Summer Shows its Colors in Creative Cuisine

Colorful dishes mean more antioxidants. For that reason, whenever I make a salad or any dish involving a lot of vegetables, I try to include as many colors as possible. Summer is one of the best times for diverse, colorful cuisine because there are so many varieties of fruits and vegetables available at local farmers’ markets. This past Saturday while browsing produce at a nearby stand, a farmer showed me a vegetable I had never seen before – round, vibrantly colored, and surrounded by a thick gourd, I was immediately intrigued by it. The farmer informed me that it was a type of squash. Upon investigating further online, I learned that this type of plant is known as Summer Squash, and it hits its peak in May-August. It is available in green, white, or yellow. I decided to experiment with it while cooking a lunch for my family this weekend, and the results were delicious. The meal I made consisted of an Italian pomodoro-type spaghetti accented with crostini on the side. It was light and seemed perfect for highlighting summer’s herb and veggie flavors. Here’s the recipe:

Summer Squash Pomodoro

3/4 lb thin whole-wheat spaghetti

1 can diced tomatoes

1 yellow summer squash

7-8 fresh basil leaves

about 1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

sea salt, red pepper flakes & black                                                                                                     pepper to taste

Parmesan cheese to taste

Set a large pot of salted water to boil. While waiting for it to boil, dice the yellow squash into small pieces. (Note that although I used yellow, any variety will do). Salt and pepper it lightly, and set aside. Mince onion and garlic. Heat olive oil on high in a large wok, and when it is hot, add onion/garlic and saute for approximately 2 minutes. Add spaghetti to boiling pot of water. Add squash to wok and saute until soft, approximately 7 minutes. Once soft, add the canned tomatoes (use fresh tomatoes for added health, but remember to add a sweetener to balance their acidity). Then, add the fresh basil and oregano, then the vinegar and some red pepper flakes. Cook for another 2 minutes. Drain the spaghetti, drizzle with olive oil and dish it out onto plates. Top with the mixture from the wok and some parmesan cheese, and serve hot.

Rosemary & Goat Cheese Crostini

1/2 baguette (day old is great because it’s a good way to still enjoy it)

goat cheese

fresh rosemary

red pepper flakes

dried parsley

garlic salt

butter or non-dairy spread (I like Earth Balance)

Cut baguette into very thin slices. Place on a tray and toast in the toaster oven on one side about one minute on 250-300 degrees. Butter the untoasted side, and then put them back in the oven for another minute. Be careful not to burn them. Remove them from the oven and add a dollop of goat cheese. Sprinkle with parsley, red pepper flakes, and garlic salt. Top each crostini with a sprig of rosemary. Place back in the oven for another couple minutes, until crispy. Enjoy!

I used to really hate goat cheese. My college roommate, a cheese connoisseur, told me to just wait until I had really good goat cheese. Turns out, she was right. Last week, Whole Foods market generously gave away a ton of free products to their Facebook Fans as a kind of customer appreciation day. One of the items they gave was goat cheese. I’m used to things being of high quality from them, so I decided to give goat cheese one more try. I’m glad I did. It’s creamy, and combines so well with fresh herbs like rosemary.

But that’s the great thing about cooking: every experience is different. Flavors change depending on your mood, what’s available to you, and even the weather. Cooking is a creative learning experience. For me, it’s like a meditation because I concentrate on chopping vegetables and herbs and combining spices. It’s relaxing and doesn’t allow for any outside noise (mental or physical) because you’re so focused on the flavors and smells and even textures of the food. That’s why I don’t like to think of recipes as strict guidelines – rather, they are inspiration for creativity.

Use what is available to you when you cook. I love to cook with local produce because it’s fresher, healthier, and better for the environment. Even better, I love to cook with the herbs from my own garden.

Besides being about local and fresh ingredients,  food should also be about giving comfort and showing your love to other people. Recipes can be individualized to the needs of your family and friends. My family loves garlic, so we cook with it a lot, but if your family doesn’t enjoy its strong flavor, try just using 1 or 2 cloves in the pasta recipe above. Some people don’t like onions. (My boyfriend can attest to this, as he often accuses me of tainting his food with onion poisoning.) But there are always ways of making the flavors of what you cook suit the needs of everyone in your house.

There are four things I love about being in the kitchen: cooking in season and local, cooking for the people I love, and cook to release my creativity, and finally – to feel relaxed. I love summer for all of those reasons.

June 21, 2010 at 2:14 am Leave a comment

Ginger: It’s For More than Just Your Sushi

photo_283_20080826In this post:

  • Why you should eat more ginger
  • What ginger can do for your health
  • Tips on consuming ginger
  • Recipes with ginger

It’s that pink, sometimes pale yellow foodstuff sitting just beside your sushi. Slightly bitter, yet oddly sweet at the same time, there’s something refreshing about it. Ginger is the name, and its refreshing quality may be one of the reasons why it is eaten as a palate cleanser between meal courses in Japan. Yet, if you’ve never traveled to Japan, or even dabbled in the culinary world of sushi, you may be unfamiliar with ginger in its pickled state.
But perhaps your taste buds have ravished in the piquant delight of ginger within breads, cakes, or even cookies. Ginger, for many people,  characterizes the taste and smell of the Holiday season. Gingerbread men may certainly be cute, festive, and of course – delicious, but December is not the only month of the year that ginger may bring joy to its consumer.
It’s September, still three months away from the peak of gingerbread’s popularity. But finding ways to incorporate ginger root into your diet all year round will not only add a new and exciting flavor and twist to your cuisine, but your body will also thank you. Ginger is brimming with health benefits recognized within the medical and scientific world.
In fact, as I leafed through an issue of Good Housekeeping magazine in a dentist office waiting room a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon an article claiming that ginger aids greatly in the treatment of menstrual cramps. Intrigued and pleasantly dazzled that a mainstream magazine had published such a piece, I read on. The claim was supported by a scientific study conducted in India. The findings? Ginger was more effective than popular pain relievers in relieving menstrual cramps. I already knew that ginger was a wonder food, but this tidbit was new to me. And as a sufferer of cramps, you can imagine the allure this discovery offered me.
Still, ginger’s contribution to menstrual pain relief is only the beginning of its healing powers. The Asian root offers more benefits than the length of this post will offer, but here are a few of its most well known and well touted assets:

  • Your tummy – If I had a tummy ache as a little girl, my grandmother would always look first to a bottle of ginger ale when helping to rid me of my pain and nausea. Unfortunately, soda is loaded with sugar and probably contains no real ginger. Still, my grandmom was headed in the right direction for digestive treatment. Today, the wonders that ginger can perform on your digestive system are no secret. Ginger not only soothes the stomach and intestinal tract, but also aides in the elimination of gas and bloating. But before you reach for Seagram’s or Canada Dry the next time your stomach aches, try making your own ginger ale at home. It’s surprisingly easy. This is a terrific site for learning how to do that: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/homemade_ginger_ale/ The only alteration that should be made when seeking health benefits from the recipe would be to replace the sugar with xylitol. Read more about xylitol on the “Getting Started” section of Better Bytes.
  • cruise ship in portMotion Sickness – Unfortunately, when motion sickness strikes, it is often at times when we are supposed to be enjoying ourselves. A luxurious (and expensive) cruise is the last place nausea, dizziness, and vomiting are welcome. Since motion sickness is a fairly common complaint, the over-the-counter medication Dramamine is also fairly common. But most popular does not equal most effective. In a 1982 study published in the medical journal Lancet, participants were administered ginger and then placed in a chair designed to result in motion sickness. Some participants were given Dramamine, while others were delivered ginger root. Amazingly, those who took ginger were able to remain in the chair almost 60% longer than those who were administered the Dramamine. That study, however, is only one of many. Since that time, the effectiveness of ginger in combating motion sickness has been proven time and again. Because of this ability, ginger is also sometimes given to patients suffering from cancer and chemotherapy-induced motion sickness.
  • Arthritis – Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory. Gingerols, the well-studied anti-inflammatory compounds found within ginger, have been shown to relieve joint pain. This is great news for many suffering from arthritis. according to The George Mateljan Foundation, “In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn’t, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling” when using ginger. Even the arthritis foundation suggests the use of ginger in the treatment and management of arthritic pain. Their advice regarding ginger and arthritis can be found here: http://www.arthritistoday.org/treatments/supplement-guide/supplements/ginger.php. However, even if you don’t have arthritis, you may still reap the benefits of gingerols. Humidity and other factors can bring on joint pain and stiffness even in people without arthritis (myself included). And considering the negative publicity recently surrounding popular pain-relievers due to their ill health effects, it may be wise to reach for ginger before resorting to over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol or Ibuprofen.
  • Immune-Boosting Properties – Everyone could benefit from an immune boost. According to an article published in Family Medicine, ginger is shown to have “analgesic, sedative, antipyretic*, antibacterial, and GI tract motility effects” (http://archfami.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/7/6/523). With properties like that, it looks like eating ginger could cut down on visits to the doctor as well as the need for antibiotics. What’s more, ginger increases sweat production, which leads to detoxification as harmful toxins exit the body. But it’s still hot outside, so why would you want to sweat more? Sweating is your body’s natural cooling mechanism, and by eating foods like ginger that increase sweat production, you’re also assisting your body in keeping you cool.
  • photo_12987_20090811In the Bedroom -  Not only will ginger spice up your food, but it could also spice up your sex life. Since ginger is a spicy food, it in turn improves circulation, which then increases blood flow to the genitals. In fact, ginger has long been prescribed as a natural and powerful aphrodisiac, in both men and women. It can even aid in the treatment of male disorders such as premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.
  • Protection Against Cancer – As a powerful antioxidant, ginger can help prevent against many forms of cancer.

So now you know what ginger can do for you, but how can you can implement it more in your everyday cooking?

  • photo_119_20051002
    First, you’ll need to select and purchase it. When possible, always use in its freshest form from the produce section of the grocery store. Ginger in its powdered form may not contain as many health benefits as fresh ginger. There’s no need to make a special trip to a specialty or health food store; ginger can be found in most grocery stores.
  • Next, you’ll need to know how to store your ginger. One initial challenge you may have if you are new to ginger may be in peeling the root. However, with a little bit of patience and practice, peeling is not as hard as it seems at first. This is especially true if you cut the ginger into pieces before beginning to peel. You can then easily store your ginger in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Ginger will last quite a while, often up to a couple weeks. Still,  since it contains such a strong flavor, you may often use only a very small amount when cooking. For that reason, one root of ginger will go quite a long way. What I do to solve this problem is to either cut up the ginger into small coins or shred it, and then place it into the freezer Ginger will stay fresh for several months this way. It’s also very convenient when you’re cooking to have the ginger already peeled and cut, ready to go in your freezer. When it’s frozen, you can just use a knife to chip the ginger apart.

Now your ginger is ready to use! So what are some quick, easy ways to enjoy it?

  • photo_6286_20080611Tea – Ginger is also delicious as a tea. Take 1-2 coins of ginger and add it to your tea brew. If you use tea bags, you can just put the ginger right into your mug. then, remove it when your tea is done steeping. If you use loose tea, just add the ginger in with the tea leaves, and steep for the regular amount of time. Adding natural, raw honey compliments the ginger beautifully and adds a sweetness that can help overcome the spiciness of the ginger. This tea is an excellent tummy-soother. Although it’s spicy, I like to enjoy it right before bed. it aids in sleep because oftentimes, restlessness is caused by stomach upset. Of course, everyone is different, so use at your own discretion. Ginger tea could also make a great afternoon pick-me-up.
  • Use your creativity!  Take recipes you already know and use, and experiment. Try adding ginger to stir-fries, vegetable dishes, and meat marinades that you already know you like.

Recipes for ginger
I’ve created a healthy soup containing ginger and other ingredients which are known to combat illness. This soup offers detoxifying, antiviral, antibacterial, and other immune-boosting properties. What’s more, it can be made into a complete meal, and can even be tailored to fit various dietary needs. Leave out the meat and use chicken broth for a vegetarian treat. Leave out the honey to make it vegan.   The measurements are only suggestions; I’ve designed them to my own tastebuds. Tweak it to meet your own as well as your family’s likes and dislikes.

4 cups vegetable or organic, free range chicken broth (see convenient product suggestion below)
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/2 stalk celery, diced or chopped
1  teaspoon raw honey
2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
2 teaspoons dried parsley, or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
a couple dashes cayenne pepper
1 heaping tablespoon chopped green onion
2 cloves fresh minced garlic
1 small chicken fillet, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
ground black pepper

Pour chicken or vegetable broth into a medium sized pot. Break cinnamon stick in half and add it to the broth. Bring to a boil. Add celery, onion powder, and green onion. Cover, turn heat to medium-high, and let boil for 15 minutes. Add parsley, cayenne pepper, honey, lemon or lime, and chicken. Cook for five minutes. Add ginger and garlic, then cook for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until chicken is thoroughly cooked. Check for pinkness in the middle. Season soup with ground black pepper to taste.
Each of the ingredients included in this soup has been selected for its healing properties, making this a healthy and refreshing choice for the body all year-round. I made this soup for my roommate last year during cold season and she loved it.
Try adding brown minute rice, or cooked brown rice. Or, if your taste buds prefer, add whole or multigrain pasta.

Be creative and find new ways to enjoy ginger in foods that are already your favorite. Note, however, that the benefits described in this article come primarily from ginger in its fresh, not powdered form. In fact, there may even be adverse effects to using the powdered form. The FDA regards ginger as safe; however, very rarely, reactions such as digestive disturbances or a rash may occur in a small amount of people. Most commonly, such negative effects develop after using ginger in its powdered form. Ginger may also negatively effect people on medications such as Warfarin, or those with gallbladder disorders. Always use caution when altering your diet in any way.

Recommended Product

Cassava ChipsCassava Chips: Ginger on Fire: They might not be perfect, but these chips rate far better than regular potato chips in the health arena. They contain way more fiber, and are made from the organic cassava plant rather than potatoes. They even contain less sodium. They are a delicious compliment to a sandwich!

*something that reduces body temperature during fever

August 22, 2009 at 12:24 am 2 comments


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