Tag Archives: garlic

Eat Yourself To Health

Viruses are smart, they are masters of survival. They can hijack our body’s own mechanisms to live and multiply. During a productive infection, viruses hijack, multiply and destroy the cell that they call home for a very short time. Bacteria and parasites have also devised various intelligent and opportunistic methods of attacking the human body. To protect ourselves from these infectious agents, the immune system is the frontline of a preemptive defense, while some infections may be controlled by therapeutics. 

Vaccines are the most overtly and urgently effective route to control these infectious agents as they specifically direct the body’s immune defenses against these intruders in multiple ways. However, we can take the initiative to maintain a strong healthy baseline. In addition to stress alleviation and staying active, we can consciously incorporate a few things in our diet to hone our intrinsic defenses. One aspect of this could be accomplished with a few spices, herbs, and condiments that we are familiar with. 

Spices and herbs have fragrant oils that impart the flavors that we know and love, but they also pack alkaloids and other compounds which can have specific effects on the human body. Although detailed ayurvedic knowledge about the effects of these dietary inclusions exist, this article is meant only to raise awareness, and not delve into the depths of beneficial and harmful aspects of the few spices mentioned below. 

Black pepper

Dubbed the ‘queen of spices’ and ‘black gold’, pepper is native to the Malabar coast of Kerala, and was the original spice that fueled the European spice trade. It was the mainstay for introducing pungency and heat in Indian cooking until the Portuguese introduced chillis to India in the 16th century. Among other effects, pepper has antipyretic properties. However, another important property of piperine, an alkaloid in pepper, is to increase the bioavailability of other compounds. That is, it increases the absorption of other chemical entities that are by themselves not readily absorbed. This leads us directly to the next spice, turmeric.

Turmeric

Hailing from the ginger family, the root of turmeric is used as a spice with a familiar hue. In addition to imparting a rich yellow color to food, turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-infective properties. Curcumin, an alkaloid in turmeric, also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and has been studied extensively for its properties in ameliorating diseases, and in promoting general health. However, curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body, and combining its use with black pepper improves its absorption.

Tulsi

Otherwise called Holy Basil (appropriately called Ocimum sanctum in latin), tulsi is more associated with religious ceremonies and Ayurveda than with cooking. It is related to, but distinct from, the basil used popularly in Thai cuisine. I have often wondered why tulsi is not used in Indian cooking given its amazing flavor, but it appears its religious associations preclude its use in something as mundane as food. Tulsi is an adaptogen, in addition to having several other medicinal properties, including antibiotics, and blood pressure control to name a couple. As an adaptogen tulsi is advocated for general wellbeing and stress reduction. Tulsi when added to tea imparts a soothing flavor, and occasionally adding a couple of fresh leaves (for those of us who have a plant at home) or a pinch of dried tulsi leaves while brewing a cuppa makes for an excellent beverage.

Oregano

Since we are in the age of fast food, and Italian food can be a popular healthy option, oregano is a spice that we are all familiar with although it is not commonly used in Asian cuisines. In terms of flavor, it is a close cousin to ajwain belonging to the cumin family that is used in Indian cuisine, but the plants are not related. Oregano packs an intense flavor and has several essential oils, including thymol, which are thought to be antiseptic among other properties. Oregano can also be taken for general well-being, and both tulsi and oregano can potentially boost the immune system. Not surprisingly, they belong to the same super-family of fragrant herbs, Labiatae.

Garlic

The medicinal properties of garlic were known to several ancient cultures, and its health benefits are thought to range from digestive to respiratory and circulatory systems but, of current relevance, it is anti-microbial. The pungent odor and taste of garlic are due to sulfur-containing compounds that are released when it is cut or crushed, and the best known of these is called Allicin. In addition to being anti-bacterial, allicin is also thought to have anti-viral properties. Other members of the garlic family, including onion, share the same compounds, but in reduced amounts.

This article is not advocating the ingestion of these spices at the level of a therapeutic or dietary supplement, but only regular inclusion of these as spices in day-to-day cooking. It is also not an exhaustive list of all the benefits these spices are thought, and known empirically, to confer. Several other spices and condiments that we are familiar with also have beneficial health effects: cumin (jeera– anti-parasitic), ginger (anti-inflammatory), fenugreek (methi seeds– anti-bacterial and laxative), yogurt (pro-biotic), cardamom (blood pressure control), cinnamon (anti-microbial), green and red chillis, and so the list goes on. Finally, it should be mentioned that cooking could destroy a percentage of the active principles and the ensuing health benefit, and frying (including seasoning or tadka) would inactivate a higher percentage.

So, a periodic shot of rasam may not be a bad idea. In fact, variations on the theme of this thin soupy concoction are found in most Asian cuisines. Mix in different spices for variety: pepper, turmeric, lemon, cilantro, lemongrass, oregano, basil, neem leaves, garlic, red chilies, and others to complement your daily creativity and menu. It adds variety, in addition to providing an excuse for an excellent sinus-clearing aperitif! 


L Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures and ideas. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar and at www.liyengar.com.

chicory, stir fry, salad, potatoes

‘N Dive Into Chicory!

ChicoryMy childhood is filled with memories of waking up to the strong aroma of filter coffee. My grandmother needed her cup of coffee to be just the way she liked it. Her day began with brewing a huge steel filter full of coffee and it ended with her ritual of washing that huge filter and adding a heap of the coffee powder ready for brewing the next morning. Her coffee beans were bought at specialty coffee retailers like Narasus Coffee, Kannan Jubilee Coffee, and Leo Coffee. I remember going to these coffee retailers with my mother and she would buy a blend of three-fourths of Pea berry, Robusta or Arabica beans with a quarter of chicory. The beans were always roasted to perfection.

I remember asking my mother, “What is chicory?” She told me that chicory was a root that was added to the expensive coffee powder for a slight bitter aftertaste, and it also helped extend the use of the coffee powder. Only a quarter of the chicory was added since too much would take away the real flavor of the coffee beans.  I still miss my grandmother’s chicory coffee and her morning coffee rituals.

Historical Origins
Chicory dates back to ancient Egypt. In 4000 BC, it was documented as a medicinal plant for the treatment of intestinal worms and as an aid to digestion. Later the Greeks and Romans used chicory as a liver tonic. It is said that the Roman poet Horace ate chicory as a part of his vegan diet. During the Middle Ages, medieval monks cultivated chicory and thus introduced it to Europe.

The Dutch were the first to use the roots as an enhancer for coffee. According to Peter Simmonds, a 19th century writer, coffee was introduced to France by M. Orban and M. Giraud. By the 1800s, France, Denmark and Germany were exporting more than 1 million pounds of chicory.

In the 19th century the French brought their chicory and coffee to Louisiana. During the Great Depression and the Second World War, coffee was expensive and in short supply. Chicory became a popular substitute drink. Sometime during the 1850’s New Orleans became the second largest importer of coffee. During the Civil War when the ports were blocked and coffee shipments were halted, chicory found its place as a substitute. That’s how, even to this day, you can find a good cup of Chicory coffee at Café Du Monde in New Orleans as it has become a part of their cultural history.

My grandmother and I are indebted to a 17th century Sufi saint named Baba Budan for bringing coffee to South India. Legend has it that, Baba Budan smuggled seven coffee beans from Yemen on his way back from his holy Hajj pilgrimage and planted it in Karnataka, South India. Later on, chicory was introduced by the British. Till the 1950s chicory was imported in India. Later, imported seeds from France were cultivated in the North West. Now India is the largest producer of premium grade chicory in the world.

Roots, Leaves and Flowers are Used in Chicory

1) Root chicory is roasted, ground and brewed as a substitute for coffee.

2) Leaf Chicory has two kinds—wild leaf used in many Turkish and Greek dishes and cultivated leaf chicory that is of three main kinds: Radicchio or red chicory, Belgian endive (pronounced as En-Deeve); we grow Californian endives too, and Sugarloaf chicory which looks like a hybrid of Napa cabbage  and romaine lettuce. Apart from these varieties, we also have salad greens such as escaroles, curly endive (pronounced as N-Dive) and frisee.

3) Chicory flowers are predominantly blue but sometimes are pink and white too. These flowers are used in tonics for the prevention of gallstones, sinus issues etc. These February flowers are known as a symbol of love, desire and inspiration.

Chicory the Champion of Health
We know that the Egyptians had planted chicory for its medicinal use. In India chicory roots are used in the treatment for jaundice and liver enlargement. The Native Cherokee and Iroquois tribes used chicory in treating sores, lesions and as a laxative. Chicory is well known for its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities. It is also used in the treatment for irritable bowel syndrome, acne, cellulite, constipation, diabetes, eczema, gallstones, gastritis, gout, hepatitis, jaundice, liver enlargement, rheumatism, and urinary ailments.

Chicory promotes a heart healthy diet as it contains inulin a carbohydrate fiber called fructan, that helps reduce LDL or bad cholesterol and triglycerides and thereby reduces the risk of atherosclerosis. The inulin also helps in the prevention of diabetes and obesity in humans, by amanaging and aiding digestion and appetite regulation.  Chicory is a great source of calcium, potassium and vitamins. It also helps in absorbing calcium thereby aiding bone density and reducing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.


Farm to Table
Here are some chicory dishes to warm your cold February days.

Roasted Radicchio Winter Salad
My friend Poornima makes the best Radicchio Summer Salad. I’ve adopted her recipe to make a warm winter salad. Radicchio has a bitter and spicy taste. Roasting radicchio reduces the bitterness.

For Roasting
1 head Radicchio torn into large wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 tablespoon dried herbs (thyme, parsley, basil)
Salt to taste

For the Salad
2 steamed beets cut into matchsticks
1 green apple cut into matchsticks
½ cup fresh corn
1 avocado cubed

Dressing
½ teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic minced
½ jalapeno pepper minced
2 tablespoons of Muscat vinegar (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rub the radicchio wedges with olive oil, garlic, dried herbs and salt. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and place inside for 12-15 minutes till it is charred. Remove, cut up into large pieces and place in a large bowl. Add rest of the salad ingredients—beets, apples, corn, avocados and mix gently. Drizzle the dressing and mix. Serve.

Variation: Roasted Radicchio Walnut Pizza. Place the roasted radicchio in a layer over pizza dough along with gorgonzola and mozzarella cheeses and toasted walnuts. Cook the pizza in the oven.

Belgian Endive, Tomatoes and Mushroom Stir Fry
According to Chinese medicine, endives help preserve the Qi (energy) in the heart. They use it in many stir fry dishes.

Ingredients
2 bulbs of red and green endive halved and sliced crosswise.
1 tablespoon oil
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 inch fresh ginger minced
1 cup Shitake mushroom sliced
1 large vine ripe tomato cut into wedges
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Salt to taste

Method
Heat oil in a large pan and add the minced garlic and ginger. Then add the sliced endive, sliced shitake mushrooms and sauté in high heat for a few minutes. Now, add the tomatoes, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, brown sugar, salt and red pepper. Cook until the endives are wilted and mushroom slices are soft. Adjust the seasonings and serve hot as a side dish with rice.

Roasted Fennel, Endive Potato Gratin
Belgian endive is mostly used for appetizers. Each leaf serves as a holder for small salads. This hearty au gratin is an all-time favorite.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 small fennel bulb sliced
1 red Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
1 green Belgian endive sliced lengthwise
8 red potatoes sliced into ½ rounds
1 tablespoon butter
1 ½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (basil, parsley rosemary)
½ cup grated Gruyere cheese
½ cup grated mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a flat pan and add garlic. Now place the fennel and endive in a single layer, season with salt and pepper, and then brown them. Remove and set aside. In the same pan add butter and garlic. Now add 1 ½ cup of milk and layer the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes. Remove from stove and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking pan with butter and layer the potatoes, roasted fennel and endive slices. Sprinkle half of the Gruyere cheese and Mozzarella cheese. Add the remaining milk mixture on top. Sprinkle the rest of the two cheeses at the top. Place it in the hot oven and cook until the top is bubbling golden brown and the potatoes are well cooked. Remove and serve.

Praba Iyer is a chef instructor, food writer and a judge for cooking contests. She specializes in team building classes through cooking for tech companies in the Bay Area praba@cookingmastery.com