest quantity we consume by far is canned. That’s a good thing, too, because canned tuna is mostly albacore and not the gravely endangered bluefin. Shrimp is our second favorite and that’s not good because, as delicious as some shrimp can be, most are raised on vast shrimp farms by environmentally destructive, highly questionable practices that yield a tasteless lump of rubbery resistant flesh, good as a foil for cocktail sauce and not much else. If you can get wild shrimp, fantastic! But most of us can’t.
Home cooks steer away from fish because it’s expensive and they don’t know how to prepare it, and then it stinks up the kitchen. Tasteless frozen pre-cooked shrimp and canned tuna require no preparation, which may be a large part of their appeal. Why bother with anything else?
Bother for these reasons: a) because any seafood made at home will be cheaper and probably tastier than in a restaurant; b) because it’s actually very easy to prepare; and c) because, the greatest selling point, it is unassailably good for you. Despite some popular beliefs that fish contains harmful amounts of mercury, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health concluded in a meta-analysis back in 2006 (published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., or JAMA) the health risks from consuming fish are unsubstantiated and have been greatly exaggerated. A much greater risk, said Dr. Eric Rimm, co-author of the study, “is in store for those who avoid fish entirely.”
Even the ultra-conservative American Heart Assn. suggests two seafood meals a week, and the Mediterranean diet recommends “at least” two or three servings weekly for everyone, including children.
“I could never get my kid to eat fish.” I hear you, loud and clear.
Fish for small-fry
Try this: Make fish fingers or nuggets by cutting up some halibut (or salmon grouper, mahi-mahi or the like). Kids love anything fried and crunchy, that they can eat with their hands. Set up three bowls, one with flour in it, one with a well-beaten egg or two, and one with good unflavored bread crumbs seasoned with a pinch of salt and, if your kids will tolerate greenery, some very finely minced parsley. Have a skillet with a skiff of olive oil in the bottom (2 tablespoons or so, depending on the size of the pan) ready to go on the stove.
Now dip each fish finger into the flour, rolling it to coat thoroughly, and shake off the excess. Dip the flour-coated fish into the beaten egg, letting the excess drip off. Put the egg-coated fish into the bowl with the breadcrumbs and roll it around, pressing on all sides so the breadcrumbs adhere. When all your fish fingers are done, set the skillet over medium heat and as soon as the oil is hot, add the fish fingers in a single layer—do it in two or more batches if you have to. Fry until crisp and brown on one side, then turn and fry on the other. By the time the bread-crumb coating is toasty brown, the inside will be cooked through. Serve with plenty of lemon wedges to squeeze on top.
Fish recipe with no fishy smell
Here’s another, only slightly more complicated treatment for those of you who worry about smelling the house up with fishy odors. For each serving, take a square sheet of heavy aluminum foil. Spread about a teaspoon of olive oil over the center, then set a piece of firm-textured fish (see the suggestions above) on it. Add a few disks of carrot and potato, blanched until just starting to tenderize, a slender ring of a smallish red onion, a few slices of zucchini, and perhaps a sliver of red pepper, green chili pepper or a couple of very small grape tomatoes. Fresh herbs are also nice with this—chives, thyme sprigs, or coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil. Sprinkle another teaspoon of oil over the top, add a genteel spritz of lemon juice, and then pull the corners of the foil up and twist them to seal, making a loose packet. Set the packets on a tray and transfer the tray to a preheated 400-degree oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the fish is done and the carrot and potato slices are tender. Serve in the packets — no fuss, no muss, no cleanup, and no fishy smell in the kitchen.
The message from the Mediterranean? Fish is good for you, it’s simple and easy to prepare, and, as those Harvard researchers determined, the health risks are minimal compared to the benefits. Farmed fish or wild (and the greatest percentage of our seafood consumption these days comes from aquaculture), it’s all to the good.
Top photo: Seafood display. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
When Julia Cotts, executive director of the Garden School Foundation, invited me to teach a Japanese cooking class to the garden club at 24th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, I chose two classic Japanese dishes: miso soup and onigiri, or rice balls. Basic miso soup is made with seafood stock called dashi and seasoned with miso paste. Tofu, scallions and seaweed are familiar ingredients in everyday miso soup. Onigiri is a portable rice ball made with short-grain rice; it’s filled with a morsel of meat, fish or pickled vegetable and wrapped in nori seaweed.
What was different from my usual Japanese cooking classes was the choice of ingredients I was given to work with. “We will use the vegetables and fruits grown by the children,” Cotts explained. I was ready to discover new flavors for my miso soup and to teach how to make onigiri by hand.
The first things you notice upon setting foot into the elementary school’s garden are the beautiful pepper trees. They help diffuse the noise of the nearby freeway and filter the dust of the city. In 2003, a group of teachers and parents came up with the idea of turning the school’s old concrete parking lot into a community garden instead of paving it with new asphalt. Ten years later, the garden is thriving. A variety of winter root vegetables and leafy greens as well as herbs grow in the raised beds. One entire section of the garden is devoted to growing fruit trees. The kumquat and Satsuma tangerine trees have clusters of bright orange fruit ready to be picked. Bird feeders made from pine cones smeared with peanut butter hang on tree branches. I am enchanted with this garden. It reminds me of the garden in the novel “The Secret Garden” — one that has magical healing powers. Only this garden is real. It’s an exemplary garden where children can learn to appreciate nature and develop life skills by learning how to grow food.
For the cooking class, more than 50 children and parents, mostly Latinos, came to watch as I made miso soup and onigiris. Some of the parents only spoke Spanish, but the children were eager translators. “Hojas de Marisco,” someone said about the big kombu seaweed I dropped in the soup to make the dashi broth. Most of the children had seen seaweed washed up on the beach but never eaten it. “Seaweed is like a vegetable,” I said as I took the hydrated seaweed out of the broth. “It’s full of good nutrients like vitamins and fiber.”
I cut up the seaweed and passed it around for everyone to try. Some brought it up to their nose to smell. Some thought the seaweed felt rubbery. I loved hearing their reactions and giggles. “Don’t you sauté some onions in oil first?” asked one parent. “No, I don’t use any oil to make miso soup,” I said.
Next, I threw in a bag of dried bonito flakes, which look like wood shavings. The konbu seaweed was strange, but the bonito flakes looked even stranger. I strained the ingredients to finish the dashi broth. Everyone was entranced by the aroma of the amber-colored dashi.
Nontraditional ingredients flavor miso soup
To flavor the soup, the children harvested broccoli, kale, Swiss chard, cauliflower, lettuce and a variety of herbs like parsley, dill, oregano, chives, cilantro, epazote and savory — not exactly what I would consider candidates for making miso soup. But it was up to the children to decide, and let’s begin by saying freshness is the best ingredient for all cooks.
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They washed and chopped the vegetables and filled the stock pot all the way to the rim. I let the soup simmer awhile and then added the miso paste. It was the most colorful, complex and fragrant miso soup I ever concocted. Everyone tried using the chopsticks to pick up the morsels of vegetables from the soup. Some used them as a skewer. Who would have thought of using these herbs in the soup except the children who grew the foods in this garden?
A long soup line formed immediately, and everyone was drinking it with gusto. Some fathers gathered around the pot of miso soup asking for more. “It’s like menudo but healthier,” one father remarked. “This miso soup is so delicious,” shouted Cotts, who gave some to her toddler son.
We then moved on to making the onigiris with the rice I brought, and we decorated them with herbs, flowers, fruit and vegetables. The rice grains stuck on fingers, so I told them to dunk their hands in the bowl of water before handling the rice. Japanese rice is stickier than the long-grain rice Latinos are used to eating. Some children were already familiar with nori seaweed from eating sushi. Onigiris are like sushi’s distant cousin — another finger food, but without the fish on top. The pack of 50 sheets of nori disappeared in no time. Some children decorated the onigiris with nasturtiums and kumquats. I have never seen onigiris so colorful and original. I was relieved that none looked like Hello Kitty. Those few onigiris that were not quickly eaten sat on the vinyl floral tablecloth bathing in the sun with the loveliest expressions.
1 (6-inch long) piece of Kombu seaweed
4 cups filtered water
2 cups bonito flakes (Katsuobushi)
1. Take the kombu and make several crosswise slits in it using scissors.
2. Steep the kombu in 4 cups water over medium heat. Just before the water comes to a boil, pluck the seaweed out of the water. Discard or use it to make optional secondary dashi (see below).
3. Turn heat to low, then add 2 cups dried bonito flakes. Do not stir. Let the bonito flakes steep gently like tea for one minute. Turn off the heat.
4. Strain the mixture in a sieve lined with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and then the dashi is ready to be used for making soups and sauces. Discard the flakes or use it to make secondary dashi.
Variation: For added umami flavor, add one or two dehydrated shiitake mushrooms to the dashi. First, soak the dried mushrooms in 1 cup of water overnight. Add the soaking liquid and the mushrooms to the broth. Keep it in the broth to simmer. Follow Step 4. Discard the mushroom or slice it up and eat it with a little soy sauce or put it in your miso soup.
To make secondary dashi, combine the used kombu seaweed and bonito flakes with 4½ cups of filtered water in the same saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then strain. It is great for use in miso soup.
Makes 4 servings
This miso soup is made with turnips, snow peas and tofu. You can use a variety of vegetables in your miso soup.
4 cups prepared dashi, divided
2 baby turnips, thinly sliced
5 to 8 snow peas, veins removed
⅓ of a tofu brick, sliced into half-inch cubes
3½ to 4 tablespoons white or red miso paste or a combination of both
1. Pour 3½ cups of dashi into a medium-sized saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the turnip and snow peas and cook over low heat for 1 minute.
2. Thin the mixture with a half cup of dashi broth. Add enough to lend flavor without making the broth too salty.
3. Add the tofu to the broth. Bring to a simmer until the tofu is heated, about one minute.
4. Add the miso paste and mix thoroughly into the soup.
5. Divide the broth between four bowls. Garnish with scallions and serve.
Tip: Miso soup does not improve in flavor when reheated, so you will experience full flavor once all the ingredients are added.
Makes 4 onigiris
Onigiri molds come in different shapes and sizes. Moisten the mold and place it over a slightly damp cutting board to prevent the rice from sticking. You can also use your hands to mold the onigiris.
2 cups freshly cooked short-grain rice
Salt to taste
Onigiri mold, or you can use your hands to mold the onigiris
A small bowl of water to dunk your hands and mold
1. Season the rice with salt to your taste. Fill the mold halfway with rice and make a small dent in the middle and place the filling (see below) in it.
2. Cover the rest of the mold with rice and pack it in well without pressing too hard.
3. Turn the mold over to take out the onigiri. Dunk your hands in the bowl of water and moisten your hands lightly. Press the onigiri with your hand so it holds its shape.
4. Wrap the onigiri with a strip of nori seaweed or serve it plain or with furikake (see below).
Tip: Stick your wet finger into a bowl of salt and dab the salt on your palm before molding the rice.
• Umeboshi (pitted pickled plum)
• Grilled chicken
Sprinkle ideas for the top of the onigiri, called furikake
• Roasted black or white sesame seeds
• Various nuts
• Katsuobushi (bonito flakes)
• Nori seaweed cut into strips
• Shiso leaves
Top photo: Children in the cooking class taste the miso paste. Credit: Sonoko Sakai