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Monday, May 21, 2012

Immunity

Well, just to corroborate the very deep philosophy discussed in my last post, something else happened to me twice during the week (nope, no wrong buses, missed appointments nor olive oil cake): I got pretty sick at the beginning of the week, and once I felt fine, I caught something else by the weekend (yes, that's why you hadn't heard from me...).
The first session was food poisoning, and both, my husband and I got the bug. I suspect it was the filling of our bagel store sandwiches. Thankfully, kids were safe, as they opted for what ended up being a very healthy slice of pizza, given the state of their parents 4 hours post lunch...
I'm sure you're dying to learn the details and intricacies of our adventure, but sorry, we'll keep those precious memories to ourselves...
Two days later, as my body had apparently recovered completely and I was eating normal (well, yes, my crazy foods, but normally...), I caught a respiratory infection that shoot me straight back into bed. It wasn't anything really serious, which I'm thankful for, but I felt achy, whiny, exhausted and completely depleted of livelihood. The doctor ended up prescribing antibiotics, which worked their magic, even if I usually use them as a last resort.
I think my immune system was a bit off after the food poisoning episode, and that's why the infection became so aggressive. The lovely week served me as inspiration, as these days, I've been putting all my culinary energy into immunity-enhancing foods.
Of course I had my fail-proof chicken soup, there's no scientific question about its effectiveness. But there are other foods that are great to prevent and fight disease, and those are the ones I will be cooking with for the weeks to come.
Basically, our immune system gets a boost with certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, D and E and minerals like zinc. There are also compounds, such as glutamine and glutathione, curcumin, allicin and many other phytochemicals that can help us prevent and fight disease through many different mechanisms. The main secret is to eat all of them, as their characteristics synergize, and that's when cooking does its magic. Some ingredients may have substances that make other ingredients' nutrients more available, or they may complement it. And that's when consuming real foods as opposed to supplements makes a huge difference. 
Experts suggest different foods, but there are some that have been proven over and over to help keep our bodies stay free of illness or get rid of them faster.
As I mentioned above, chicken soup is definitely one of them, zinc rich foods: meats, asparagus, mushrooms, sesame and pumpkin seeds are great sources of this mineral, which are necessary for the production of white blood cells, our body's army against virus, bacteria and other invaders. 
Garlic (especially raw, is the best source of phytochemical super star allicin), tea (either green or black, contains an amino acid that stimulates the production of virus-fighting compounds), orange-colored vegetables and fruits (rich in beta carotene, which transforms into vitamin A. This vitamin is indispensable to keep skin healthy, and skin is the first defense-barrier of our bodies. Carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe are great sources of the nutrient). Mushrooms, besides being a great source of zinc, mushrooms increase production and activity of white blood cells, especially Asian mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake. Oats and barley contain beta-glucan, a specific type of fiber that has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Sardines and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon and mackerel) are anti-inflammatory and can increase airflow and protect our lungs from respiratory infections. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of disease fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants such as vitamin C. Herbs and spices, besides adding lots of flavor, are great concentrated sources of immune-strenghtening substances, such as curcumin in turmeric, capsaicin in peppers, gingerol and shoagol in ginger, and  phenolic acids and flavonoids in oregano and thyme, among many others.
Last, but not least, fermented foods are the best sources of PROBIOTICS, which are live active organisms (such as healthy yeast and bacteria) that keep our intestinal tract free of germs that cause disease. Yogurt (beware of "yogurt" products that are really more dessert than yogurt), kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut with "live active cultures" are great additions into our diet to help prevent disease (more on those next post).

FRIED BARLEY WITH ASIAN MUSHROOMS
This recipe was obviously inspired by Chinese fried rice. I used very little oil, lots of in-season vegetables, especially Asian mushrooms, to take advantage of all their goodness (both nutritional and umami), and cooked barley instead of rice, to benefit from the beta-glucan in the grain. The egg, which is optional, adds some protein and a nice variety of vitamins and minerals. I sliced the garlic and cooked it all very fast over high heat to try to keep as much allicin as possible (this compound is sensitive to temperature, so it's better to eat it as raw as possible). It ended up being very flavorful, comforting and hopefully, our immune system will be super strong now...
This recipe serves 2, but by all means, scale it for as many people you want.
To cook barley, just simmer 1 cup barley (I only found pearled barley, but buy the unrefined kind if you can) in 3 cups water for 1 1/4 hours.  

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegetarian (contains eggs, soy and gluten), nut, wheat and dairy free
  • Full of immune-boosting super ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large organic egg, lightly beaten (optional)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (organic)
1 (2-inch long) piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 small (or 1 large) organic carrots, diced
7 asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch long pieces
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into quarters
3.5 ounces maitake mushrooms, tough stem removed
2 cups cooked barley
Soy or tamari sauce, to taste

PROCEDURE
Drizzle 2 teaspoons of oil on a heavy 10-inch saucepan or wok and place over high heat. Once oil is hot, add egg and cook until set, about 1 minute. Transfer egg to a plate and slice it it while garlic and ginger cook.

Add 2 more teaspoons of oil and stir fry the garlic and ginger until golden, but not browned, about 1 minute. Add in carrots, asparagus and mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes, until mushrooms soften a bit, adding more oil if needed.

Add in barley and stir fry it with the vegetables for 1 minute. Return cooked egg into pan and add 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Taste and add more if needed.


Serve or let cool and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Serves 2.

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