COVID-19 Cooking Advice Part II: Immune Boosters and Project Cooking

As most of us come up on two weeks or more of quarantine for COVID-19, chances are it’s about time for another trip to the grocery store, and I would argue, a different approach this time.

You can see my original advice for quick meals and frantic grocery shopping here.

When the shelter-in-place orders first came in, I was way too anxious to start tackling ambitious cooking projects, so I resorted to tried-and-true formulas and comfort food, and abandoned my typically healthy habits for chocolate chip banana bread and endless pasta.

Now we are settling into a new way of life, and accepting that it may be this way for a while, I’m starting to get creative, and more importantly, focus on immune-boosting recipes.

As one article succinctly put it, at a time when everyone is hoarding face masks and hand sanitizer, why is no one talking about what you can do to build up your immune system from the inside?

Healthy diet, lots of water, moderate exercise…all the things we know but can sometimes be overwhelming to put into practice. To narrow things down, I like to focus in on some of my favorite immune-boosting and nutrient-dense ingredients and brainstorm recipes + dishes from there.

The below recipes are inspired by my culinary training at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC, and especially our classes on Food & the Immune System. That said, I am not a doctor, and you should follow the recommendations of the WHO, CDC, and local health officials as you go about your healthy cooking.

BUILD UP YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM FROM THE INSIDE

Raw garlic is known for being anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and full of vitamins B, C and iron. While my husband enjoys munching on a raw clove, I find it a bit more palatable in a fresh pesto, which has the added benefits of greens and in my recipe, miso for gut health.

The chickpea miso replaces parmesan in my vegan version and gives it a great umami — you can use any white/mild miso. I often have trouble finding enough basil, so I often use cilantro, but you can always use a mix of herbs and supplement with spinach if you don’t have enough.

I toss pesto with lentil pasta and roasted cauliflower, but it’s also great on a sandwich, pizza, or thinned with a bit more olive oil + wine vinegar for a vinaigrette.

Basil-Almond Pesto
Makes 1 cup

  • 5 ounces basil, stemmed
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 1⁄2 cup almonds
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 teaspoons chickpea miso
  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until well combined (20–30 seconds).

Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Makes 1 cup

  • 5 ounces cilantro, trimmed (the stems have good flavor, just cut an inch off the bottoms!)
  • 1⁄2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons chickpea miso
  • 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until well combined (20–30 seconds).

SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS → PINTO BEAN, SHIITAKE AND RADISH SALAD

Shiitake mushrooms are known to boost the immune system, and have antioxidants and B vitamins. They are one of my absolute favorite foods.

In this unexpected salad, they are combined with pinto beans (protein, fiber), radishes (zinc, potassium, iron), and a tamari dressing (gut-boosting!). If you want it leafier, toss with arugula or watercress.

If you make it ahead of time (or a big batch) slice the radishes and then keep them separate in a container covered with water so they stay crisp.

Warm Pinto Bean Salad With Shiitake Mushrooms and Radishes

  • 1 1⁄2 cups cooked pinto beans, or 1 15 oz can, drained and rinsed
  • 15 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thinly
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small red onion, minced
  • 1 bunch red radishes, cut in half and thinly sliced into half-moons
  • ½ bunch cilantro, roughly chopped

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
  • dash apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon brown rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a sauté pan, lightly sauté mushrooms in oil over medium heat until you see a little nice browning (about 5 min).

2. Combine pinto beans, shiitakes, and onion in a bowl.

3. In a small bowl, combine ingredients for the dressing and whisk to combine. Pour dressing over vegetables.

4. Top with cilantro and radishes!

SEAFOOD → FISH CONGEE

Fish, of course, has omega-3 fatty acids, important vitamins like D and B2, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, etc. So many great things. Since it’s been hard to find and stock up on, I’ve been trying to get some fish into my diet just once a week.

White fish (like cod, tilapia etc) cooks in 3 minutes right in this comforting congee. Congee is soothing to the GI tract, easy to digest, and has lots of fiber for healthy elimination! So great if your tummy is not right.

If you don’t have or eat fish, it’s also great topped with roasted mushrooms or a steamed sweet potato.

Fish Congee

  • 8 cups water
  • 1⁄4 cup white rice
  • 3⁄4 cup brown rice
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 pound white fish filet
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1–2 tablespoons tamari, or more to taste
  • 1⁄2 cup finely sliced scallions

1. In a large pot, combine water, white rice, brown rice, and salt. Bring to boil for 2–3 minutes. Add carrot, ginger, and garlic. Lower flame, cover and allow to simmer, stirring frequently, until rice is really creamy and lightly thickened (1 to 1 1⁄2 hours).

2. Cut filet in 2-inch pieces. Add to soup 3 minutes before end of cooking, or until just tender.

3. Turn off flame; add toasted sesame oil, tamari, and scallions.

GINGER AND TURMERIC → GOLDEN LATTE

Don’t skip on this because it seems like a passé trend. Drinking a warm ginger-turmeric latte on a cold night is a special hug, and will give you a Gwyneth Paltrow glow (just kidding — no promises there). More importantly, they are super anti-inflammatory and full of antioxidants. Black pepper increases the positive effects of the turmeric, so don’t skip it!

Golden Latte
Makes 2

  • 2 cups almond milk (or milk of your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, agave or honey
  • 2 inch knob fresh turmeric, roughly chopped
  • 2 inch knob fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup in a small saucepan until just bubbling around the sides (be careful not to burn.)

2. Add almond milk, turmeric, and ginger to high-powered blender and blend until smooth and frothy, and a uniform golden color. Strain through mesh strainer or nut milk bag. (Important if pulp offends you!)

2. Pour into two mugs and top with pepper and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

EMOTIONAL EATING AND BAKING

The recipes above are all about adding health benefits and strengthening the immune system. This one is about damage control — which is just as important!

It goes without saying that during this scary time, we’re all going to need to cut ourselves some slack, make exceptions, and absolutely allow ourselves a treat when we really need it. However, sugar and white flour are not great for the immune system, and a batch of cookies is hard to resist when you are home all day with no one to share them with. What I love about the chocolate peanut butter cookie recipe below is that it is single-serving.

This six-ingredient recipe always pops back into my head just when I need it. Even if you end up making one every night (it only takes about five minutes), it’s still better than accidentally eating a half dozen over the course of an afternoon…

Single-Serving Chocolate & Peanut Butter Cookie

Of course, the other option is to freeze your favorite cookie dough and bake off a few at a time!

A DIFFERENT WAY TO LOOK AT PROJECT COOKING

For project cooking I’m focusing on finding creative ways to stretch ingredients farther, use them in new and health-supportive ways, and find a purpose for things that have been sitting in the back of the cupboard for months…

For me, that means making Rainbow Chard and Feta Cheese Borek with the phyllo dough in my freezer, veggie stock with all my veggie scraps, homemade Oat Milk, plus repurposing my Instant Pot mishap (sad black beans that got overcooked and under-salted) into Tyler Kord’s Black Bean Hummus.

For you, could it mean making this crave-able Celery-Date-Parmesan Salad with all that leftover celery you bought for one soup recipe? Dusting off that jar of anchovies to make a rustic Anchovy-Broccoli Pasta Sauce? Not letting that half a green cabbage from taco night go to waste, and turning it into Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Walnuts and Parmesan?

For my mom, if you’re reading this, it means I’m challenging you to utilize all the weird things I’ve bought on previous visits and left in the pantry.

Stay safe, and happy cooking!

Hi! I’m Jen. jenbastien.world