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Monday, December 30, 2013

What it was and what it will be...

I can't believe it's that time of the year again! Last January I wrote here about my thoughts, predictions and hopes for the health food trends of 2013. I was just re-reading,  and I must admit, I was pretty much on the money...Here are my reflections of the past year and what I think is coming ahead:

1. If the theory of Evolution is right, the newer generations will not grow teeth. We're not chewing any more!!! Between the Vitamixes and all the other power blenders of the world, the smoothie and juice joints and services, the ubiquitous frozen yogurt places,* the fancy nut and seed butters, and all those squeezable pureed foods that started for babies and now make products for every age, we can seriously let go of our pearly whites. Why don't we want to chew any more? Is this the New Fast Food? What do you think?

Displaying photo.JPG  
*According to my observation-based pseudo scientific research, there are now more froyo stores in Manhattan than nail salons, and that's a pretty shocking stat!!!

2. Sorry, but not only gluten is out, but grains (and sugar...duhhhh) in general are being blamed for causing a lot of disease. In his best selling book Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers, neurologist David Perlmutter, MD holds grains responsible for a lot of our current scariest diseases such as dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, etc. Just add this to the highly popular Primal/Paleo diet and digestive SCD and GAPS protocols, and the picture isn't looking that bright for whole grains.This means good news for nuts and seeds used ground as flour substitutes, and I foresee an abuse on those too until they are blamed for something else. I'm not ready to bid farewell completely to my whole grains yet, but if I owned Kellogg's stock, I would sell (although I should keep at food/nutrition advice and avoid financial ones that I don't really understand).

Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar—Your Brain's Silent Killers

3. The "it" cuisines are from the South. All the way down to the Andes and the Amazon (the region, not the estore, although I'm sure that's where you can purchase the majority of the ingredients). Peru is the place to go and to purchase from. It started with quinoa, but it hasn't stopped there. Inca superfoods like maca, lucuma and camu-camu and the sweetener yacon are going to keep making their way into our hearts (via smoothies), and I'm betting on kaniwa to become the newest it grain (which is actually a seed). I just hope we get to do it through fair trading and the locals getting something worth in exchange, as we've already taken all their quinoa...According to Vogue, "the latest detox vacations are taking place not only off the beaten track but well above it," with high altitude treks on the Inca Trail. The other place whose ingredients we'll keep getting to know is Brazil. This huge country (which is actually hosting back to back the World Cup and the Olympics, so we'll be learning a lot about it via the media) has unbelievable produce, many with incredible nutritional value that has only been started to get promoted in these latitudes. We already know about acai, but I believe produce with rhythmic names like umbu (high in disease preventing polyphenols), pitanga (with suggested anticancer and anti inflammatory properties), caju and many others, will eventually make it into the American market, labeled as superfoods. Award winning chef, Alex Atala recently published D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients, a beautiful coffee table book with foods you didn't even know existed. It's a wonderful eye candy (I wouldn't even dream attempting any of the recipes) and introduction into the exotic foods of Brazil.  
Image from D.O.M.: Rediscovering Brazilian Ingredients (caju)

4. The "it" sweetener is now yacon syrup, which is extracted from the yacon tuber from...Where else? Peru. I had been wanting to write about it for many months, but Dr. Oz had it on his show before I got to do my post, and by highlighting some weight-loss properties from the sweetener, the already hard-to-find syrup, completely vanished from the shelves and the web (unless you're willing to pay like $40.00 plus shipping for a minuscule amount). Yacon is low glycemic, tastes like a cross between molasses and maple syrup, has 50% less calories than sugar, and it's highly concentrated in inulin--a type of fiber that breaks down into fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are prebiotics (feed the good gut bacteria). Yacon contains potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and some amino acids. Just a warning (if you are ever able to get a hold of it): that same wonderful inulin, is also present in Jerusalem artichokes (which I love), and if you've ever had those, you might have realized that they can make you really gassy. So no yacon syrup before a business meeting or a first date! 

5. Cultured foods--My most fave topic, so I'll try to keep it short. For a longer spiel, read here. Although there's much more research to be done ahead, keeping out gut microorganisms happy and abundant is essential for good health, not only digestive, but general health, from brain to skin. Small pickling shops have been popping up everywhere in Manhattan, and that is a fabulous trend. When purchasing sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, or any other pickled vegetables, look for unpasteurized ones that have no vinegar (both kill those bacteria that we need to eat/drink) and no preservatives nor other artificial additives. Dairy kefir and water kefir have been increasing in the market as well, which is excellent news (especially for my son, whose main source of food is kefir). However, my strongest bet goes to COYO. What? You might ask...It stands for coconut yogurt. Made by pureeing (again, the trend I listed under 1.) the meat and water of fresh coconuts and then culturing the blend with yogurt or kefir cultures (microorganisms), slightly sweetened and some times even flavored, I expect to start seeing it EVERYWHERE within the next year. 
Young Coconut Yogurt
Recipe and image from:

6. Despite Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to forbid the sale of gigantically-huge-humongous sweetened drinks--that are undeniably bad for anyone--the industry seems to be getting it its way. But not without a fight. I applaud The New York City Health Department's TV and subways placard ad campaign against soda, sports drinks, teas and energy drinks.It's just so easy to inadvertently gulp down huge amounts of sugar without even noticing. I'm glad they are trying to educate people about it!

7. BPA-free canning. Eden organic has been doing it for a while with their beans, but other food companies such as Crown Prince Natural (canned wild fish) and Farmer's Market (vegetable purees) are joining in lining their cans BPA-free. What is BPA? Short for bisphenol A is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1960s. BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic containers (often used for storing food and beverages) and epoxy resins are used to coat the inside of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops and water supply lines.Research has shown that BPA can seep into food or beverages. Exposure to BPA is a concern due to possible health effects on the brain, behavior and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children and fertility issues in adults.Therefore, it's a good thing that if you consume canned products and/or use plastic containers, that you purchase the ones labled BPA-free.

8. It's been a juicy year for celebrity chef scandals. I guess it all comes with the territory, however, I do  hope Nigella Lawson goes to rehab, puts her personal and professional lives back together and keeps showing up on TV and writing wonderful cookbooks that turn recipes into experiences I want to go through. I can't help it, ever since How To Be A Domestic Goddess many years ago, I've been a big fan. 

9. "Healthy Eating" is IN and vegetables are cool. The once-blah-now-superhip Bon Appetit magazine has done a great job promoting them. 
food lovers cleanse main
Photo by Carin Olsson for Bon Appetit

10. Here, here and here are some lists of the best cookbooks of 2013. However, the ones I personally used the most are:
-Gwyneth's It's All Good
-Kim Kushner's The Modern Menu
-Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (although this book was a re-launch not really a 2013 release) 
- Estee Kafra's Cooking Inspired



 I keep getting requests on how to make nut and seed mylks such as almond, hemp, cashew, etc. You can basically turn any seed or nut, even coconut (either dry or fresh young)--although not chia seed-- into "mylk" by pureeing it with water, and passing the mixture through a sieve. You can flavor it with spices and sweeten it (I like making mine with dates). By making your own mylk, you avoid any harmful additives such as carrageenan, and others that are common in most milk alternatives. There are endless possibilities, my favorite proportions are:

2 cups organic raw nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil, macadamia, hazelnuts, unsweetened shredded coconut, etc) or seeds (pumpkin, hemp, sunflower seeds, sesame, etc)
4 cups water (plus more for soaking the nuts and rehydrating dates)
10 pitted dates (or raw honey, yacon or pure maple syrup or coconut nectar)
1 vanilla bean (or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, but I recommend the bean)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Optional: mesquite flour, ground cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, ground ginger

  • Place the nuts/seeds in a container and cover them with fresh water by 2 inches. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If using cashews, soak between 2 and 4 hours. In a separate container, soak dates in water overnight.
  • Drain nuts and dates and rinse them in fresh water. 
  • Place nuts, dates and 4 cups fresh water in a blender and blend until smooth. Time will depends on your blender.
  • Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds with the back of a knife into the nut/seed-water mixture. Add salt and spices, if using, and blend again.
  • Set a large bowl with a fine mesh strainer/sieve on top* and pour the blended liquid into the strainer, pressing with the back of a spoon to extract more liquid. 
*If you want a completely smooth mylk, line the strainer with cheese cloth.

  • Voila! Refrigerate and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sea Veggies:

You have to live under a rock not to notice the invasion of sea vegetable snacks of the past couple of years. They come nicely packaged, and moms allover are thrilled to feed them to their children en lieu of potato chips and other crunchy, uber-processed snacks. 

I will first disclose that I've never purchased any, as none of the brands are kosher certified --the only explanation I found for the need of certification in sea vegetables, is that some times, the seaweed sheets can have tiny parts of sea horses pressed into them--but I'm sure a kosher manufacturer is looking into it in China as I write. However, I do feed seaweed snacks to my kids. I just make them myself at home, and I'm happy to keep preparing them, as I know exactly what goes into the treat (and they only take minutes).

Let's first talk a bit about seaweed, algae or sea vegetables. The foremost thing to keep in mind is that you should buy them in organic form--or at least know their place of origin--as you've probably heard  how polluted with heavy metals our oceans are, and that's exactly where sea vegetables grow. Organic certification ensures that the sea vegetable is either "farmed" in a closely-monitored, contained water environment; or that it's harvested in the wild, but in a region where the water is better protected against pollutants. 

Now...why on Earth would you want to eat algae? 

Well, they have the richest concentration of minerals of anything that's edible, as they absorb all the ones present in the ocean. They also have a great variety of phytochemicals, and a special kind--called fucoidans--that's unique to them and has anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and cardiovascular benefits; they also contain other unique types of antioxidants. They are an excellent source of iodine (therefore they are good for our thyroid) and vitamin K. They are a good source of some B vitamins, magnesium, iron, calcium, vitamin C (which is a perfect pairing with its iron content for digestibility) and E. 
Some seaweeds are also very rich in Omega 3 fatty acids (that's where fish get them from!). Sea vegetables also contain vanadium, which may play an important role in blood glucose regulation. Sea vegetables also have cholesterol-lowering effects, and this may play a role in decreasing the risk for some estrogen-related cancers (such as breast cancer). Besides thyroid benefits, it's been suggested that sea vegetables are good for our immune system, and our adrenal glands.
Some sources indicate that sea vegetables help our bodies detoxify from heavy metals, environmental pollutants and carcinogenic substances (although more research is needed in this area).

Culinary speaking, sea vegetables are a typical ingredient in Asian cuisines, especially Japanese. However, they've been consumed by most societies in coastal areas, from New Zealand, to South America, to Ireland. They have a rich umami flavor, which can make them a great ally in the kitchen to add some "deliciousness" to dishes, and which may explain why we love sea weed chips, sushi and miso soup so much!
Seaweed is classified into categories by color, and that's how we get brown, red or green algae.

The following are my favorite (and easier to find at health food stores and online, with kosher certification) kinds of sea vegetables:

Nori: this is the one in sushi. It's sold as squares (although it doesn't grow like that. It's a mixture of red seaweeds that are pressed together and dried). You can find it toasted (dark green) or untoasted (almost black), and you'd need to toast it before using it: 6 to 7 minutes in a 350 F preheated oven does the trick. You can use it to wrap virtually any food. The untoasted one is the right one for making chips, and you will season the nori before toasting it. 

- Kombu: A brown algae that's great for making soup. It imparts its umami flavor and releases many minerals into the stock. Throw a piece of dried kombu into the pot when cooking beans or chickpeas or other hard-to-digest vegetables, as kombu makes them more digestable. You can remove it after 20 minutes and the food will be infused with flavor, minerals and its nutrients will be more available to you body. 

-Wakame:  It looks a bit similar to kombu, and it's one of the highest sources of vegetarian omega-3s.If you've ever had miso soup, the green leaves floating in it along with the tofu are wakame. To prepare it, soak it in cold water for 5 minutes. Remove, slice (removing tough stems, if any) and add it into soups, stews, or grains. It goes really well with citrus and acid, in general. Wakame can be roasted until brown and crispy and can be used crumbled as a seasoning, the way you'd use salt.

-Arame: Also a brown algae. It has a mild flavor (therefore a great one to start if you've never had seaweed) and is usually sold as strands. You can just soak it in cold water for 5 minutes, drain and throw it into salads, saute with vegetables or cook it along in soups after soaking. Boil it for 10 minutes and add it to marinated dishes.



-Nori sheets (as many as you need), not toasted

-Expeller pressed olive, coconut or grape seed oil spray (or oil and a pastry brush) OR
honey, coconut nectar or maple syrup dissolved in water, so they are not as sticky

Toppings: fine sea salt, spices, nutritional yeast, dry herbs, unsweeted coconut shreds, sesame, chia, hemp, poppy seeds, citrus zest, honey, coconut nectar or maple syrup (dissolved in water)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a (or 2) rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. 

2. Place as many nori sheets as you can fit in one layer on the baking sheet(s). Lightly* spray (or brush) nori on one side with oil or dissolved liquid sweetener.

3. Sprinkle with topping and bake for 6 to 7 minutes, until nori changes from black to dark green. Cool and enjoy.

*Lightly is the key word. You don't want it soggy.

Some suggested combinations:
-Olive oil + nutritional yeast + chipotle powder or smoked paprika
-Coconut nectar + coconut shreds+ sea salt + hemp seeds
-Olive oil + sumac + garlic powder + lemon zest