A plate of health: (clockwise from top left) Fried or roasted cauliflower goes great with Japanese curry; roasting broccoli concentrates its flavor and savory avocado mash goes well on toast or burgers but also on grilled steaks.
When food is the better medicine
THE BACONMAN COMETH - Sharwin Tee (The Philippine Star) - May 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Just like countless others during this MECQ, I found that staying home all day was the perfect excuse to try cooking everything I didn’t have time for before. Looking at social media feeds, it’s like a virtual greatest-hits collection of all the rich, sinful comfort food we’ve all been craving for, from juicy steaks to decadent grilled-cheese sandwiches to irresistible desserts. With all the time in the world to make food, it’s easy to forget that part of our duty in staying home is to boost our immune system and stay healthy.         

The best things we can do for ourselves are not just exercise and take vitamins and supplements, but also be mindful of what we eat. In fact, eating healthfully might just be the most important part of boosting our immune system.

Recently, we had my friend, nutritionist Justinne Lou Go (@babeforfood on IG) as guest on our Sini Gang podcast (available on Spotify and Apple) and she eloquently explained how eating healthfully is vital: “Eating real whole food is always more superior than synthetic nutrients from supplements because the nutrients from real food are better recognized by our bodies.”

With that in mind, I asked Justinne to drop her list of the best things to eat to keep our immune systems strong, as the threat of COVID-19 has not dissipated. 

• Gut it out. Justinne was quick to remind us that “gut health,” which pertains to the health of the digestive system, is one of the first keys to staying healthy. “You could think of our gut as the ecosystem of good and harmful bacteria. They have to be in balance because if not, if the harmful bacteria outnumber the good bacteria (probiotics); that’s where the problem starts.”

With that in mind, it’s best to have fermented food as a regular part of our diet: yogurt, kombucha, fermented pickles and kimchi are just some of the more famous examples. For me, one of the quickest and most enjoyable ways to enjoy fermented food is kimchi jjigae (or kimchi stew). 

Just sauté some pork or fish with sliced onions until slightly browned and then add chopped kimchi (including its liquid) and just enough water to cover everything. Then, you can get creative by adding more vegetables, leafy greens and even cheese! Just simmer all of it for 10-15 minutes and you’re done. Bring on the rice!

• Know your As, Cs and Es. Boosting the immune system by making sure you get enough vitamins A, C and E are truly as simple as one’s “ABCs.” Justinne recommends dark leafy greens such as romaine, alugbati, kale and spinach. She also recommends cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, radish and pechay to support the liver, which is a detox organ.

A really quick way to enjoy leafy greens is to add them to a frittata to make a delicious and filling vegetarian dish. Just sauté any combination of 2 cups of leafy greens in a sauté pan with olive oil until just wilted. Meanwhile, whisk together 8 eggs, 1/2 cup of cream cheese, salt and chili powder and then pour this mixture into the sauté pan with the greens. Put the whole pan in the oven at 350 F for 10 minutes until the egg is barely set. If an oven is unavailable, just cover the sauté pan and cook over super-low heat until the egg is set.

As for the cruciferous vegetables, I find high heat works best. Just season some broccoli with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in a 400-F oven for 17 minutes. As for cauliflower, deep-fry the florets in 375-F oil until slightly golden and then season with salt and pepper or dip in mayo. Veggies never tasted this good!

• Fat is your friend. The one big misconception people have about losing weight or staying healthy is trying to remove all forms of fat. Fat is actually our friend and keeps us full over longer periods of time. The only thing to consider is what kind of fat you should be eating. Justinne recommends more healthful fats like those from fish with low mercury content, grass-fed red meat, olive oil and avocado. 

Avocados are a personal favorite because I find them very versatile. One of the things I like to do is mash them roughly, leaving small chunks, and then combining them with salt, minced garlic, calamansi juice, black pepper and olive oil. This savory concoction can be put on toasted bread and then topped with scrambled eggs to make an excellent and complete breakfast or brunch.

Meanwhile, the same avocado paste can be used as a sauce or dip for grilled items like kebabs or even steaks. Lastly, it makes a great topping for a juicy burger as well. I did say that my avocado concoction was versatile, right?

• Eat your way to health. I’m one of those people who would rather not see a doctor, especially now when our medical frontliners have been pushed to exhaustion. I would rather stay safe and healthy at home, doing my part to stave off this crisis. The silver lining is, I just have to eat more mindfully. No need to double-dose on vitamins or nutrients. As Justinne reminds us, “What’s more important is having a complete, balanced diet that contains a variety or good diversity of nutrients to complete the picture.”

That’s why I’m off to another trip to my kitchen and pantry, looking for good things to eat to stay strong. After all, food (and laughter) is still the best medicine.

* * *

Sharwin’s book, So, You Want To Be A Chef? is available in all National Book Stores and Powerbooks nationwide. Follow Sharwin’s food adventures on Instagram @chefsharwin and for questions, reactions, recipe and column suggestions, you can contact him on www.sharwintee.com.

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