Getting Organized

Dearest readers,

Some really good but demanding forces in the universe took me away from DeliciousMedicine for a few months. It was tough to be away, but I was able to take inventory and deepen my commitment to what’s happening here with food and medicine. I’m happy to report that this little blog has outgrown Tumblr and we’re packing up and moving over to SweetAllium.com. Please visit me there!

SweetAllium is up and running with a bank of resources, a sharper look, and most importantly, a blog that takes comments!

Please join me at our new party spot, SweetAllium.

Mahalo for now!

Food, Plants and Friends

It seems that usually when people think of Naturopathic medicine, they think of medicinal herbs. That’s sort of a fair association. But actually, Naturopathic medicine makes use lots of different modalities—tools for helping people get better—and botanical medicine is just one of these modalities.*

For me, herbal medicine is super important, because to me, herbs are food. And I adore food.

Here’s what I think of food and herbs:

So, herbs are a way to make our food more effective; herbs make our food tastier, prettier, and with more vitamins, minerals, and still-secret compounds that can make it easier for us to dance, laugh, concentrate, sleep and generally be well.

I currently dose myself with herbal wisdom through The School of Traditional Western Herbalism. The field is so vast with information, academic or experiential, that I could stay occupied and inspired if I studied only herbalism full-time. Instead, I do my exploring haphazardly with how-did-it-get-to-be-so-late medicine making sessions, plant walks around the neighborhood, and special assignments from friends and family who are interested in hearing my novice ideas for what plants might help them.

But my point is I started making medicine. And by that I mean I started making some plant friends.

*More important than the modalities is Naturopathic medicine’s especially deliberate approach to healing, but we can talk more about that later. If you’re curious, this description of Naturopathic medicine is pretty clear and succinct.

Getting Saucy at Home

I’m not a gardener as much as some folks, but my family and I went all in last year and we learned, and probably hauled, a ton. I don’t have a garden this year—maybe I can live vicariously through your and yours?—but I think the most bang for your backache is hot peppers. We found them to be high yielding and (at least I found them) incredibly awesome for their heat.

But then, I am a hot sauce fiend. I’ll admit, I’m a little proud of it. I can take down large volumes of hot sauce with narry more than a dribbly nose and a sweaty-eyelid-framed catatonic stare.

I profess my love for a favorite few brands in my post about egg tacos, but from a disciplined health perspective, commercial sauces come with a bit of a red flag. Commercial sauces of any kind are essentially concentrated produce, processed in an industrial kitchen in big batches. This diminishes the healthful potential of these sauces because, a) any toxins or pesticides on the produce become concentrated into the sauce*, b) commercial sauces are more likely to have lots of added salt and sugar, and c) commercial processing concentrates the risk of contamination with toxins or pathogens.

These are all reasons to especially value short chains of custody, local and organic produce, and local and small scale processing. And the shortest, cleanest, smallest and most local of sauces—hot or otherwise—is one made at home. I’m sure there are plenty of hot sauce recipes out there, but Threw these together and they turned out pretty tasty. Pictured above and described below are my experiments from this past pepper season.

Pepper Flakes

When we didn’t have time or endurance to eat our hottest peppers, we let them sit and many of them dried without molding. Next time I might cut off the tops so that they’ll dry faster, or put them in a dehydrator. The dried peppers went for a spin in my food processor and then landed on my spice shelf, warming my curries and chilis all winter long.

Tomatillo and Mystery Sweet Hot Pepper

1 lb fresh organic tomatillos

a few hot peppers

a few flavorful sweet peppers

1/4 cup vinegar

salt

If you didn’t get a chance to grow your own, here’s a perfect example of how to make the farmers’ market work for you! I approached the nice folks at Gales Meadow Farm, who are especially knowledgeable about heirloom peppers, squash and garlic. I took their recommendation for hot peppers that would pair nicely with tomatillos, and came away with some fantastically-flavored sweet and hot peppers.

I roasted the tomatillos in the oven, and blended these, still hot, with the fresh sweets and hot peppers, leaving the seeds in and skin on, added vinegar, to help the sauce keep longer, and salt to taste.

Oven Roasted Habanero and Jalapeno

1 lb habanero and jalapeno peppers (adjust the ratio to taste)

3 tablespoons vinegar

salt

Mama gave me her homegrown peppers that she didn’t have time to process. Total score! I roasted them in the oven until they were all puffy and some of the skins slipped off, then blended them in a food processor, adding vinegar and salt at the end. This resulted in the proudest flavor of my homemade hot sauces, but the product turned slightly gelatinous in the fridge. Great for spreading on tortillas, but next time I’ll see what happens when I roast them over my gas range. Hot.

* This is a risk that comes along with any sauce, commercial or homemade. However, it’s much harder to know and trust the produce sourcing of commercial sauces than of homemade sauces.

How to Write a Food Blog Post

I could tell that I was about to write a completely predictable blog post. So classic, even, that it could serve as a tutorial on how to tell the world about your wonderfully inventive new recipe, a delightful twist on an ages old food tradition. So, follow along and before you know it, you’ll be writing your own!

OK. It starts off with a title that is slightly clever, or features an alliteration, assonance or consonance. Like, Yummy Hummus, or Hummus for the Masses. Yeah, that works…

Hummus for the Masses

Next, you want to provide some sort of story about how good your recipe is. Some picky kids didn’t notice the veggies in it…your meat-loving father-in-law didn’t sneak out for a burger after the vegetarian meal you served him. Kudos to you! Tell the world about it.

As a busy med school student, I’ve been getting into making hummus and freezing it for later. Homemade frozen hummus is perfect really. A filling, healthy, ready-in-minutes meal or snack. It’s great eaten with bread (when I’m feeling decadent) or veggies (when I’m being truly good to myself). It’s also super convenient to have around for last-minute potlucks, barbecues and picnics.

Folks have been asking after my recipe for a little while now, ever since I started throwing in some beets or winter squash. And, here’s the clincher, my aunt, never a hummus fan, asked me for my recipe. What an honor. Especially since she’s a devoted sweets connoisseur at heart.

It’s nice to ramble on longer than you need to, like this:

I think there are a few keys to good hummus:

• overcook the beans so they’re really tender and blend easily,

• add something sweet, with a subtle flavor, like beets or winter squash

• embrace garlic

• accept oil as a main flavoring ingredient, and use good, tasty oil. I like to use olive oil that says “first cold pressed” on the label.

Then upload your photo.

And start in on the recipe.

Here, my dears, is a very generalized recipe; please adjust amounts as necessary. I’ve added specific combinations that I’ve tried and enjoyed at the bottom.

2 cups soaked and cooked beans (black beans, black eyed peas, chickpeas, etc), be sure to cook these a loooong time (for more tips, see my sexy beans post)

3 tablespoons tahini

1 1/2 cups winter squash, baked OR 2 beets, boiled and peeled

juice of 2 limes/lemons

1/2 head of garlic

up to 1 cup olive oil

salt

2 tablespoons cumin

Blend together in a blender or food processor, for as long as you, your neighbors and/or your blender can stand it. I mean, blend ‘em! Adjust salt, cumin and lemon/lime juice to taste.

Some of my favorite combinations:

• Black bean and red beet

• Chickpea and golden beet

• Chickpea, kabocha squash and cayenne

• Black eyed pea, butternut squash and whole cumin seeds

Potato Salad for the Sun

In honor of a perfect sunny day here in Portland, I present to you, lovely blog-readers, a delightfully light and flavorful potato salad. Looks and acts just like a potato salad but without the greasy mayo. Also, it has the added bonus of being a form of potato (red, baked and cooled) that has one of the lowest glycemic indexes, according to The Jungle Effect by Daphne Miller, which means the simple carbohydrates in this dish won’t rush right into your bloodstream. Apple cider vinegar is key here, but let me tell you, it’s even better if you can get your hands on some kombucha vinegar.*

Sunday Potato Salad

4 red potatoes, baked and diced

1/8 red onion, finely chopped

1/2 garnet yam, shredded

1 cup chopped red cabbage

4-5 celery stalks, chopped finely

1 tablespoon dill, dried OR 1/3 cup fresh dill, minced

1/4 to 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil OR grapeseed oil

1/4 teaspoon salt OR salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.

Non-vegan option: garnish each serving with a sliced hard boiled egg.**

*More on this later, darlings.

**According to my microbiology instructor, the highest rates of food poisoning occur in the early evenings of summer months, about four hours (coincidentally the incubation time for most microbes responsible for food poisoning) after picnic time. By chance, some of these microbes grow really well in eggs. ¶ But don’t avoid picnicking—it’s one of the joys of life! Try to keep this dish cool until picnic time. And if you’re going to add eggs to this dish, just leave them sliced at the top and mix them into the rest of the salad when you’re ready to enjoy it.

Sugar and the Sweet Vegetable Epiphany - Part II

So last time I posted about fructose, we all got out our nerd glasses (lest the blind lead the blind) and cruised through some thick material about why and how fructose is rough and confusing to our bodies. Here’s a summary in case you missed it:

• Fructose evades normal caloric intake feedback systems involving ghrelin, leptin and insulin.

• It is converted to toxic advanced glycation products (AGEs) more rapidly than glucose.

• In the liver, it is converted to forms of fat that are associated with cardiovascular disease.

• It depletes the liver’s energy stores and can lead to liver damage.

Ok, so the over-simplified takeaway is that fructose is “bad”. But let’s try to hold a little complexity in our hot little hands and avoid demonizing food. Once we do that, it’s a slippery slope straight to fruit hatin’!

Instead, please join me in recognizing that we need, desperately, to love our food, to love ourselves and to have a positive relationship with the process of choosing, preparing and becoming what we eat.

I still love sweet, the flavor, and I’m not ready to demonize sugars, so I’ve made my own personal hierarchy of sweeteners.* This list may change as I learn more, but here they are, from least- to most-preferred:

7. High fructose corn syrup - Also called HFCS, is an ingredient in many processed foods.

6. Manufactured sweeteners like aspartame - It turns out there is a sweet reflex that up regulates sugar transporters in the small intestine when we taste sweet. So tasting sweet, whether the sweet is triggered by absorbable sugars or not, will increase simple carbohydrate absorption in the gut. More influentially though, chemicals manufactured in a lab give me the heeby-jeebies.

5. Agave syrup - Surprise! Agave is considerably higher in fructose than glucose, like high fructose corn syrup.

4. Table sugar - Also called sucrose, table sugar has a 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose.

3 & 2. Maple syrup and honey - A toss up! Honey is probably environmentally preferable because it doesn’t need to be boiled for hours and hours, and because when it’s produced locally, is a boon to local ecosystems and has the potential to counteract the effects of declining bee populations. On the nutrition front, there are books written about honey’s healing properties, while maple syrup seems to have a handful of nutritionally beneficial constituents, and a slightly more favorable fructose to glucose ratio. For me this one is entirely situational, and comes down to flavor alone.

1. Fruit and vegetables - Whole foods that happen to be sweet come with lots of  phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, fiber and who knows what other minute essentials; they also come with the opportunity to support local food production systems.

And viola! The sweet vegetable (and, okay, fruit) epiphany** happened. I started adding sweet whole foods to my sauces, soups and currys instead of my standard tablespoon or two of agave. It offers a more interesting flavor profile and delivers more of a nutritional punch. Bring it!

Some of my favorite sweeteners are:

• yams

• peaches, frozen at the time of peach season

• beets

• winter squash, such as butternut and kabocha

• onions, super sweet when caramelized

• citrus fruits

• apples

• red peppers and sweet peppers

• bananas

Maybe one day I’ll feel compelled to loose the simple carbohydrates too. But for now, I think this is a pretty good step.

* Stevia is absent from this discussion, but only because I don’t know enough about the plant to know where it fits here. I look forward to learning more about it through my herbalism studies, and I’d welcome your thoughts, dearest readers.

** I of course have to ask, why is it an epiphany to cook with whole foods? What other culinary crutches do I use unwittingly? Perhaps lots. Habit is a powerful force. But for now, onward!

Sugar and the Sweet Vegetable Epiphany - Part I

One of the major cool-factors of being in med school is that I get to force my friends and family in to discussions about chemical structures of nutrients, enzyme behavior and other nerdy things. Ok, they’re not “discussions” so much as informational lectures based on material I’ve recently learned in school. But I also don’t think I force anyone—at least, they seem interested.

I shared this one recently with my sister while she made gingerbread cookies (two cups of granulated sugar!): The Story of Fructose*

First, some background info. Table sugar is a disaccharide (two sugar molecules) made of glucose and fructose. Glucose has received praise as “The best sugar available!” thousands of years running according to your cells and those of our ancestors. It’s the sugar we’re designed for, and the sugar that other sugars get turned into in our bodies. Fructose is very similar, but has a couple groups swapped on one of the carbons. No biggie. Except that this swap actually changes some things in the bigger metabolic picture.

One major consideration is that fructose flies under the radar, so to speak, as its presence in the blood stream goes undetected by the pancreas. Unlike glucose, fructose doesn’t supress ghrelin, the hormone responsible for hunger, and it does not stimulate insulin (to help cells accept sugar from the blood) or leptin (which triggers satiety).** So, calories consumed in the form of fructose aren’t treated like other sugars and therefore aren’t included on the body’s total caloric spreadsheet. What are our industrious caloric accountants to do without accurate figures to work with?? Throw up their tiny metaphorical hands and let us reach for another frappuccino?

Secondly, because of it’s particular shape, fructose is seven times more likely than glucose to serve as a launch point for a series of spontaneous chemical reactions with an end product called an advanced glycation products (AGEs) which are toxic to the body. This is the same reaction that happens when bread crust browns in the oven, or when marshmallows turn all malty-colored on the outside. Simply put, fructose consumption increases the rate at which our bodies become toasted on the inside.

Thirdly, fructose induces lipogenesis and is turned into free fatty acids, triglycerides and very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) in the liver, forms of fat that are closely associated with cardiovascular disease.**

Lastly, in the liver, the first step of fructose or glucose metabolism is to tack a phosphate group to the sugar. This reaction is regulated for glucose, but unregulated for fructose, which means that the presence of fructose drives the reaction, and the reaction won’t stop until the all the fructose is phosphorylated. This rampant phosphorylation—an energy-intensive reaction—can cause local energy depletion, which can resemble ischemia in the liver.** Basically, if we feed the liver a bunch of fructose, it will dutifully get to work processing it and burn itself out in the process.

So, what’s the takeaway? Basically, fructose is pretty hard on the body for several reasons. And while processing fructose is rough, glucose isn’t perfect for us either. Stay tuned, ‘cause next time, I’ll offer some of my own thoughts on what to do about our beloved flavor, sweet, and how to be good to our bodies.

*The lessons recounted here come primarily from lectures by Dr. D at NCNM (see The Smarts page on this blog for more info).

**Source: World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2010 June7;16(21): 2579-2588.

Nut Butters!

Okay okay okay. This one does take some super special equipment, namely, a Champion juicer. My point here isn’t to sell you on one, but in case you have one, or have an aunt that never uses hers, dust it off, oil it up, and make yourself some nut butters!

It’s easy, inexpensive, and possibly more delicious than store-bought nut butters (or is that the sweet sweet flavor of self-accomplishment?). Homemade nut butters can also be more interesting than nut butters that come in labeled jars. For example, I really let loose when I ground two types of nuts together. Two kinds of nuts! Walnut and Almond—they equalize each other on the oilyness continuum.

Here’s the “recipe”:

Walnut-Almond Butter

1 part almonds

1 part walnuts

Push ingredients through a champion juicer, fitted with a “blank” instead of a screen. It’s a little thick to spread on wonderbread-like textures, so stick with things that can handle it, like apples, toast…spoons.

Enjoy!

Sexy Beans

I’m just gonna come out and say what everyone’s already thinking: beans are super sexy.

They’re loaded with fiber, contain no fat, are super inexpensive, and are very easy to prepare. In a world where processed food is marketed as heavily as car insurance, beans have established a pretty sexy name for themselves, even without the aid of any official spokesperson.

But sometimes, they’re not quite sexy enough, am I right? Here’s what I do to help my dried beans earn some extra attention. Try any or all of these tricks—except for the asterisked ones, which are kind of required.

• Start with dried beans.

• Better yet, start with fresh dried beans. FRESH dried beans?! Yes, I’ve found that beans harvested and dried within a year of preparation are impressively creamier and cook faster. I picked some up this past fall from the Sungold Farm booth at our own Hollywood Farmers Market here in Portland.

• Soak beans overnight.* Soaking beans minimizes cooking time, and removes phytic acid and undigestible complex sugars from the skins, compounds that can limit mineral absorption and can cause flatulence, respectively.

• Replace the water and simmer the beans until you can easily mash a cooled bean between your top teeth and your tongue, 30-90 minutes, depending on the type of bean and how fresh they are.*

• Drain off most of the cooking water.

• Add salt.

• Add sauteed or roasted red, green, yellow, orange or sweet peppers.

• Toss in a bullion cube.

• Add sauteed mushrooms. Mushrooms pack a lot of umami, the fifth flavor, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

• Add large quantities of spices like chili powder (not very spicy, add away!), cumin, or chipotle (but watch out! Chipotle’s got some powerful heat.). Get the most mileage out of your spices by sauteeing them briefly in oil first.

• Add plenty of garlic! Again, sautee first, but do so very briefly, over medium heat.

• When serving, top those sexy beans with something green—anything green and edible will set them off. Those beans will stop traffic.

Warm Winter Salad

I invented a new salad recently.

Normally, I would think that sentence is boastful…or obvious. Don’t we invent salads every time we mix a few fresh veggies together with a flavorful dressing?

Well, I liked this salad so much that I had to write it down, and it’s pretty different from every other salad I’ve ever made. I mean, it gets baked.

I invented it because I was bored with my habits in preparing my darling, favorite vegetable, kale. (Dear Kale, we’ve only been married for a couple years, and already we’re getting stuck in our old ruts. Meet me on the other side of town at that bar we can’t really afford. Pretend like we’ve never met. Maybe it can turn into dinner.) This salad is warm, filling, vinegary and sweet (thanks, Yam!). Lastly, cinnamon is not only a nice complement to the other flavors, but it’s a popular warming spice, perfect for this time of year.

Baked Yam and Kale Salad (serves 2)

1/2 lb yam, baked

1 bunch kale, chopped

fancy goat cheese (optional)

sunflower seeds or walnuts, coarsely chopped

cinnamon vinaigrette (see below)

This is a composed salad, which means the particular arrangement of the salad is important—usually visually, but in this case, functionally. Place a portion of the pre-baked yam on each plate and heat at the lowest temperature your oven will do, somewhere around 170˚F. After the yam portions are heated through (but not dried out), pile a generous portion of kale over them. Return the plates to the oven until the outer pieces of kale are crispy and the inner pieces are wilted, about 10-15 minutes. Top with fancy goat cheese if you like, and sunflower seeds or walnuts. Drizzle with cinnamon vinaigrette.

Cinnamon Viniagrette

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

salt

Add ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake it, shake it like a polaroid pitcha.

It’s a fun salad to eat too. The viniagrette and the yam provide a dynamic tart-sweet balance. I eat it like mashed potatoes and gravy—always trying to achieve the perfect ratio in each bite.

Have fun!