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Immunity boosting recipe: Spicy Elderberry Syrup with Aronia Berries

In Northern Europe, where I’m currently based in, late August is the season for ripe elderberries. Seeing them on the path of my daily walk reminds me of the amazing health benefits of these little black berries.

Elderberries are probably best known as a remedy against influenza, but multiple studies show their benefits on the immunity system and inflammation in general [1] [2].

I’m a big fan of top-quality, ready-made elderberry syrup by Gaia, made of organic elderberries and all-natural ingredients and have been taking it for years. But more recently, I discovered that it’s super easy to make elderberry syrup at home – it’s much cheaper and even better can be upgraded with ingredients like extra spices and other superfood berries like Aronia!

Ingredients:

2 dl Dried organic elderberries
1/2 -1 Tbs Apple pectin powder. 1 Tbs gives the syrup more solid, jelly-like texture. Adjust the amount to your taste
3 Tbs Organic raw honey (can be adjusted to your taste)
800 ml Water
3 cm fresh ginger, sliced into thin slices
1 tsp Grinded allspice
1/2 dl Dried Aronia berries

Steps:

1. Place all the ingredients except the pectin and the honey in a middle-sized pot. Bring the mixture to boil.

2. Reduce the temperature to low. Let the mixture simmer for 45-60 minutes.

3. Strain the mixture through a strainer to separate the liquid from the solid.

4. Stir in the pectin. Mix well. Let the mixture cool to a body temperature.

5. Mix the honey to the mixture. Stir well to create an equal mixture.

6. Transfer the mixture to a glass bottle. Keep cold in the fridge.

[1] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11399518/
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4848651/

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Fiber-Rich Dessert Recipe: Ichigo no kanten yose (Fruity Strawberry Jelly with Agar)

Ever since I learnt the importance of dietary fiber (watch my interview with Michael Lustgarten, PhD here), I’ve been trying to increase my daily intake of both soluble and insoluble fibers. It’s not easy, though; even root vegetables like burdock, often considered one of the richest sources for fibers, contain merely six grams per 100 g, Though I do incorporate other fiber-rich foods like raw cacao beans (30 g fiber per 100 g) and chia seeds (34 g per 100 g) in my diet I am continuously looking for other easy sources for this important nutrition.

Fruity Strawberry Jelly with Agar and a raspberry twist

While reading a Japanese cooking book, I was reminded of kanten (agar), which has traditionally been used as a curdling agent. It is made of two different seaweed species; “tengusa” (Gelidiaceae) and “ogonori” (Gracilaria) to provide a perfect consistency. Both species are types of red algae and contain a very high amount of dietary fiber, a whopping 80 g per 100 g!

If you are not a regular seaweed eater, kanten may be an excellent addition to your diet; beside a high amount of fibers, seaweeds also contain various fight chemicals that possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and even anti-cancer properties.

Ingredients:

4 g Japanese kanten powder – I like this one in a ready-to-use 4 grams portion
You can replace kanten with agar like this one
3 dl Juice of strawberries – I use liquid that naturally results from thawed strawberries
2 dl distilled water
1 – 3 tsp organic raw honey

Cooking steps:

1. Put the kanten and the water into a small pot. Heat the mixture on a low-medium heat constantly stirring. Let it boil.

2. As soon as the mixture starts boiling, lower the heat to low. Keep cooking it for another 4-5 minutes constantly stirring. At this point, the kanten is completely melted and the liquid should look a little thicker than pure water.

3. Add the strawberry juice to the pan, making sure to add the juice little by little to prevent a pre-mature curdling in the pan. Turn off the heat when all the juice is added. Add the raw honey. Stir to make an even mixture.

4. Transfer the mixture into a square ramekin. Let it cool in the room temperature before transferring to the fridge.

5. It takes about one hour before the kanten solidifies.

Bon appetit. Enjoy!

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Healthy nootropic snack: Black currant gummies with powdered kava for sound sleep

I love gummy bears! They are cute and taste yummy. Homemade gummies are the best, because you can choose wholesome, healthy ingredients and avoid excessive sugar.

Kava is a plant known for its nootropic effects. There are many types of Kava, each with a unique set of effects on our body and brain. Some, like this one, are uplifting and provide a boost of energy, while others, like this one, makes you calm and relaxed. I find these gummies a perfect pre-bed snack and like to use Kava that promotes relaxation and sound sleep, but you can pick a powdered Kava of your liking for this recipe.

Ingredients:

6 Tbs Gelatin, soaked in the same amount of water (6 Tbs) at least for 10 minutes

225 g Black currant (frozen or fresh), pureed

3 dl Apple juice

3-5 Tbs Organic raw honey, adjust the amount to taste

2-4 tsp Powdered Kava

Steps:

1. Place the apple juice in a medium pan. Add the soaked gelatin. Heat the pan on a low-medium temperature until the gelatin starts to melt.

2. Once the gelatin starts to melt, turn off the heat. Continue to stir until the gelatin is completely melt.

3. Add the honey and the Kava powder. Stir until blended completely.

4. Wet the gummy mold with cold water. This makes it easier to remove the gummies from the mold. Pour the liquid into the mold.

5. Let the mold be in a fridge for 30 minutes or until the gummies are solid. Remove the gummies from the mold

Enjoy!

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Medicinal mushroom recipe: Sake no obunyaki kinoko to zakuro sosu (Baked salmon with creamy mushroom sauce and pomegranate)

The salmon, mushrooms and pomegranate are all superstars of healthy eating. The salmon is not only high in omega-3 fatty acids but also astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant, and various vitamins such as vitamin A, D, and E. The pomegranate is rich in polyphenols and the richest source for ellagic acid shown to have antioxidant and anticancer properties.

Many of the edible mushrooms are high in the immune activator beta-glucan, many of them containing 2-4 g per 100 g of the raw mushrooms. In his excellent book Eat to Beat Disease; The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself, Dr. William Li discusses edible mushrooms’ ability to activate the body’s immune defense. In addition to the beta-glucan, the oyster mushrooms (hiratake in Japanese) are a good source for all the B vitamins except for B12, vitamin D as well as potassium, containing 340 mg per 100 g.

The recipe with all the goodness of the superstar ingredients in one dish is a wonderful example that food can be medicine, and medicine can taste disguisedly delicious!

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

500 g Salmon fillet sliced into four equal portions.

300 g Mixed oyster mushrooms, shiitake, and shimeji. Feel free to replace with other types of mushrooms.

3 Garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 Tbs Finely chopped parsley

1.5 dl White wine

1.5 dl Bone broth

1.5 dl Cream (10 % fat)

1.5 Tbs Freshly squeezed lemon juice

1.5 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil

Seeds of one fresh pomegranate

Salt and white pepper

1 tsp Finely chopped fresh dill

Cooking steps:

1. Heat the oven to 175 C degree. Chop off the stems of the shiitakes. Slice all the mushrooms into 2-3 mm thin slices

2. Lightly salt both sides of the salmon fillets. Place the fillets in an oven-proof plate. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes

3. While baking the salmon, prepare the mushroom sauce. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil on a medium temperature. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté for another 6-7 minutes, continuously stirring

4. When the mushrooms are soft, add the wine and the broth. Raise the temperature to medium-high to bring the liquid to boil. Boil the mixture until the liquid is reduced to about half for 7-8 minutes, stirrings occasionally

5. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cream. Cook for 5 more minutes until the liquid has thickened to a desired, sauce-like consistence. Turn off the stove. Add the lemon juice and the parsley. Season with salt and pepper

6. Serve the salmon on the plates. Drizzle the sauce and sprinkle fresh dill on top. Sprinkle pomegranate seeds around the salmon

Bon Appetit!

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Longevity recipe: Buta no kakuni rafute fu (Okinawan-inspired braised pork)

One of the world’s seven Blue Zones, Okinawa fascinates longevity researchers, biohackers and alike who want to find the islanders’ secret recipe (pun intended) for longevity and health.

It perhaps surprises many of us that traditionally, Okinawans consume a high amount of pork, especially fatty bits like pork belly and libs. The key to making healthy dishes with these fatty parts is the elaborated cooking process, in which the meat is pre-cooked twice over a period of few hours, greatly reducing the amount of fat consumed in the final dish. The result is a mouth-meltingly tender meat with a chock-full of healthy collagen and no greasiness whatsoever.

You can use any good quality Japanese sake for this recipe. If you can get hold on the Okinawan sake awamori, it will make the tasty dish even closer to the authentic Okinawan taste experience.    

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

C:a 1 kg chunk of fatty pork part in a single piece. The belly or ribs work best. Can be with bones

5 cm Ginger. Sliced into 5 mm slices

1/2 leek. Cut into 2 cm pieces

1 dl sake. To recreate even more authentic Okinawan taste, try authentic Okinawan awamori

 1 dl high quality organic soy sauce, like this one

3 Tbs honey

Vegetables to serve with the pork, such as tomatoes, lightly cocked broccoli, and green beans

Cooking steps:

  1. In a large pot, boil an amount of water that can completely cover the piece of the pork. When the water boils, add the pork. Boil for 3 minutes until the surface of the pork is cocked and changes its color to a whitish color. Turn off the stove. Carefully remove the pork from the water. You won’t need the water, and it can be discarded
  2. Pad off the pork with a kitchen paper to dry the surface on the meat 
  3. Heat a large frying pan on a high temperature. Add the pork to lightly burn the surface. This step is to make sure to encapsulate before the pork’s umami within the meat, before the consecutive cooking
  4. In another large pot, add the pork, the ginger, and the leek. Add water to cover the content completely. Heat the pot on a high temperature until the water boils. Reduce the heat to a medium and carefully remove all foams that can appear on the surface of the water. Reduce the heat to medium-low and set the lock to the pot. Cook for 2 hours
  5. Carefully remove the pork from the pot. You can also let the pot to completely cool down before removing the pork. Discard the water. Cut the pork into 6-8 smaller pieces.
  6. In a medium pot, add the pork and water so that it completely covers the pork. Add the sake. Heat on a high temperature. Again, remove any foam that can appear on the water surface. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Set the lock of the pot and cook for 20 minutes
  7. Add the soy sauce and the honey. Cook for another one hour, until the liquid is reduced to about the half of the original amount
  8. Serve with the vegetables.

    Bon Appetit!  
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Healthy Japanese recipe: Gobou no suupu (Creamy Burdock Root Soup)

Burdock root is a much-underappreciated hero in the Japanese kitchen. Its earth-covered and long appearance may not strike as a superstar ingredient for a sophisticated dinner, but this gorgeous creamy soup will surely change your mind.

In the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) the burdock seeds are used to treat various symptoms of infection and inflammation. The root is rich in the water-soluble fiber inulin, and 100 g of burdock root contain about 4 g of this beneficial fiber.

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

400 g Burdock roots

120 g Leek, sliced into 5 mm

1 Medium potato. Sliced into 5 mm

1 Garlic clove, thinly sliced

4 dl Broth of your choice. Bone, chicken, vegetable broths all work well

2-3 Bay leaves

4 dl Milk. If vegetarian, you can replace it with coconut milk

1 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

Red chili pepper flakes

You will also need 1 Tbs of Japanese rice vinegar for preventing sliced burdock roots from oxidating

Cooking steps:

  1. Before peeling the burdock roots, prepare the vinegar water to put the sliced roots in. This prevents the burdock roots from oxidizing and changing their color into brown. In a bowl, mix 5 dl of water with the Japanese rice vinegar. Set aside
  2. Wash the burdock roots and peel the skin to reveal the white part inside. Slice into 5 mm thin slices and place into the rice vinegar water immediately to prevent oxidization
  3. In a medium pot, heat the olive oil on a medium heat. Add the leek and garlic stirring constantly.
  4. Transfer the burdock roots to a strainer to strain the water. When the leek and garlic are fragrant, add the burdock roots and potato and continue stirring for another few minutes
  5. Add the broth and the bay leaves. Cover the pot with the lid. Lower the temperature to low and cook for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Take out the bay leaves
  6. Transfer the content of the pot to a blender. Blend until smooth
  7. Transfer the content in the blender back to the pot. Add the milk. Season with salt and pepper. Heat for few minutes until the soup is warm stirring continuously
  8. Serve in bowls. Decorate with a pinch of red chili pepper flakes

    Bon Appetit!

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Medicinal mushroom recipe: Shiitake iri Yasai no Grill (Grilled vegetables with shiitake mushroom on raspberry balsamic sauce)

A quintessential ingredient in the Japanese cuisine, shiitake is found in a wide variety of dishes – soups, stir-fries, rice dishes, and others. Both fresh and dried shitakes are available, and the latter is used to make broths.

Lovers of health eating will find many reasons to enjoy these delicious mushrooms often; eritadenine, a compound uniquely found in shiitake, can improve blood lipids (cholesterols) and lower blood pressure. They are also high in fibre, and 100 g of dried shiitakes contain a whopping 42 g of both water-soluble and water-insoluble fibres. Finally, shiitake is a decent source for a provitamin ergosterol that gets converted into vitamin D by UV lights. How wonderful that we can get in ourselves all these goodies while enjoying the delicious dish!

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

8 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems chopped off and sliced into half

1 small zucchini, cut into 1 cm slices

2 medium potatoes, cut into 5 mm slices

1 medium onion, sliced into 6-7 mm slices

12 cherry tomatoes, cut into half

200 g sweet potato, Japanese kabocha, or squash, sliced into 3 mm slices

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

[Raspberry Balsamic Sauce]

4 Tbs Extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbs Balsamic vinegar

50 g of fresh or frozen raspberries, pureed

Salt and black pepper to taste

Cooking steps:

1. Turn on the oven to 175 C degrees

2. Place the shiitakes, potatoes, zucchini, onion, sweet potato, cherry tomatoes in a heat-resistant form. Distribute the sliced garlics evenly. Drizzle the olive oil on the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper

3. Place the form in the oven and grill for 20-40 minutes depending on the choice of vegetables or until the vegetables are done

4. In a small bowl mix all the ingredients for the Raspberry Balsamic Sauce

5. Smear half of the sauce equally on the plates. Place the vegetables on top of the sauce. Drizzle the rest of the sauce equally on the vegetables.

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Medicinal mushroom recipe: Gomokugohan (Cooked rice with vegetables, mushroom, and chicken)

Cooked rice with different toppings, gomokugohan in Japanese, (means “rice with five toppings”) is a delicious way to incorporate different medicinal mushrooms in your diet.

Like other mushrooms shimejis are high in fibre and contain both water-soluble and water-insoluble fibres. The former forms gel-like substance in the gut and helps to regulate bowl movements. There are different varieties of shimejis, and bunashimejis, most common kind of shimejis available in Japan, typically contain 3.7 g of fibre per 100g. They also contain a decent amount of potassium (380 mg/100 g), vitamin B1 (0.16 mg/100g) and vitamin B2 (0.16 mg/100 g).

In Japan shimejis are known for their ornithine content, a amino acid-like molecule that studies show to help with physical recovery, such as exercise fatigue. Many popular energy drinks in Japan contain ornithine for this reason. But who needs a supplement when you can get it in this delicious and healthy recipe!

Serving: 6-8

Ingredients:

3.5 dl Rice. Japanese sticky rice works best but you can use other types as well such as basmati

[Toppings]

70 g Burdock

1 small Carrot, cut into 5 mm x 1.5 cm sticks

100 g shimeji, chop off the cups

100 g Maitake, shop off the cups and chop into 1 cm cubes

200 g Chicken thigh file, chopped into 1 cm cubes

4 dl Dashi (Japanese bouillon). If you are unfamiliar, see the tip below

2 Tbs Mirin, see tip below

2.5 Tbs Soy sauce

Cooking Steps:

1. If using Japanese rice (sticky, short and round kind), rinse it with water several times. After rinsing, let the rice stay on a strainer to strain excess water.

2. Peel the burdock. Make the peeled burdock into thin strips using a peeler. The strips should be thin like peeled vegetable skin and about 2-3 cm long.

3. Pour the dashi, mirin, and soy sauce in a medium pot. Add the chicken cubes, burdock strips, carrot sticks, shimeji and maitake. Cook on a medium heat. When it starts boiling, lower the temperature to low medium. Continue to cook for about 7 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Strain the mix saving the liquid.

4. To another medium-size pot transfer the rice and add the topping mixture. Add 4.5 dl of the cooking liquid. Put the lid on the pot.

5. Cook the pot on a low temperature for 3 minutes. Then raise the temperature to high, allowing the liquid to boil. When the pot start steaming, lower the heat to medium so that

the pot is constantly steaming for about 5 minutes. When the liquid has almost disappeared, lower the temperature to low and continue to cook for 5 more minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated.

6. Let the rice to set in the steamy pot for about 5 minutes. This step is called murasu in Japanese.

7. Serve and enjoy!

Tips:

Dashi: there are different varieties of dashi, and the most common ones are katsuodashi made with flakes of dried bonito fish, niboshidashi, made with dried small sardines, and kombudashi, made with kombu seaweed. For this recipe I recommend kombudashi, as its mild taste is a perfect fit to the rice. To made kombudashi, put a 5×5 cm piece of kombu into 4 dl of water. Let it soak for 2-3 hours and then heat the water but avoid boiling. Take out the kombu, and you have the dashi you need for the recipe.

Mirin: if you don’t have mirin you can substitute it with a 50:50 blend of sake and honey. Blend 1 Tbs of sake with 1 Tbs of honey to substitute for the mirin in this recipe