Eating Healthy with Immune-Boosting Foods

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

2 pm June 18: Join Chef Lisa for an informative nutrition and cooking class that will provide tips and techniques for eating clean and a delicious, nutritious recipe for Pad Thai. There will be time for questions.

Lisa Núñez-Hancock teaches a cooking class at Avant Garden

During these times of disease, it is important to find ways to keep your body healthy. Sleep, lowering stress levels, exercise in nature and eating healthy high-fiber foods are all ways of maintaining a healthy immune system.

Over the last decade, scientists and research have uncovered just how profoundly our microbiota (aka gut bacteria) is wired into our immune system, our metabolism, our central nervous system and even our brain. The microbiota is a complex organism, one that I have a particular passion for understanding.

In this brief article I want to focus on plant-based, fresh foods that will assist you in maintaining a strong and well-functioning immune system. It is my belief that instead of spending a lot of money on expensive supplements and industrial, laboratory-produced products, we should focus on natural foods in their most basic, least expensive, and most easily accessible form. In the simplest terms, our microbiota thrive on fiber and the resulting carbohydrates that derive from plant material.

Our gut microbes thrive on dietary fiber found in plants, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, according to research from the Stanford University School of Medicine at The Sonnenberg Lab.

There are numerous natural, fresh foods that researchers tell us are beneficial to boosting our immune health through feeding our microbiota.

Cruciferous Vegetables, also known as brassica oleracea, are packed with vitamins A, C and E, as well as fiber. Studies, such as those referenced in this blog post, indicate that vitamins C and E act as powerful antioxidants that help to destroy free radicals and support the body’s immune response. Cruciferous vegetables include Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale and Kohlrabi.

Leafy Green Vegetables are yet another source of varied nutrients and fiber. Those include Spinach, Micro-Greens, Watercress, Arugula, Swiss Chard, Beet and Turnip Greens.

I can’t sing the praises of Mushrooms enough. I encourage you to research them on your own. In a study conducted at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, researchers found evidence of increased immunity in participants who consumed shiitake mushrooms daily. Not only do they fight inflammation, they are also anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. There are medicinal ones and culinary ones (and of course poisonous ones) Some immune-boosting culinary varieties include Shiitake, Maitake (aka Hen of the Woods), Enoki, Oyster and Lions Mane.

I want to recommend three local sources where I get both my culinary and medicinal mushrooms. IntregiTea in Vallejo, and my new BFF’s at E & H Farms, as well as all those great folks at Far West Fungi! We are so lucky to have these resources in our “neck of the woods.”

We are all lucky to live in California, with beautiful thriving citrus crops. We all know Citrus is a source of important immune boosting vitamin C and fiber, both important to healthy immune functioning. These can include Oranges, Lemons, Limes, Grapefruit, Tangerines and Clementines.

Some additional immune-boosting foods include Garlic, Turmeric, Ginger, Almonds, Red Bell Peppers, Papaya, Kiwi, Pomegranates, Sweet Potatoes, Sunflower Seeds, Miso and Wheat Germ.

Variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these immune-boosting foods won’t be enough to help fight the flu or seed your microbiota with enough diversity to fight chronic diseases, even if you eat it regularly. Pay some attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single nutrient, and too little of others. That may sound complicated, but trust your gut, so to speak.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak I had scheduled a September workshop on the microbiome with probiotic foods for good gut and mental health to be taught in collaboration with a mental health professional. I am presently taking a UC Berkeley course online that among other food-related topics, deals with the latest research in the realm of microbiota. So, hopefully in some context I will be able to bring this information and recipes to the community in the future. I’ll also be addressing fermented foods and their probiotic properties, as I have done in past workshops. If this is an interesting topic to you, I highly recommend the work of Erica and Jason Sonnenburg out of Stanford University — my heroes in the microbiota field.

Again, I can’t stress the importance of natural homemade probiotics and good gut health. But that is an article/workshop for another day.

Immune-Boosting Broth

Here is my recipe for an immune-boosting broth that can be used by itself, or as a base for soups, stews and sauces.

1 cup of greens (Kale, Spinach and/ or Watercress)
1 cup sliced mushrooms (Shiitake, Oyster and/or Enoki)
1 peeled red onion, quartered
1 peeled shallot, halved
2 garlic heads, unpeeled and cut horizontally
1 fresh ginger piece, (thumb-size) peeled and sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 jalapeño, (hot) thinly spiced
4 sprigs each of fresh sage, basil and thyme
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar and/or fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

In a dutch oven or stock pot combine all the ingredients (see options below) and add 3 quarts of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook 20-30 minutes or until the flavors are blended.

Personally, I like to eat everything in this pot, but that may not appeal to everyone.

Here are some options:

  • Instead of cooking them, add raw radishes and sliced jalapeños as a garnish when serving.
  • Remove sprigs of herbs and squeeze garlic out of heads, discarding the husk before serving.
  • The broth can be completely strained, but it seems like such a waste to discard these veggies and all their immune-boosting nutrients and fiber.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding food, nutrition, supplements and other dietary decisions. 

Stocking Your Pantry for Uncertain Times

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

Whether it is fire season, an earthquake, a pandemic, the busy pace of life, or unexpected guests, it is always a good idea to have a well-stocked pantry of healthy, nonperishable items on hand. Eating healthy foods, maintaining a good gut microbiome, getting enough sleep, and minimizing stress are all important to optimum health.

Having nutritious staples in your pantry will steer you in the direction of eating better and staying healthy. Beans, legumes, whole grains, dried pastas, brown rice and rolled oats are all foods with a long shelf life and can be a base for soups, stews, salads and grain bowls. Combined with fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits, eggs and sides of meat, if desired, the variation of nutritious meals you can create with basic staple foods is endless.

In no way am I implying that you should be stockpiling or hoarding food. That is ultimately wasteful and not neighborly. I also recommend practicality and economy when furnishing your pantry. Purchasing local products whenever possible supports local farmers and food crafters, and benefits both the local economy and our immediate communities.

There is a culinary pleasure and satisfaction in throwing open a well-socked cupboard and being able to create a meal on the fly. Of course, there is Google and you could get someone else’s recipes, but there is a lot to be said for being creative, inventive and spontaneous, in life in general, and especially in the kitchen.

Beans and legumes have a good shelf life and are a healthy source of essential vitamins and minerals. They are an important plant-based protein and a good source of fiber. They are easy to prepare and versatile in recipes. Rancho Gordo, a company specializing in heirloom beans and located in Napa, stocks a selection of glamorous beans in a rainbow of colors and flavors. In my pantry right now, I have Marcella white, Midnight black, a beautiful purple bean called Aycote Morado, and a quirky heirloom called Vaquero (I love them — they are spotted black and white and remind me of miniature cows). All beans are wonderful and make delicious one-pot soups and stews.

Grains! If any of you have attended my cooking workshops, you know I am all about the grain bowl, a bit of a fanatic in fact. Ancient grains like quinoa, millet, farro, bulgar and amaranth, to name just a few, are healthy for you, and full of important nutrients, minerals and essential fiber. Although not local, I have been having a long-distance relationship with Bob’s Red Mill for many years and his grains makes me happy and healthy more than I can tell you!

Dried pastas are always good to have on hand, especially if you have children and picky eaters in your home. Combined with a variety of innovative herb and nut pesto sauces or tomato-based sauces that you can make from your garden’s yield or CSA box. Add shelf-stable olives, capers and marinated artichokes to create pasta dishes that are easy and quick to make, and a filling meal for one or a group. Locally produced Baia Pasta in Oakland is a good source.

Which brings me to the subject of canning and preserving. If you are growing your own vegetables, a member of a community garden, get CSA boxes, or frequent your farmers market, you should know how to can and preserve your produce, so as not to waste a bit of nature’s beautiful bounty. Your homemade canned products will be a “lush” addition to your pantry of staples, as well as a source of pleasure when cooking with them. I can’t tell you the satisfaction of cultivating a plant, harvesting it, and “putting it up” (on your pantry shelf or in your “root cellar”). Knowing where your food comes from, how it was prepared and that you created canned tomatoes from your summer crop or your own delicious pickles and jams is truly a heightened experience.

Although not necessarily shelf stable, don’t forget an important realm of crafted foods — probiotics like sauerkraut, pickles and fermented vegetables. They must contain lactobacillus acidophilus, which is essential for good gut health and proper immune functioning.

And especially, don’t forget the spices! Think of your spice drawer as a medicine cabinet. Spices not only make food taste better, they are medicinal, have healing properties that will boost your immune system, add much needed spice to life, and keep you healthy.

A short caveat: I have listed local food sources, but I understand that not everyone can afford these items. The basic staple list can be adapted to fit your budget with an eye to supporting our local food producers when possible.

Suggested Items for Stocking Your Pantry

Below are some items as well as local sources. You can find locally sourced staples at some of these retail shops and restaurants.

Beans

  • Rancho Gordo

Grains

  • Bob’s Red Mill, Community Grains

Pastas

  • Baia Pasta, Community Grains

Rice & Noodles

  • Lotus Foods

Olive Oil

  • Il Fiorello, De Vero, Katz & Company, Soul Food Farm, Sepay Groves

Vinegar

  • Il Fiorello, Sepay Groves, Katz & Company

Local Honey

  • Be Love Farm, E.G. Lewellen’s, (check your CSA box add-ons)

Nuts

  • Nut-N-Other Farms, Sierra Orchard, Cal Yee Farm

Dried Fruit

  • Cal Yee Farm, Frog Hollow Farms

Sauerkraut

  • Salt & Savor

 Pickles

  • The Cultured Pickle Shop

 Tea & Coffee

  • Numi (tea)/ Moschetti, Ritual (coffee)

Jam

  • Erickson Ranch, Bridgeway Farms, Inna, Frog Hollow Farm

Hot Sauces and Salsas

  • The Salsa Chick

Granola

  • Nana Joes, Tom’s ‘Best Ever’, Frog Hollow Farms

Spices

  • Whole Spice, Savory Spice Shop, Lhasa Karnak, Bazaar

Mustard

  • Mendocino Mustard

Canned Fish

  • Katy’s Smokehouse

Basic Baking Ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, yeast

Note: Have a local source for some of these items we should add? Let us know at allison@sustainablesolano.org 

Access Food Resources Here

Discover recipes with seasonal ingredients

Learn more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) — boxes of produce from local farms

Learn what’s in season now

Find out more on our Local Food page

Explore our Community Resilience Resources for more food resources

Wrapped Food and the Big Burrito Debate

By Lisa Núñez-Hancock, Culinary Arts Instructor

One of my favorite things about teaching cooking and the culinary arts is the research and history of food that I get to delve into when creating recipes. For our upcoming Wrap It Up! workshop June 1, I’ve been researching wrapped foods as a tradition that is found around the world. One of the interesting versions is found right here in our home state of California with the burrito.

While burritos are not classically considered a Mexican dish, they most probably have their origins as portable field and farmworker fare carried from home to rural work sites. Although the origins of the burrito have been traced to Cuidad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border, the real evolution of the post-modern burrito has occurred in California during the 20th century.

The three major regional sites of burrito evolution have been San Francisco’s Mission District, Los Angeles and the Chicano Scene in East Los Angeles, and inner city San Diego. Each place has its own distinct interpretation of the burrito, and there are ongoing debates about which town and locale makes the best burrito.

The origins of the Mission Style Burrito can be traced to the Mission District neighborhood in San Francisco during the 1960s and 1970s. This burrito is characterized by a large flour tortilla, steam table carne asada, beans, rice, sour cream and onions. El Farro on Folsom stands out as a beacon of Northern California burrito culture. As the culture evolved, and became a regional culinary movement in the 1970s and 1980s, guacamole, shredded cheese and spicy salsas were added to the mix.

The epicenter for burrito mania in Los Angeles is Al & Bea’s on East First Street, in the heart of East Los Angeles. The Los Angeles version is a bean-centric burrito with additions of shredded cheese and salsa. It’s possible that East Los Angeles is the birthplace of the breakfast burrito made with scrambled eggs, chorizo, beans and cheese, and the on-the-go meal for car-centric blue- and white-collar workers.

Last, but not least, San Diego has its own burrito style, characterized by a no-frills meat, cheese and salsa concoction. La Lomita was serving San Diego bean burritos as far back as the 1960s. Later decades saw a flourishing of burrito shops in the city, and by 1999 San Diego had over 60 locations serving burritos at places with names like Roberto’s, Filberto’s and Hilberto’s. Many of them are still operating and serving up hot and hearty burritos today.

Perhaps on your summer travels you’ll check out some of these Cali hot spots, and we hope that you will join us Saturday, June 1, at the JFK Library in Vallejo for Wrap It Up! and learn how to make more delicious wrapped meals. Learn more about the class here.

Lisa Núñez-Hancock is founder of UR What U Eat. The upcoming wrap cooking workshop is part of the What’s for Dinner? program presented through the Solano County Library and the Friends of the Vallejo Public Library in partnership with Sustainable Solano and UR What U Eat. Check out other upcoming workshop dates and topics here.

Cooking Classes

Sustainable Solano offers healthy cooking workshops around the county that share ways to cook with fresh, seasonal produce.

One of those programs is “What’s For Dinner?”— healthy cooking workshops aiming to educate the community on healthy, nutritious food choices using seasonal ingredients. “What’s For Dinner?” classes take place at John F. Kennedy Library (505 Santa Clara St.) in downtown Vallejo, and are done in partnership with Solano County Library, The Friends of the Vallejo Public Library, Sustainable Solano and UR what U eat. This series is taught by Chef Lisa Núñez-Hancock, a culinary arts instructor, natural food chef, food activist and a member of Sustainable Solano’s Local Food Movement Advisory Board.

 


 

2019 Cooking Classes

 

(Feb. 2) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Healthy Chocolate Barks – Sweet Treats for Valentine’s Day
(April 13) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Soup Garden – How to Plan & Plant a Soup Garden and Recipes for Awesome Soups
(June 1) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Wrap It Up! – Lavash/ Spring Rolls/Burritos and Lettuce Wraps
(Aug. 20) CSA cooking demonstration during Healthy Vallejo event at Springstowne Library
(Sept. 12) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Farmers Market Workshop (in Benicia at Avant Garden)
(Sept. 21) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Sushi Sessions – Basic Sushi Making Techniques & Traditions with Vegetarian and Vegan Improvisations
(Nov. 9) ‘What’s for Dinner?’ Get More Turmeric in Your Life! Global Curries & Tonics

 

Refer to our events calendar for more details and to register for certain workshops.

What’s For Dinner? Preserving the Fall Harvest

Preserving for the Hall Harvest with Chef Lisa

 

Fall warms up our landscapes and kitchens welcoming warmer flavors and seasonal culinary traditions. Humans have been preserving, fermenting and salting food for centuries and at our September “What’s For Dinner?” free cooking workshop at JFK Library in Vallejo, Chef Lisa led our last cooking workshop of the year and showed us the many health benefits associated with these food preservation processes and how simple getting your probiotics (“good bacteria”). Attendees enjoyed delicious tastings of fruit spread, sauerkraut and other pickled goods.

With a little practice and just a few simple ingredients, you can begin preserving your favorite veggies and fruits while increasing your healthy gut bacteria immediately. Chef Lisa taught how fermented foods in particular, like sauerkraut, are rich in a beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli that reduces overgrowth of pathogens in your digestive tract and relieves a multiple of stomach ailments and supports healthy digestion.

A personal favorite sample creating was a delicious blackberry-vanilla fruit spread that was a delightfully less-sweet alternative to a more gelatinous jam having left out the traditional refined sugar altogether. Without the sugar, these spreads will not gel to a hard-set jam. Surprisingly, the natural sugars of the fruit were just enough to satisfy that sweet tooth. Volunteer teen helpers were ready with tasty samples for the over 20 attendees who seemed to be pleasantly surprised with the results from such easy-to-make, simple recipes.

Although you can preserve and can foods year around, this cooler fall weather allows for less spoilage. You can download all these tasty recipes covered in this workshop by clicking here (Recipes!) .

Our vision for Solano Community Food Centers is funded by USDA

Food, environment and human health, local economy and resilient communities

By Elena Karoulina

Executive Director of Sustainable Solano

Image from Pixabay

When was the last time you had Solano-grown produce on your dinner table? The most possible answer is ‘never’, unless you grow your own food in your garden or your backyard food forest. It’s a very unusual situation for a Bay Area county that is still largely agrarian, at least in the land use patterns.

Sustainable Solano is embarking on a new project to bring more local food to our communities and to connect our local farmers, chefs, and residents with the gifts of our land and with each other.

At the very end of September we received great news from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA): our proposal to further our vision by developing a business plan for Solano Community Food Centers was selected for funding! Annually, USDA funds about 14% of grant applications for local food projects, and we are honored to earn support on a federal level.

What is a Community Food Center? It is a hub for local food activities: CSAs deliveries, cooking classes, community education, and large kitchens where chefs and community members can cook wholesome nutritious meals. Larger Community Food Centers can include a food co-op.

Although Solano County produces close to $354 million worth of agricultural products and exports these products to more than 40 countries, only a fraction of that amount remains in the county due to weak distribution system, lack of sales outlets and somewhat low interest in local food. You can hardly find any Solano-grown products in our farmer markets, stores and restaurants. Small  farmers struggle to hold on to their land and to connect with local customers.

Where do we buy local food? People who can afford it obtain their local ag products in the markets outside our county: Napa, Sonoma, Berkeley (thus spending local money outside our local communities). Some cities in Solano are blessed with Community Supported Agriculture, but not many people know about this option and take advantage of it. People with low means have to go without local fresh food at all. Solano is a county of commuters, and unfortunately, the only option available for families on a go is fast-food restaurants and convenience stores (you cannot find local food there!).

We pay dearly for this lack of access to local food with our health: Solano County is among the sickest counties in the nation. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease rates are above national average in our home county.


Food, human health, the environment and local economies are all interconnected; by creating a network of city-based Community Food Centers, there is potential to re-envision and re-construct Solano County’s food system so that it works for everyone in the local food supply chain.


Sustainable Solano has partnered with researchers at UC Davis, Solano County Department of Agriculture and Department of Public Health to conduct a feasibility study, develop an effective business plan, and outline implementation for local food businesses that aggregate, process and distribute locally-produced, healthy food products. Our big vision is the environmentally and economically sustainable, equitable local food systems in Solano County.

We are looking for urban and rural farmers, chefs and local food activists interested to implement this vision. We’d love to hear from you with your comments, suggestions, reflections, and offers to help. Please email directly to me at elena@sustainablesolano.org

Let’s make it happen! I am looking forward to meet all of you at the official launch of the program on Wednesday, October 25, at 7 pm, at Benicia’s Heritage Presbyterian Church (doors open at 6 pm). Please join our Advisory Board members Dr. Feenstra and Dr. Campbell in the conversation about the future of food and why local resilient food system is so important. Come meet the project team and all of us interested to bring this vision to reality.