Monday, May 8, 2017

Pea Soup with Mint--Good for the Tummy

I'm always thinking about gut health and whenever I can add prebiotics and probiotics to a recipe, I feel like I've done my work well for the day.  Here's a recipe that supplies both.  Extra bonus points!

Prebiotics-- You can think of prebiotics as food that feeds the friendly bacteria that like to live in our gut.  The more we can help them thrive, by feeding them the food they like to eat, the healthier we will be.  In this recipe, the prebiotics are the oligosacharides provided by the leeks and onions. Lactobacillis (very beneficial) love to feed on oligosacharides.

A pair of gorgeous leeks loaded up in the trunk of the olive oil vendor's car at the Foothill Farmer's Market in Auburn, California.
Probiotics--  As for the probiotics in this soup, these are found in the fermented kefir, yogurt or live-cultured sour cream that I've dolloped on as a topping just before serving.  Homemade kefir has been shown to contain up to 50 different strains of beneficial bacteria that help promote superior gut health. These beneficial bacteria help us to digest our food properly, reduce inflammation, support our immune systems, influence hormone function and metabolism, break down vitamins and minerals and perform a myriad of essential functions that contribute to our good health.  The more we can cultivate a wide diversity of beneficial bacteria the more we will enjoy good health.

Homemade Kefir-- I like to make my own kefir from raw milk* (I live in California where raw milk is available for purchase), and I always encourage everyone to make their own kefir (it's easy, here's a link).  However, if you choose to buy store-bought yogurt or sour cream, make sure you buy a brand that says "live cultures".  Unfortunately, commercial brands supply only a handful of bacteria strains.  Bacteria are killed by high heat, so add the yogurt or sour cream to the bowls of soup at the very last minute and gently float it on top.

Bone Broth-- By the way, homemade bone broth is another food that is excellent for healing the gut and reducing inflammation of the intestinal lining.  (By the way, it takes only about 5 minutes of effort to toss the ingredients for homemade bone broth in a pot and after that, you just let it simmer.  For directions, see here.)

Fresh Peas laid out for sale at the Auburn, California Saturday Farmer's Market, May 2017.
Fresh or Frozen?  It's springtime and fresh peas are at the Farmer's Markets.  You can use fresh peas for this recipe, or if the shelling is simply too much work, use a package of frozen organic peas, as I did.

Pea Soup with Mint

2 Tablespoons coconut oil (I like butter flavored)
1 leek, cleaned, dark green sections discarded and chopped into 1/2" dice
1 onion, chopped into 1/2" dice
1 bag frozen organic peas, or fresh spring peas shelled
4 cups chicken broth (homemade, or store-bought from pasture-raised chickens)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh mint, rough chopped
Homemade kefir or yogurt, or store-bought live culture sour cream
Additional fresh mint or chives, fine chopped

Saute the onions-- In a soup pot, melt the coconut oil and add the leeks and onions.  Saute over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the peas, chicken broth, salt, pepper and mint.  Simmer over medium-low heat for at least another 10 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.

Puree--When all vegetables are softened, puree the mixture using a food processor, blender or blending stick.

To serve, top with a generous dollop of homemade kefir or yogurt (preferably made from raw milk, if available in your state) and bits of chopped fresh mint or dill, as desired.

More on gut health. 

*Raw milk contains many live probiotic strains, whereas the pasteurization process that most milk goes through in this country kills off the beneficial bacteria, which mostly can't survive above about 110-120 degrees.  Fermenting raw milk, which occurs in the process of making kefir and yogurt, cultivates and multiplies these beneficial raw milk strains and adds other strains, as well.

Friday, April 28, 2017

10 Minute Lunches--Wild Salmon Salad

Paleo, Low Carb, Anti-Inflammation, Gut Supportive, Gluten-free

There are three things I require from lunch.  One that it be healthy, two that it be quick to prepare and three that it tastes good.

This wild salmon salad features salmon which supplies valuable omega-3 fats, several healing vegetables, greens, fiber and a little raw sauerkraut for that essential daily hit of gut healing probiotics.

Simple to prepare and healthy to eat, this healthy salad starts with canned wild salmon and a quick raiding of the fridge veggie drawer.
The key to quick prep with this salad is to used canned wild salmon.  After I open the can, I comb through the contents quickly to remove any skin and bones.  I then add a nice big scoop of mayonnaise (I always look for a soy and canola oil free brand, such as Primal Kitchen, or I use homemade if I have some on-hand in the fridge). I then add sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, dill and fresh lemon juice.  Next, I fine chop and stir in some fresh veggies.  In this case I used green onions, celery and red bell pepper.

For this salad, I placed some arugula and Napa cabbage on a plate (but use whatever greens you happen to have on hand), dribbled it with a little store bought Paleo salad dressing, added a sliced radish and a small forkful of sauerkraut to the side and topped it with the salmon mixture.

Be sure that you don't skip the sauerkraut (or any other fermented raw vegetables will do), they're critical for healing and maintaining a healthy gut, which, since almost all diseases start in the gut, is just about the most important thing you can do for your health.

And there you have it.  Fresh. Nutrient-dense. Delicious.  All in less than 10 minutes.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Adventure Bread goes Grain Free

If you've tried Josey Baker's gluten-free Adventure Bread, you'll know that it's brilliant with the first bite. Packed full of nuts and seeds, it has delicious flavor and texture, a rich dark color and it slices beautifully for sandwiches.  Although it is extremely tasty with savory flavors as in sandwiches, the nutty sweetness is just right for sweet snacking with jams and nut-butters, too.

The original Adventure Bread recipe is gluten-free and calls for rolled oats.  Really, it is sooooo tasty! But I wondered if it could be adapted to become entirely grain-free by taking out the oats and making some substitutions. Good news--the recipe works just as well with almond flour.

If, like me, you've made a lot of grain-free breads, you may have grown tired of their coconut flour taste and egg-y textures.  I know that I surely am.  After all, they're not really very bread-like, and they don't really taste like much.  The best thing you can say about them is that their slice-ability makes them a suitable platform to load on the good stuff.

But...lucky us!  Here's a grain-free recipe that is new, entirely different and that tastes more like an old world bread you might purchase in some charming European country town. It's not a light and airy "white bread", but it is definitely something you'll be happy to nosh on in its own right.  And loading it up with toppings or your favorite sandwich goodies only makes it that much better.

If you prefer the original Josey Baker Adventure Bread gluten-free recipe with oats, here's the link: adventure bread.   Or you can show up at his fabulous San Francisco bakery and buy a loaf for yourself! For the grain-free version, see below.

Before you start cooking, however, here's a note on psyllium seeds.  If you've never used them, you can find them at natural food stores and online.  Do not leave them out as they are the binding agent that replaces the gluten in traditional flour.  In fact, part of the brilliance of this recipe is the inclusion of a number of ingredients (psyllium, xantham, flaxmeal, chia) that create that "sticky" factor allowing this bread to hold together without the eggs required for other grain-free breads.

Grain-free Adventure Bread

Dry Ingredients:
2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons coconut flour
1 cup sunflower seeds, hulled
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, hulled
3/4 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup flax seed meal
1/3 cup psyllium seed husks
1/4 teaspoon xantham gum
3 tablespoons chia seeds
2 teaspoons fine sea salt

Wet Ingredients:
2 tablespoons maple syrup (be sure to use real maple syrup)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 cups filtered water

Prepare the pan and oven--  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9" x 4" loaf pan (I sprayed mine with coconut oil spray.)

Toast seeds and nuts-- Spread the sunflower, pumpkin seed and almonds on a baking sheet and toast until they start to brown, about 15 minutes, stirring halfway during baking. The seeds may take less time to toast, so keep an eye on them. (You can skip this stage is you purchase pre-roasted seeds and nuts.) Remove from oven and increase the heat to 400 degrees.

Mix together--In a mixing bowl, add together the dry ingredients and stir.  Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients.  Stir together until everything is well combined.  Scoop mixture into the oiled pan and gently mash down to remove large air gaps.

Bake at 400 degrees on the middle rack for an hour or so.  Remove from the oven and, importantly, let the bread cool for 2 hours before cutting.

Josey recommends that to increase the flavor and texture, you serve this bread toasted and sliced thin (around 1/2"), but it's certainly plenty good served without toasting and anyway you want to slice it.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Good Morning Lemonade Gut Tea

For some months now I've been starting my day with this anti-inflammatory tea that revs up the digestive processes.  What's in it?  Turmeric, ginger, black pepper and lemon.  It's a quite pleasant way to start the day and I find myself looking forward to my morning cuppa!

Improving gut health and function is one of the single most important things we can do for our health. After all, most diseases and conditions are triggered when things go wrong in the gut.  This tea is healing for the gut in two ways:

  1. It helps your stomach produce the acid that is essential for digestion (most people wrongly believe that the stomach produces too much acid, but when things go wrong in the stomach, it is often due to too little stomach acid and rarely too much. 
  2. The anti-inflammation herbs help soothe and heal the intestinal lining.

First thing in the morning-- It's important to drink this tea first thing in the morning and about 20 minutes before consuming any food. That allow the freshly squeezed lemon juice to stimulate the digestive acids in the stomach so that you are ready and able to efficiently digest your breakfast.

Don't forget the peppercorns-- Of course, turmeric and ginger are known inflammation reducers. Did you know, though, that black peppercorns enhance the absorption of the turmeric?  By the way, black peppercorns are the most effective.

Get the right temperature-- When steeping herbs, roots and flowers for tea, it's important to get the temperature at around 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit.  Water that is too hot can bring out acrid or acidic flavors in herbs and spices and water that is too cool will not be as efficient in coaxing the healing properties out.  Luckily, a traditional teapot that whistles, will alert you at the perfect moment.  Just fill the kettle with water and bring to a boil.  When you hear the whistle, turn off the burner immediately and toss in your herbs to steep.

The finer the dice, the better the steep-- Grating the ginger and turmeric roots will help them release more anti-inflammation micro-nutrients into the tea.  A micro-planer is the kitchen tool for the job. However, to be perfectly honest, if I am in a hurry, I simply slice the roots as thinly as I can and toss them directly into my teapot to steep.

Make enough to store for a few days in the fridge-- Rather than just making 1 cup, I make enough to last for almost a week.  That way I can just grab a cup of tea each morning, squeeze in my fresh lemon juice, guzzle it down and get on with my morning.  In the summer, a cooling cup right out of the fridge tastes refreshing, but in the winter time, I like to heat the tea in a small saucepan on my stove.

Sweet Tea?-- You can sweeten this tea with a little honey or stevia, if you prefer.  However, if you are avoiding all sweeteners, or if you are strictly into the healing and don't care about the pleasure, you can leave them out. I often have my tea without the honey or stevia, and I kind of like it that way.  The sour and peppery taste sort of shocks the body into gear, which I find helpful in the morning.

Good Morning Lemonade Gut Tea

8 cups of filtered or pure spring water
3/4" fresh ginger root, grated
1/2" fresh turmeric root, grated
5 whole black peppercorns, crushed
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice per serving
1/8 teaspoon raw local honey per serving (or a bit of stevia), optional

Bring a teapot full of water to a boil.  While you're waiting for the pot to boil, grate a 3/4" piece of fresh ginger root with a micro-planer.  Then grate a 1/2 piece of fresh turmeric root.  Crush the five black peppercorns.  Pack a tea ball with the ginger, turmeric and peppercorns.  When the pot comes to a boil, turn off the heat immediately. Optimal temperature for steeping root teas is at 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. When the water is the appropriate temperature, place the tea ball into the pot and let the roots and peppercorns steep for at least 10-20 minutes.  To serve, pour a cup full of tea, squeeze in the fresh lemon juice and stir in the honey or stevia, if desired.