The Teacup Chronicles

Month: June, 2010

Turmeric Popcorn with Seaweed-Nettle Gomasio and Ghee Drizzle

Today is the type of day that you find yourself needing, “a little smackeral of something,” as the wise and noble Pooh bear said. Yes, there are those few glory be-speckled days where you crave carrot sticks and sprouts and feel like hiking up a mountain to unwind, but today is not one. Today is the type of gray, wet, excruciatingly drawn out sort of day that you find yourself trying to put on the sweat pants before you even get through the door after work and want nothing more than to plant yourself on the couch with a pint of ice-cream in one hand and a book full of dark and cynical humor in the other. If someone were to mention that you at one time thought hiking up a mountain was great fun, you would contemptuously chortle (yes chortle) and quickly implant a book between yourself and the face of the person who had suggested something so ridiculous.

So, when I have a day like this, I know that there isn’t going to be any snacking on cold vegetable sticks or yoga marathons, but at least I can try to save myself from the dark abyss of total indulgence. I make  popcorn, and not just any popcorn – popcorn embellished with the guise of health and a good helping of melted ghee.  It is a delicious bargain with myself, a choice of lesser evils, and a glorious trick on the part of my brain that directs me to consume junk food against my better judgement. And, it satisfies in a way that doesn’t make me cringe several hours later when I’ve awoken from my sugar induced coma. In fact, it actually makes you feel good about yourself – which is saying a lot for junk food.

First, you must put on a Jolie Holland record – her voice is sufficiently melancholy and dragging in husky notes of realism  yet somehow uplifting and wholesome. You feel satisfied in your need to wallow in the murkiness of your spirit while not weighted down by it. It’s quite perfect.

Next, you put the kettle on (when its raining and gray and indescribably chilly for being 65 degrees it seems appropriate to feign Britishness), because a good cup of strong black tea can cure nearly anything according to the British Grandmother that I wish I had. (A strange tangential note – if your relatives don’t quite live up to your expectations, just invent them and put invented words in their mouths. No one will know the difference and eventually you won’t either).

While your tea is steeping to reach the sufficient blackness of your spirit and mood, make the gamasio (note: if you aren’t a health obsessed foodie like myself, you will need to stock your kitchen ahead of time with these ingredients so that when a popcorn day hits, you will be prepared). Heat a small skillet on medium heat and add a good handful each of sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. Stir them frequently until they begin to take on a toasty golden hue and smell delicious. Pour the seeds into a bowl and let cool a moment, then add them to a spice grinder with a few tablespoons of course sea salt. Pulse it a few times to very coarsely break things up, then pour into a jar with a good handful of dulse, wakame or kelp flakes and a few tablespoons of dried nettle leaf. Mix it all together well and taste for salt content, adding more if you deem necessary.

Now,  put a pan on the burner. Add a few heaped spoonfuls of ghee, and 1-2 tsp of turmeric or curry powder and let the powder dissolve into the ghee, stirring occasionally. When you splash a drop of water in and it sizzles, you know you’re ready for action.

Add a good handful or two of popcorn. I tend to sway towards the one handful arena, because with popcorn, a person generally doesn’t stop until the bowl is empty. Your brain won’t notice much in the difference between 4 and 12 cups of popcorn besides a slight time difference in reaching the bottom of the bowl. If you’re in such a mood that you actually feel like sharing, then make enough for everyone to have their own bowl (trust me, the fight for those last salty dregs at the bottom of the bowl won’t be pretty). If you’re not in the sharing mood, that’s just fine too.

Shake the pan around a bit to coat the kernels in the oil spice mix, then put the cover on. While you wait for the pop pop pop to begin, sit and think amount about how healthy your snack will be. For one, popcorn is mostly just air and some fiber. Each cup provides a scant 55 calories and a gram of fiber (4% of your daily intake for an average person).  But the popcorn is really just the vehicle for the anti-inflammatory turmeric, nutrient dense gomasio and healthy fats of the ghee and pumpkin seeds. Turmeric, as you may have heard, is a great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It has been found to protect against cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The seaweed and nettles are nutrient dense and boost your mineral and vitamin intake for the day, providing you with B vitamins, iron, calcium, magnesium, and hard to get trace minerals like chromium and zinc that will make almost every part of your body (from bones and skin to your nerves) happy. The pumpkin and sesame seeds also boost your zinc intake, as well as your calcium, iron and magnesium, and provide healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids.

Shake the pan around a few times when you start hearing the popping. Every few moments or so, give the pan a rigorous jerk pack and forth to be sure that those delicate white kernels aren’t burning. Once the popping begins to slow to an occasional pop-pop rather than a steady beat of popping, shake the pan one last time and turn off  the heat, letting it stand for a few moments to give an opportunity to those last few late bloomers.

Pour the popcorn in a large bowl. Now, take a good spoonful of ghee and drizzle it over the popcorn. In case the idea of slathering your popcorn in ghee seems like it might spoil the healthful guise I’ve created, refer back to me ghee post. Ghee is full of good fats, lacks the irritating proteins and sugars found in milk and butter, and is chocked full of antioxidants. Drizzle on a little more for good measure…yum.

Now, liberally sprinkle your gomasio mix over the popcorn, adding a good size handful or more. Stir everything together with a wooden spoon (or better yet your hands), until every kernel is slathered in ghee and the gomasio is equally dispersed. Lick your fingers and carry the bowl and your hot cup of tea to a comfortable spot. Pick up a good book or turn on your most favorite vegging out movie or show, and indulge, trying not to shove too many pieces in your mouth at the same time.

So, while you started off on a track to nowhere good, you are now sitting on the couch satisfying your need for something indulgent and junk-food like while simultaneously delivering your body a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals, fiber, good fats, and anti-oxidants. Not bad. There’s nothing quite like the blissful abandon into indulgence paired with the smug satisfaction of doing something good for yourself.

Spice Up Your Life

You may not know it, but your kitchen is already well stocked with a variety of medicinal herbs – if you don’t believe me just open up your spice cabinet. While we don’t often think of our spice cabinet as providing anything more to our lives than flavor, researchers have found that simple kitchen herbs like cinnamon, ginger and turmeric are capable of enormously useful impacts on our health – from reducing inflammation to normalizing blood sugar levels and protecting against Alzheimer’s.

Humans have been using small amounts of highly fragrant plant parts (seeds, roots and leaves) to flavor their food for thousands of years. In fact, one could almost define a culture based on the spices they select in flavoring their foods – Italians with their basil, sage, oregano and garlic – the Indians with turmeric, ginger, cumin and mustard seed. But apart from creating a sense of cultural culinary identity and making food taste delicious, the use of herbs and spices fills many important roles for our health.

The same plant constituents that are responsible for the fragrant aroma of most herbs and spices (known as volatile oils – from Latin volare – to fly) have a variety of medicinal effects. For one, they happen to be quite effective at killing harmful bacteria and other micro-organisms lurking in our food. By consuming such herbs and spices with meats and other potentially bacteria ridden foods, humans we’re able to protect themselves against infection (think wasabi after raw fish).

The volatile oils also help to relax smooth muscle in the digestive tract – reducing cramping and easing the passage of gas by relaxing sphincters. Often, people who have suffered a good part of their lives with gas and cramping after meals find miraculous relief from adding a few more warming aromatic spices to their foods. By bringing blood flow to the stomach and triggering the release of digestive juices, such herbs and spices also improve our digestive capabilities and absorption of nutrients from our food.

If that wasn’t enough, most aromatic herbs and spices also contain high levels of antioxidants, which protect us against carcinogens, whether formed in the cooking of our food (think rosemary on charred meat), or inhaled in cigarette smoke or city smog. By reducing oxidative damage, they help to reduce the effects of inflammation on the body, particularly in the blood vessels and joints. Rosemary, ginger and turmeric in particular have been getting a good deal of attention for their ability to protect against joint inflammation. Garlic has long been studied for its protective effects against cardiovascular disease. The antioxidant power of many herbs is also helpful at protecting against the development of cancer. Turmeric (the shining star of the spice cabinet) has been found to actually kill cancer cells, and along with Rosemary, has been shown to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy by protecting healthy cells and increasing the susceptibility of cancerous cells.

Many herbs also have unique health attributes. Cinnamon and fenugreek, for example, have been found to support normal blood sugar and healthy cholesterol levels by slowing and modulating the absorption of sugar and fat into the bloodstream. Cilantro has been found as effective as many conventional therapies for chelating lead and other heavy metals from the body (making it very useful to consume with mercury laden fish). As more common kitchen herbs are studied, the list of medicinal effects is sure to keep growing.

Now, go to your spice cabinet and start playing. As Hippocrates said, “let your food be your medicine.” The best medicine is not what we take when we are unwell, but what we consume in our every day diets to support our health and prevent disease. And medicine doesn’t get much more delicious than this.

Some deliciously clever ways to use your spices:

  • Add antioxidant herbs like rosemary, sage, ginger and thyme to your meat before cooking. The antioxidants in these herbs can cut cancer causing carcinogens in charred meat by up to 80%
  • Add cinnamon to your sweet recipes to reduce the glycemic index (ie the food’s impact on your blood sugar levels). Cinnamon in your chocolate cake or cookies? Doesn’t sound too bad to me!
  • Serve cilantro pesto with fish to help bind mercury and other potential heavy metals and prevent their absorption into your body.
  • Eat turmeric rich curry once or twice a week to protect against the development of Alzheimer’s
  • Eat 4-6 cloves of garlic each day to significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular mortality