Sunday, July 23, 2006

Anti-Inflammatory Cooking

Cold and flu in the summer are always a strange surprise, though not entirely unexplainable. If you live in a hot area, you'll notice that offices and homes tend to crank up the air conditioner in the summertime, making our daily journeys in and out of buildings a real challenge for our immune system.

Chinese medicine does not recognize illnesses as "flu", but categorizes the entire situation of the person by his or her warmth/coldness, dampness/dryness, etc. What Western medicine would call a cold, or a flu, usually falls into one of two categories: wind-cold and wind-heat. Wind cold is a cold which leads one to be sluggish, cold, and inactive; wind heat tends to be accompanied by fever and redness. Both, but particularly the former, are associated with dampness, which manifests itself as phlegm.

Milk and dairy products are generally considered to increase phlegm in the body, and are therefore not recommended at times when one has a cold. Whether one eats cold or hot foods (which would depend on the type of cold one has), drying, anti-inflammatory foods are of essence. When in doubt, the three winning ingredients are garlic, ginger, and lemon.

Here are some things you might want to try next time you have a cold:

* Ginger-lemon tea (affectionately referred to here as "lemon-ginj")
* Thai curries, preferrably soy-based (coconut milk is a bit rich for ill, sluggish systems, though also good)
* Spicy stir-frys with garlic and ginger
* Tchina with lots of lemon and garlic
* vegetable stock with a bit of grated ginger on top

Be well!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Those Big Purple Things

Our two most recent deliveries from Chubeza contained a beautiful surprise: the season's first nice, fresh, purple eggplants. What a thrill! Being a Middle Easterner means that I love eggplants a great deal, and have cooked them in many different ways. There aren't many things that are as local as eggplants; Israelis love them almost as much as they love their tomatoes and eat them in every possible form, from baba ganoush to mousakka to quiches to simply roasted slices with goat cheese and olive oil.

Some people have a hesitant relationship with eggplants. This stems from two main reasons. First, eggplants belong to the nightshade family of vegetables, which has been much maligned in relation to diseases like fibromayalgia. Some nutritionsts recommend avoiding nightshade vegetables altogether, a penalty inconceivable from the perspective of a Mediterranean person: that would mean giving up tomatoes, sweet peppers and potatoes. Ah, the horror! Indeed, nightshades contain a certain amount of poisonous components, but these are, according to most nutritionists, ruined in cooking, and they have several nutritional benefits to offer. Eggplants, for example, contain several vitamins from the B family, as well as manganese, copper, potassium, and folic acid. Not in great amounts, but still, they are all there.

The second reason people fear eggplants is their capacity to absorb unbelievable amounts of oil. Many eggplant dishes are extremely greasy and, while eggplant itself is quite lean, with the oil it can become a bit of a fat trap, albeit a delicious one.

Here's one pretty basic thing you can do with your eggplants. Eggplant salad is magnificent in sandwiches or as a nice dish garnished with vegetable sticks. Here, one finds it often in two combinations: with mayonnaise, and with the more common tchina as baba ganoush. This recipe is my (successful, hurrah!) attempt to recreate my grandma's version, which uses neither, and showcases the eggplant in all its glory.

Eggplant Salad

2-3 eggplants
5 garlic cloves
juice from 1 lemon

Cut the eggplants lengthwise. Unlike other eggplant recipes, there is no need to salt the eggplants or let them "sweat" - the bitterness actually makes this better.
Place the eggplant halves, face down, on aluminum foil, and stick in a 200 degree celsius oven for about twenty minutes. You know the eggplants are ready when their peel becomes all brownish-black and charred.

After taking them out of the oven, we grab a nice spoon and scoop the eggplant's meat into a bowl. This can be a bit tricky, but I urge you to scrape out as much as you can. If you're crazy, like me, you'll enjoy munching on the empty baked peels after you're done.

The eggplant meat goes into the food processor with the lemon juice and the garlic, or, if you like your salad chunkier, you can mash it with a fork.

Excellent stuff.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Leaning Tower of Pesto

(pic to come)

Yes, we're still jetlagged. But when has that stopped us from eating?

Meals are still regularly served at Hadar and Chad's home, even if they consume their breakfast at 3am, their lunch, well at about 8am, and their dinnner anywhere in between. And since our Chubeza delivery included fresh basil, and we were very hungry, something had to be done immediately.

Fortunately, our food processor was up to the task, and we were able to produce two dangerously unbalanced bowls of Tinkyada brown rice pasta with fresh, simple, homemade pesto. I know, not a remarkable feat. And yet, here it is. I wish I could comment on how well this keeps in the fridge, but as I said, we were hungry, and the entire batch was immediately consumed.

Homemade Pesto Sauce

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup excellent quality olive oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 large garlic cloves
1 tablespoon salt

Mix in food processor (adding small batches of stuff at a time). Then, mix with pasta. Eat, enjoy, rest in simplicity.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Tribute to Phyllis Glazer

Hi, everyone; sorry for having disappeared for so long. I was out of the country, and just came back, still jetlagged and without much motivation for cooking beyond salads and omelettes. In such circumstances, the best I can do for us all is to use this opportunity to pay tribute to a wonderful lady - the "first lady" of vegetarian cooking in Israel: Phyllis Glazer.

Originally from Boston, Phyllis Glazer arrived in Israel and worked as an actress, gradually shifting to the world of vegetarianism. She started writing about healthy cuisine, whole grains and beans, and ecological issues, when none of these was anywhere near the Israeli mainstream. Recently, a festive 25th year anniversary edition of her book Vegetarian Feast was issued; she still writes extensively about vegetarian cooking and eating. Since writing this classic, she's written a second vegetarian book called Phyllis' Kitchen, which is also very good, and also a book about Jewish festival cooking.

I got acquainted with Glazer's work in my early twenties, as a student in Jerusalem. I learned to cook from two sources: my neighbor Frida and Glazer's book. I bought the book somewhere - can't remember well - and made each and every recipe in it, though I didn't follow it to the letter (I always like to invent and improve on written recipes). Glazer taught me the importance of combining whole grains and beans, the possibilities in vegetables I wasn't familiar with, and the secrets of quick breads, an American novelty I hadn't been exposed to. With her book, I made fruit custards, pureed soups, homemade granola, and bean casseroles. My first Irish soda bread came out of that book, as did my first muffins - real, genuine powerhouses of bran and fruit, not flavorless sweet treats. Much of my enthusiasm about healthy nutrition echoes the excitement conveyed by Glazer's writings, and her efforts to make vegetarianism more palatable to the Israeli mainstream.

If you read Hebrew, you'd do good to buy yourself a copy of the book. It's still relevant and useful. And if you don't, you can always wrap a banana in foil and freeze it (Glazer's simple and delicious ice-cream substitute) or make the following leftover dish - my take on one of her classics.

Brown Rice Patties

2 cups cooked brown rice
2 eggs
1/2-1 cup grated vegetables, like zuccini or carrots
1 onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1/3 cup whole wheat or brown rice flour

Mix all ingredients and make into flattened discs. Fry in olive oil, or, if desired - bake on a baking sheet until brown.