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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More Green Herbs: the Mint Family

Digging around for info on the health benefits of culinary herbs, I was reminded that the vast majority of the green herbs we use are in the Mint or Labiatiae family. Basil, tarragon, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, sage, oregano, and of course, mint, are all closely related. Botanical types know that one of their characteristic features is opposite leaves and square stems. Culinary types know these plants for their their strong flavor and aroma, deriving from a huge number of exciting phytochemicals, such as terpenes, known to have potent anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, digestion enhancing, and anti-bacterial effects. I found a great site with information on the health effects of culinary spices on cancer, dementia, diabetes, obesity and more: http://www.medicinal-herbs-and-spices.com/index.html.

A huge study in 2010 found that culinary herbs are some of the most anti-oxidant rich foods in the diet and provide a significant source of antioxidants when consumed in reasonable dietary amounts. In the same way that fermented foods are "super-raw," I think that herbs and spices are "super vegetables." They pack tons of flavor and nutritional value into tiny packages. A teaspoon of fresh or dried herbs can count as a vegetable serving!

In my neighborhood, rosemary is almost ubiquitous. If you don't have some in your yard, I'll bet your neighbor does. There was a study in 2009 looking at the effect of rosemary on reducing the production of acrylimide in carbohydrate foods cooked at high temperatures. Adding rosemary to bread dough reduced this chemical, strongly linked to breast cancer, by 60%. I make a general practice of adding rosemary to bread dough and roasting potatoes. Plus, it's free. Other fun uses for romemary: traditional hair tonic (make a strong tea and use it as rinse), memory-enhancer in tea or food (I used to bring a rosemary sprig with me into class during exams in acupuncture school), filling the cavity of a roasting chicken with rosemary branches before cooking, and using the twigs as skewers for meat or veggie kabobs.

I'll be teaching a free workshop next Thursday night at the North Berkeley branch of the public library on the seasonal uses of culinary herbs for locavore flavor and health, with a demo on creating herb marinades and condiments. Look here for details: http://www.berkeleypubliclibrary.org/calendars/index.php. And throughout July, a great selection of my Bay Area food heroines/authors are speaking there as well: my foodie pal Vanessa Barrington http://vanessabarrington.typepad.com/, urban farmer extraordinaire Novella Carpenter http://ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com/and "locavore" coiner Jessica Prentice, http://www.wisefoodways.com/home.php.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Eleven Ways to Get More Fermented Foods into Your Life

Why do you want to get more fermented foods into your life? In short, they are good and good for you. Fermentation increases the taste and nutritional value of food. It was the main way of preserving food up until the invention of the refrigerator. Humans more or less evolved to be eating fermented foods full of probiotics daily, and many of us have found we do a lot better eating fermented foods with every meal. You can take commercial probiotics, but why not just choose to cultivate a healthy gut flora by consuming good bacteria in your food? If you are not used to fermented foods, go slowly. Like any dietary change, suddenly eating tons of sourkraut can cause, well, a gastric reaction. Start small and work your way up to eating something fermented with every meal.

1. Sauerkraut--in sandwiches, with eggs, in salads, with meat, with nut butter on toast, on top of soup, and so many more...I make it myself but am also a big fan of Cultutred's wonderful krauts and pickles. I consider their stuff pharmaceutical grade. Find Alex slinging sauerkraut at the Berkeley Farmer's market, drop by their pickle shop, or visit their site to find out where else to buy it http://www.culturedpickleshop.com/. Also check out their cool video from Chow on the site.

2. Yogurt--the real kind. That is, full fat, local and unsweetened. Sweeten it yourself if you must, but beware commercial sweetened yogurt. Did you know that a cup of Yoplait lemon yogurt has more sugar than a cup of chocolate Haagen Daz? Yogurt by itself, on top of so many things, for breakfast lunch or dinner. Today I am marinating lamb chops from my local farmer in yogurt with garam marsala, lemon, garlic and cilantro to be grilled on tomorrow's camping cookout and served with Cilantro Chelation Pesto (see last post) under the stars...

3. Creme fraiche. Make your own by stirring 1 tablespoon of buttermilk into 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream and letting it sit out, covered, for 24-36 hours in a warm place. Use as you would sour cream, enjoying it's milder flavor and French sophistication, or whip it to use on desserts. I make cultured ice cream with 1/2 creme fraiche and 1/2 buttermilk, sweetening it with maple syrup and whatever fruit is in season. Divine!

4. Buttermilk. What to do with the rest of the carton after you make creme fraiche? My grandmother used to drink it plain and marinate chicken in it, I prefer it in pancakes, waffles and muffins, combining it the the flour the night before baking to soak overnight, neutrallize the phytic acid in the grains, and render them more digestible and nutritious! Or try it in one of those wacky northern European style fruit soups.

5. Kombucha, kvass, lactofermented sodas, and oh yeah, wine and beer. Extra points if you make your own. I have instrucitons on how to make the kvass and sodas in my previous post here:
http://gastronicity.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2009-08-07T16%3A15%3A00-07%3A00&max-results=7. Brew your own bubbles!

6. Dill pickles, pickle relish, cornichons, etc. The pickled cucumber is a wonderful thing. I like Bubbie's Pickles if I'm not making my own, they are the real deal. Mix their pickle relish with your creme fraiche for a high-class tartar sauce for fish, asparagus, etc. And that pickle brine must never go to waist. I use it in salad dressings more a health-giving zing. I'll be showing you how to make your own at next Sunday's class, see below.

7. Capers. Get the real deal, salt-cured capers, at a gourmet market, and give them a good soak in water for 10-30 minutes before you strain them and use them to flavor, well, salads, fish, pestos, salad dressing, what-have-you.

8. Fermented fish sauce. I use this to give salt, umami and fermented enzyme power to many curries, stir fries, soups, anything southeast Asian. Doesn't taste fishy when used in small quantities, just flavorful.

9. Miso. Miso soup of course, from the simple stir a teaspoon of miso into hot water style to more elaborate preparations with seaweed, onions and vegetables, but also chickpea miso in pesto, miso in creamy soups, sweet miso spread on the top of halved summer squash and baked until tender, miso as a shortcut to stock and a vegetarian alternative to bone broth. Protects the body from the harmful effects of radiation incurred from mammograms, flying or dental visits or too much sun. Then there are the other soy ferments, tamari, shoyu, tempeh, don't forget those.

10. Anchovies. I get the big ones in bulk at Berkeley Bowl, soak them to remove the excess salt, and make Salade Nicoise or cut slits into lamb and poke in anchovy bits and garlic that no one suspects are the reason behind the roast or chops' wonderful flavor. Or blend into salad dressing for calcium and enzyme power.

11. Learn how to do it yourself! Come and take my class on Basic Fermentation next Sunday June 20th from 1:30-4pm in Berkeley. Follow this link to register: http://www.biofueloasis.com/?page_id=7. See you there!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Perky, Frisky Greens

"Pursue perky, frisky greens--they're a cheap thrill"(David Tanis, A Platter of Figs). Goodness knows I love a cheap thrill. I've been pursuing greens all spring, with most excitement on a slew of recent camping trips. A huge patch of mild-tasting miner's lettuce was just a few yards from our campsite in the Marin Headlands, and made a wonderful salad with baby lettuces, dressed with a sundried tomato vinaigrette. More often, I'll just chow down on them along the trail. Miner's lettuce is easy to spot--it has a distinct round leaf and central, tiny white flowers. Check out the darling video below for nutrition info and identification tips:






Another green I stalk regularly is dandelion leaf. They are all over the garden, and I add them to my salads regularly. Who says there is no free lunch? Liver cleansing, mineral rich, and excitingly bitter. Susun Weed, herbal elder extraordinaire, says that eating just 2 weed leaves a day will give you way more than the RDA of vitamin C. I only pick my weeds from relatively clean places, as plants are only as healthy as their soil. That said, I seldom bother washing them because I want to ingest some soil-based probiotic organisms.

Speaking of the wonders of greens, I've been doing a little more research on the heavy-metal detoxifying properties of cilantro. The herb’s chelating effect was discovered by accident by an acupuncturist and doctor, Yoshiaki Omura, when he discovered an increase in his urinary mercury after eating a traditional soup with cilantro (Omura & Beckman, 1995). A really exciting thing about this study is that Omura used cilantro in reasonable dietary amounts to assist his patients in detoxifying heavy metals. Based on this finding, a number of recipes for “Cilantro Chelation Pesto” can be found on the web. I’m a big fan of pesto (on anything and everything except pasta), so I’ve tried several recipes and offer my own below.

Cilantro Chelation Pesto
1/3 cup each Brazil nuts, walnuts and pumpkin seeds, soaked overnight and drained
4 cloves garlic or 2 stalks green garlic
2 cups packed fresh cilantro (stems OK!)
2/3 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons dulse powder
sea salt to taste

Process the garlic in a food processor until fine. Add the nuts and seeds and chop fine. Add the cilantro and dulse and process until fine. Drizzle in the olive oil with the motor running until a smooth paste forms. Taste and season with salt as desired. 2 teaspoons daily is a good dose. Some sources recommend daily use for at least 3 weeks as an annual fall detox for mercury, lead and aluminum.

Carrot-Almond Salad
Here is a great way to enjoy spring’s darling bunches of baby carrots and consume a number of heavy metal detox supporters at the same time. Adapted from 101Cookbooks.com.
1 cup almonds, ideally soaked overnight and drained, or raw
½ cup cilantro
1 med clove garlic, peeled
½ jalapeno pepper, seeded and deveined
¼ tsp sea salt
1 raw pastured egg yolk (save the white to make coconut macaroons later!)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch baby carrots, cut lengthwise
1 bunch pencil-thin asparagus, stalks trimmed, cut into 2 inch segments
Squeeze of lemon


Toast almonds in a large skillet over medium heat in a splash of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Once deeply golden, remove from heat and set aside. Make dressing by combining cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and salt in food processor or blender. Drizzle in olive oil while pulsing, continuing until dressing is creamy, vibrant green. Bring 1” of water to a boil in a large pot, salt generously and add carrots, wait 15 seconds, and add asparagus. Cook for just 30 more seconds, allowing veggies to retain some bite. Drain and run under cold water to stop cooking. Dry vegetables in a salad spinner or with a kitchen towel. Coarsely chop the almonds. In a large bowl, toss vegetables and almonds with a generous splash of dressing. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add lemon juice, and serve topped with remaining almonds.