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Monday, September 30, 2013

Mint

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Mint:

Mint, also called "mentha", is an aromatic perennial herb.  Mint belongs to a large family with over thirty species.  All mints prefer and thrive near pools of water, lakes, rivers, and in cool moist spots in partial shade.  In general mints tolerate a wide range of conditions, and can even be grown in full sun.  Mint very often grows wild.
 
Known in Greek mythology as the "herb of hospitality", mint was used as a room deodorizer.  Today it is more commonly used for aromatherapy through the use of essential oils.  The mint leaf, fresh or dried, is the culinary source of mint.  The leaves have a warm, fresh, aromatic, sweet flavor with a cool aftertaste.  The most common and popular mints for cultivation are peppermint, spearmint, and more recently apple mint.
 
Mint essential oil and menthol are used extensively as flavorings in breath fresheners, drinks, antiseptic mouth rinses, toothpaste, chewing gum, desserts, and candies.  Mint oil is used as an environmentally friendly insecticide to kill wasps, hornets, ants, and cockroaches.   Today naturalists employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome, and the common cold.  Mint is a great aid to digestion and for settling the stomach. 
 
When I was growing up living in Brooklyn, the family (Grandpa and the three sons, my father being  the youngest) bought a summer bungalow out on Long Island to use for weekends and the summer.  It was a beautiful place on a corner lot with a hedge that around the property.  It had a screened porch in the front where we would eat.  In the backyard it had an old fashioned hand operated water pump, still functional,  and back in the comer an actual functioning outhouse.  Fortunately, there also was indoor plumbing, but the pump and outhouse lent ambience to the place.  Well, near the pump was a patch of  mint growing wild.  The aroma was intoxicating.  Now whenever I smell fresh mint it brings me back to the "Clinton Street house" as we called it.
 
Mint leaves are used in teas, beverages, jellies, syrups, candies, and ice cream.   Mint is also traditional with lamb dishes.  Alcoholic drinks sometimes feature mint for flavor or garnish, such as in the mint julep and the mojito.  Crème de menthe is a mint flavored liqueur.  Fresh mint adds refreshing flavor when snipped over peas, fruit, or lettuce salad.
 
Mint is available year round being grown outside or in hothouses.  Choose bright green unwilted leaves.  Wrap dry leaves in an unsealed plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator for a up to several days.  So add a little mint!
 
Eat up and enjoy!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cruciferous Vegetables: How Food Affects Health

Cruciferous Vegetables:

What do broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, and bok choy have in common?   They are all cruciferous vegetables.   Cruciferous vegetables are members of the family Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae).  The four petal flower from these vegetables resembles a cross or 'crucifer', hence the name. 

Cruciferous vegetables are non-starchy vegetables that contain dietary fiber, folate, carotenoids (including beta carotene), and Vitamin C.  Here are some of the most common cruciferous vegetables found in your supermarket or produce store:  horseradish, kale, collard greens, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, rapini (broccoli rabi), Chinese cabbage, turnip roots, rutabagas, arugula, watercress, radish, daikon, and wasabi.

A review of research found that 70% of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and  protection against cancer.  Cruciferous vegetables all contain phytochemicals (naturally occurring compounds that have biological significance), vitamins and minerals, and fiber that are important to your health.  Phytochemicals in cruciferous vegetables can stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they damage cells.  Cruciferous vegetables also reduce oxidative stress, the overload of harmful molecules called oxygen-free radicals.  Reducing free radicals  may reduce the risk of colon, lung, prostate, breast, and other cancers.

Health agencies recommend we eat several servings per week of cruciferous vegetables.  It is best to eat these veggies raw or only lightly steamed to retain their phytochemicals.  So,  make sure you're eating those cruciferous vegetables!  It's good for you!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Arugala



Arugula:

Arugula is a member of the mustard family.  Its scientific name is "Eruca sativa".  Arugula is also known as "rocket salad" in Great Britain and the U.S..  In Italy it is "rucola" and in France "roquette".   Arugula is  cruciferous vegetable along with broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.  It originated in the Mediterranean and was introduced to North America by Italian immigrants.   Early Romans thought eating arugula would bring good luck.  Today arugula is cultivated worldwide and is available year round.

Arugula has fine, smooth, dark green leaves that are notched near the bottom.   It can be eaten raw in salads with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper, or as a garnish.  It can be cooked as a leafy green vegetable.  It can be added to pastas, grains, sandwiches, wraps, and soups, or also makes a spicy pesto.   It is a great alternative to iceberg lettuce because it has a much greater density of nutrients with the same low calories.

Like other cruciferous vegetable arugula is associated with reduced risk of cancers.   It is rich in phytochemicals that have been shown to combat cancer-causing elements in the body.  Arugula is a great source of folic acid and vitamins A, C, and K.  It has high levels if iron and copper.   Arugula's peppery flavor provides a natural cooling effect on the body on a warm day.

Look for arugula with the roots still attached.  It keeps it's zip and flavor better.  Buy bright, tender, and fresh looking leaves with no signs of yellowing  or dark spots.  It should not show signs of limpness.   Use arugula as soon as possible after purchasing.  If you have to keep it a day or two do not remove the roots or wash it.  Just sprinkle with a little water and wrap in a paper towel.  Put in a plastic bag and refrigerate.   Remove the roots and wash only when ready to use.  Arugula tends to be sandy so wash it well. 

There is a sweet peppery digestive alcohol called "rucolino" that is made from arugula on the island of Ischia in the Gulf of Naples.   It is enjoyed in small quantities after a meal such as "lemoncello".

So there you have it: Arugula.  Eat up!  Enjoy!