Sunday, June 16, 2013

Summer Foods, Summer Health

Summer Time and the feelin' is easy, so goes the song. While I basically like to eat all year long and every season provides something fantastic, there is something incredible about Summer foods! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Summer is the season of the Heart and Small Intestine. Odd combo? Actually not, because the number one thing you can do to help your heart is to eat well, and the Small Intestine is what absorbs the nutrients of your food directly into the blood stream.

What are foods that help the heart and small intestines? The taste that nourishes is Bitter, and the foods that help these organs are fermented foods high in Acidophilus and lactobacillus (I will throw a Bulgaricus in there for good measure, those Bulgarians have the best fermentation microbes ever) And for you who want to know exactly what this Bulgaricus looks like here you go:

Why do fermented foods help the small intestine? Villi, lots of them that absorb food, and when there is acidophilus and other probiotics, it happens in the right way, and our body recognizes food as food and not as something we need to fight. This comes from the Happy Bellies Website, definitely worth a look

For us science geeks, the small intestine villi are truly miraculous structures, the surface area these things have in a typical intestine would equal that of a tennis court. We take our bodies so for granted, and one way to nurture them is to eat good food. So, how do we eat to be in harmony with the season? Eat fresh foods that are at the farmers markets. The best way to get bitters into your diet is with dark leafy greens. Kale, collards, dandelion and others are high in Potassium, Calcium and Magnesium which are all good for the heart, and the bitters enhance digestion.

And cooling foods such as Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Melons and such. Hawthorne Berry is a delicious fruit that people have growing in their yards on the East Coast and Midwest of the US. We can also get them dried at many health food stores, and Gaia's Herbs has a great Solid Extract that makes yummy teas. 

Garlic is really good for the heart, it helps lower cholesterol and blood fats. And spicy peppers have lots of vitamin C and increase blood flow to the heart, they also help us sweat and cool us off. If you eat whole fresh food, avoiding all flour products, fried, processed and sugar, you will actually do more for your heart than any low fat cholesterol diet ever. Add sea salt moderately after you cook things, and use Olive oil, again after you have cooked to add flavor and good fats to your diet. Organic grass fed meats, poultry and eggs do not elevate cholesterol like the factory farmed grain fed ones. Seems as if God did not design animals to eat genetically modified corn, which raises the fat and cholesterol levels in the meats, hmmmmmm, now THAT is interesting! Of course a few servings a week of wild caught fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout will also benefit your heart. Eating this way is really delicious, and very easy to do in the Summer months!

A great way to get all the seasons bounty into one delicious dish is with cooling summer soups. 


Tarator is a cold cucumber soup with origins in the Balkans, this soup is served throughout the warmer months. We always would serve this at Easter. 

This is how I make it, as with anything from the Balkans, there are as many variations on the theme as there are people, but I like it this way:

In a bowl or mortar and pestle, mash together until a think past is formed: 2 cloves of peeled and minced garlic, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp Kosher or Sea Salt.

Peel, Seed and grate 1 large cucumber, more if you wish. Chop very finely fresh dill until you have about 1/2 cup. Dried dill just doesn't cut it sorry. Thinly slice 1/2 small red onion

Place all these ingredients into a large glass bowl, and mix in One 32 oz container of European Style Organic Yogurt (this is more fluid than other yogurts and makes a better soup) Strauss Creamery and Trader Joes are good brands.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Throw in a couple of ice cubes for good measure and drizzle with Olive Oil. Sprinkle with fresh dill and a few diced cucumbers for decoration. This soup gets better the longer it sits, I suggest making it the night before, and adjusting the taste the next day with salt and pepper.

The other Summer soup I like is Gazpacho 

Again there are many ways to make this, this is how I like to make it

Take 3 or 4 medium style heirloom tomatoes, slice and seed them. Peel, seed and slice 1 large cucumber, core, seed and slice a bell pepper, and chop 1/2 small red onion. Place all vegetables into a blender or food processor and add 32 ounces of organic vegetable cocktail or tomato juice,  I suggest any juice from a glass bottle, it tastes better. Add 2 cloves of garlic, the juice of one lemon, 1/4 cup olive oil, Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper to taste. blend until smooth. Ladle into dishes and top with chopped tomato, cucumber, onion and peppers. You can also add croutons on top and a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro if you wish. A fun twist is to use yellow tomatoes and peppers for a different color and taste,

I have both of these soups on hand for usually most of the Summer months, and often into the hot Autumns so typical in Southern California. Tarator and Gazpacho are filled with seasonal foods good for your heart and small intestines, they are cooling and delicious, and make refreshing al fresco suppers on the patio all summer long! Enjoy!

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