Listing all posts from March of 2011. Show all posts.
  1. What is your body craving right now?

    As we are moving into spring, leafy greens take center stage in my kitchen. I just love them so much – I want to eat them every day. Leafy greens are the most nutrition-filled land vegetables. As the green part of the plant, they contain chlorophyll, a pigment they use to capture sunlight and form oxygen. Leaves are, in essence, the lungs of the plant, and consuming them brings energy to our own lungs. 

    You will feel a burst of energy within minutes of eating greens. If you make them a regular part of your diet, they will uplift your spirits and infuse you with potent sun energy. Green is the color of spring, of renewal, of hope, of the heart chakra. No wonder green leafy vegetables have such positive effects on us.

    On a nutritional level, leafy greens provide us with an abundance of minerals, vitamins and other valuable substances: iron (the darker the green, the more iron), calcium (Where do cows get the calcium to make milk? From the green grass!), magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, zinc and vitamins A, C, E and K. Leafy greens also deliver fiber, folic acid and, of course, chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll nourishes the friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, thus promoting healthy intestinal flora, strengthening immunity and preventing cancer.

    Leafy greens have cleansing properties, helping to support liver and kidney function. The bitter-tasting leafy greens, such as watercress, dandelion, arugula and broccoli rabe, are great liver tonics. All leafy greens are excellent blood purifiers, and they improve circulation. They help reduce mucus and clear congestion, especially in the lungs.

    Please be aware of two cautions regarding leafy greens:

    --Beet greens, Swiss chard and spinach contain oxalic acid, which can leach calcium out of our bones and teeth. Eat these in moderation and combine them with other calcium-rich foods such as legumes, dairy and fish.

    -- Vitamin K-containing foods such as leafy greens should be eaten sparingly by people who take the blood-thinning medication warfarin (commonly known as Coumadin), which prevents blood clots by blocking the action of vitamin K. Because leafy greens are an abundant source of vitamin K, eating them can undermine the drug’s protection against blood clots.

    Leafy greens are easy and quick to prepare. The most time-consuming part of preparation is washing the greens. I recommend that you fill your sink with cold water, cut the greens into pieces that suit your recipe and submerge them in the water. With your hands, move the greens about to dislodge any earth or sand particles. If you find a lot of debris at the bottom of your sink, repeat the procedure.

    After washing the greens, place them in a colander to drain. It is good to leave a little water on the leaves, as it provides some steaming action during cooking.

    You can steam, boil or sauté greens. Save any cooking liquid to enjoy as a soothing and alkalizing drink. The cooking time for leafy greens is very brief—anywhere from two to five minutes. Always keep a watchful eye—the brightness of the green color will give you a clue as to when they are ready. When the color turns a more vibrant green, that is your signal to check whether they are done. If you cook them for too long, their color changes to olive green and they lose both visual appeal and flavor. Once they turn bright green and are ready, serve them right away, unless you plan to use them in a salad—you would then rinse them in cold water at that point to stop the cooking process.

    When serving greens to my guests, I complete all preparations beforehand, but I don’t actually cook the greens until right then and there—while my guests are sitting at the dining table. There is nothing more delicious than freshly cooked greens that have been prepared just a minute ago.

    When preparing greens, use some form of oil or fat, whether in the cooking process or drizzled over the finished dish, as this will help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, E and K.  Squeezing a little lemon or lime juice or white balsamic vinegar over the dish will help to pull more calcium out of the greens.

    When buying greens, make sure they are fresh. Do not buy greens that are limp or have turned yellow—you do not want any wilted energy in your body! And try to use them the same day you purchase them or the day after. Unlike other vegetables, greens do not keep well in the refrigerator for more than a few days. So before refrigerating them, I cut off the ends of the stems and place them upright in a tall container of water. The stems draw in the water and keep the leaves strong and firm.

  2. Demystifying fats and oils, part two

    Why can only certain fats be used in cooking, meaning heated to high temperatures?

    Why should others only be used unheated?

    Our main concern when it comes to consuming fats and oils is rancidity. Some oils are more prone to rancidity than others. The deciding factor is the chemical makeup of a particular oil or fat.

    The building blocks of fats are called fatty acids. They come in three forms: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

    The saturated fatty acids are straight chains of carbon atoms with two hydrogen atoms attached to each. Because of their straight shape, the chains pack together well and form a semisolid consistency at room temperature. Butter, ghee (pure milk fat, also called clarified butter), lard (from pork), tallow (from beef), coconut oil and palm oil consist predominantly of saturated fatty acids. These are very stable and do not become rancid easily. They can be heated to high temperatures without a compromise in quality. They can be used for cooking, baking, sautéing, and with the exception of butter, frying. Butter, because it is not pure fat, is not well suited for frying—its lactose and protein particles tend to burn and turn black rapidly. Ghee, on the other hand, because it is pure milk fat, does work well for frying. For the same reason, ghee is suitable for those with lactose intolerance. But regular butter is fine when heated in gentler ways. It is an especially good compliment with steamed vegetables—add some at the end of the cooking process to ensure absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and enhance taste. 

    The monounsaturated fatty acids have one double bond between two carbon atoms, leaving the two double-bonded atoms with only one hydrogen atom each and causing a bend in the chain. Because of this bend, monounsaturated fatty acids do not pack together as well as the saturated ones. They become liquid at room temperature and remain solid only when refrigerated. Olive oil is the most commonly used oil that consists of mainly monounsaturated fatty acids, but almond, avocado, cashew, macadamia, peanut and canola (or rapeseed) oils are monounsaturated as well. These fatty acids are fairly stable and are therefore suited for cooking, baking and sautéing.

    The polyunsaturated fatty acids have two or more double bonds—two or more bends—which means their molecular structure resembles that of a semicircle. They do not pack well together at all and are therefore liquid even when refrigerated. Common oils with high polyunsaturated fatty acid content are made from corn, flaxseeds, grape seeds, pumpkin seeds, safflower seeds, soybeans, sunflower seeds, walnuts, wheat germ and sesame seeds.

    Rancidity is the main problem with all polyunsaturated fatty acids. Light, air, and heat affect their freshness and quality. Therefore, oils containing predominantly polyunsaturated fatty acids should never be heated or used in cooking. They can be used in cold dressings or sprinkled over cooked food when served. They should always be kept in the refrigerator.

    Polyunsaturated fatty acids fall into two main groups: omega 3 and omega 6. These names reflect the location of the first double-bond at either the third or sixth position in the chain. Omega 3 is very reactive and goes rancid particularly easily.

    Omega 3 and 6 are called essential fatty acids because our bodies cannot manufacture them and we need to get them from food. Most of the polyunsaturated oils have larger amounts of omega 6 than omega 3. Flaxseed is the exception, with a higher proportion of omega 3. When it comes to the balance between omega 3 and omega 6, the best ratio for human consumption is 1:2. Too much omega 6 can lead to inflammation and blood clotting. Omega 3, on the other hand, is anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning. Because of the recent overemphasis on polyunsaturated oils, many people are consuming too much omega 6 and are in need of omega 3 to return to a place of balance—hence the popularity of flaxseed oil and omega 3 fish oil.

    Now that you have an understanding as to which oils are predominantly saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated—and you can always check the proportion of each by reading the package label—you know which oils are suitable for cooking and which are to be used only cold: use saturated oils and fats, such as ghee, lard, coconut oil and palm kernel oil for cooking at high temperatures, use monounsaturated oils, such as olive oil, almond oil and peanut oil for light cooking like sautéing and baking and use polyunsaturated oils, such as pumpkin seed oil, sunflower seed oil and walnut oil cold in dressings or sprinkled over your cooked food as you serve it.

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