Ah, spring is in the air and our thoughts turn to flights of fancy.
Unless you’re sneezing your head off and scratching your itchy, red eyes out of your miserable skull.
With the advent of warm weather, pollen counts rise and some of us succumb to the congestion and physical symptoms we know as allergies. From rag weed to roses, the suffering begins just as the weather warms enough to be outside enjoying the sun, making increasing numbers of us absolute messes.
Studies show that one in five people in the U.S. suffer from seasonal allergies ranking them fifth in chronic diseases. And it should come as no surprise that global warming has increased the length of allergy season by four weeks over the last ten years, according to WebMD.
So are you doomed to suffer, tissues always in hand? What if I told you that your food choices strongly influenced the severity of your symptoms?
Once again, your kitchen can be your pharmacy.
Some general rules to note: did you know that clear soups with daikon can help thin mucus and clear nasal passages?
Some studies suggest Vitamin C may help minimize many spring allergy symptoms, so you can supplement or get your Vitamin C from dark leafy greens, like kale and collard greens, tomatoes and citrus fruit, black beans and kidney beans.
What if you could design a week’s worth of plant based meals that could aid your body in managing the symptoms of allergy season? What if you could feel less miserable and all you had to do was cook and eat delicious foods?
This 7-day menu plan features foods that are high in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients that many experts say may help ease inflammation and minimize the symptoms of hay fever.
And even if allergies are not a problem, these healthy menus can benefit your body in many other ways, contributing heart health, helping manage weight and strengthening your immune system.
Breakfast: Quinoa cooked in apple juice with frozen blueberries, kiwi halves or orange wedges, toasted walnuts, a tablespoon of chia seeds and a cup of freshly brewed coffee or green tea.
Lunch: Tempeh Reuben on whole wheat bread, collard green salad with light vinaigrette (made with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt), with frozen strawberries or raspberries stirred in.
Dinner: Black bean soup with a side of steamed brown rice and broccoli served with a side salad of bitter greens.
The soup, along with other warm broths and teas, can help loosen mucus and ease congestion.
Chia seeds are one of the best plant sources of the potent omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have suggested the consumption of fatty acids reduce inflammatory markers and may improve lung function, so a tablespoon of chia seeds daily can be of great benefit.
Breakfast: Miso soup with daikon and green cabbage, homemade oatmeal with cinnamon and a tablespoon of chia seeds, hot green or black tea.
Lunch: Vegetarian pizza (with garlic, onions, fresh tomatoes), green salad with arugula, fruit salad (red grapes, apples, cherries, or pears).
Dinner: Tofu and vegetable stew served over cooked barley or brown rice, steamed kale with lemon dressing, 2 ounces dark chocolate
All of the fruit and some of the vegetables in today’s menu (garlic, onions) are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid phytochemical that has reported antihistamine properties -- good for nasal congestion; tomatoes and greens are rich in Vitamin C; cabbage is an anti-inflammatory; daikon helps cleanse the nasal cavities and dark chocolate contains the powerful antioxidant, resveratrol.
Drinking warm fluids from tea or broth can help soothe throats and relieve sinus congestion.
Breakfast: miso soup with vegetables, whole grain toast with almond butter, steamed kale or collard greens, hot green tea
Lunch: Hearty salad made with cooked black beans or kidney beans, fingerling potatoes, cucumbers, shredded daikon and tomatoes tossed with a light vinaigrette featuring extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt, a small bunch of red grapes.
Dinner: Spicy black bean burritos, made from steamed organic corn tortillas, steamed broccoli, carrots and summer squash, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and salt, (if desired), 2 chocolate chunk cookies.
This menu provides antioxidants including, vitamin C (berries, potatoes, tomatoes, kale). Using vegetable oils that are higher in monounsaturated fat and/or omega-3s and lower in omega-6 fatty acids (like olive oil) may benefit people with breathing challenges this time of year.
Spicy ingredients in the burritos (hot pepper, onions, or garlic) may help thin mucus and clear nasal passages.
Breakfast: Scrambled tofu made with scallions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes with baby arugula stirred in at the end of cooking, and served with a toasted whole wheat English muffin, strawberries and hot coffee or tea.
Lunch: Quinoa and black bean chili, steamed kale, broccoli or collard greens, handful almonds.
Dinner: Red Lentil soup, whole grain pasta with tomato sauce and fresh basil, salad of watercress, arugula and dandelion, lightly dressed with extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, sea salt, stewed apples with cinnamon.
This menu gives you plenty of protein from tofu and beans without saturated fat that has been associated with congestion. Along with greens and tomato sauce for vitamin C, the salad of bitter greens has been shown in Chinese medicine to help relieve symptoms of congestion.
Caffeine from tea or coffee can act like antihistamine in the body, but the tea and coffee need to be of high quality and freshly brewed. Hot liquid in general will have soothing effects on the throat and sinus congestion.
“Hot” spices have been linked to aiding in the thinning of mucus, alleviating breathing by clearing the sinuses.
Breakfast: Soft cooked whole millet porridge with fresh berries, freshly brewed hot coffee or tea.
Lunch: Italian minestrone soup, a ‘salad’ of steamed kale, collard greens, cauliflower florets, citrus salad made from orange and grapefruit sections and fresh blueberries.
Dinner: Miso soup with vegetables, tempeh and vegetable stir fry over brown basmati rice, 2 ounces dark chocolate.
All of the vegetables in today’s menu are rich in quercetin, a flavonoid phytochemical that might help suppress the allergic response by controlling the release of histamine.
Fresh ginger and garlic are featured in the tempeh stir fry. Anecdotally, using spices like ginger, cayenne, and turmeric seem to help patients who suffer from seasonal allergies.
Breakfast: Miso soup with vegetables, steamed brown rice, stewed carrots, daikon and shiitake mushrooms, boiled kale or collard greens.
Lunch: Veggie burger with lettuce, tomato and sauerkraut on whole grain bun, fresh salad of baby arugula, walnut pieces and berries with a light dressing of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt.
Dinner: Daikon Consommé, Vegetable pot pie, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, 2 chocolate chunk cookies
From tea to tomatoes, today’s menu is brimming with high-antioxidant plant foods. Low intakes of dietary antioxidants may contribute to increases in allergies, so featuring plant foods rich in an assortment of antioxidants in as many meals as possible may be helpful.
Breakfast: Whole grain waffles topped with fresh or frozen strawberries, hot coffee or tea.
Lunch: Chicken-less salad made with walnuts, Dijon or spicy mustard served on Romaine lettuce with 2 cups mixed berries.
Dinner: Thai curry tofu with cauliflower and broccoli florets served over steamed brown rice, with a cup of miso soup with vegetables, fruit salad with berries, orange and grapefruit sections.
This menu includes several foods with quercetin (tea, strawberries, lettuce, and broccoli) plus several top vitamin C-rich foods (strawberries, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and broccoli). A high antioxidant intake may be helpful for people with seasonal allergies.
The hot soup, curry spice, and spicy mustard will help get the sinuses running. Curry and mustard typically contain turmeric which seem seems to offer additional relief with allergy symptoms.
One final note: Vitamin D. Studies show that getting enough of this valuable nutrient is essential to health and particularly to allergy relief, especially in children and teens, according to WebMD. Getting outside is one way to get your D, but with pollution and bad weather, most of us do not get enough, so supplementation is necessary in my opinion. Check with your doctor for the proper amounts to supplement.
Happy spring and easy breathing!
Oh, and some recipes to get you cooking!
Apple and Berry Scented Quinoa
I was enlisted to create a healthy breakfast cereal that kids would actually eat and that moms could easily afford and make on a busy morning. It’s high in complete protein, contains fresh fruit, and the added protein of walnuts. Tested on lots of kids, this recipe has won raves every time!
Makes 3–4 servings
1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups unfiltered apple juice
Pinch sea salt
Pinch ground cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries
1 pint fresh raspberries
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts, pecans (or other nuts)
Place quinoa and apple juice in a sauce pan over medium heat. When the quinoa boils, add salt and cinnamon, cover, reduce heat, and bring to a boil. Cook over low heat for 15–20 minutes, until the quinoa has absorbed all the juice.
While the quinoa is hot, stir in the berries and nuts. Serve hot.
The Best Scrambled Tofu
What is it about scrambled eggs that make everyone so happy? The saturated fat? The cholesterol? This vegan version is a hit with all the flavor and none of the stuff we don’t want. My challenge was to create a texture that was as tender and moist as eggs. You can build on this to develop your own masterpiece.
Makes 4–5 servings
1 pound firm tofu (extra firm is too dry)
1 teaspoon avocado oil
¼ yellow onion, diced
2–3 fresh whole green onions, white and green parts, minced, including green part
1 cup fresh baby spinach or arugula
1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
⅛ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon soy sauce
Cracked black pepper
Cut tofu in half so that it is half its original thickness. Press each half between your hands over the sink to expel some water. Using your fingers, crumble tofu into a bowl. Set aside.
Place oil and onion in a skillet over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, sauté for 2–3 minutes. Add green onions, greens, and pepper, stirring to combine. Stir in turmeric and soy sauce, stirring until an even golden color forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 3–4 minutes more. Serve immediately.
Italian Lentil Soup
This is the soup of my childhood. I had no idea that my mother was nourishing us with protein, fiber, and antioxidants to keep us healthy! I just knew it was delicious.
Makes 4–5 servings
Extra- virgin olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 small red onion, diced
Crushed red pepper flakes
2 stalks celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup green or brown lentils, rinsed well
4 cups spring or filtered water
1 bay leaf
Cracked black pepper
2–3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish
Place a small amount of oil, garlic, and onion in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Sauté for 2–3 minutes. Stir in celery and, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in carrots and, a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Add tomatoes and lentils and stir well. Add water and bay leaf and bring to a boil, covered.
Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45–50 minutes or until lentils are soft and the soup is “creamy.” Remove bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer 5 minutes more. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.
The Quickest Tomato Soup
This tomato soup usually simmers for hours and gets rich and creamy, as the bread “melts.” In this quick version, the soup has a chunky texture that is incredibly satisfying, and cooks in just minutes, and is loaded with vitamins, and minerals, protein, and fiber.
Makes 3–4 servings
Extra- virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
½ loaf whole- wheat bread, cut into cubes
Cracked black pepper
2–3 sprigs fresh basil, leaves coarsely chopped
Place a small amount of oil and onion in a soup pot over medium heat. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and bread; season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 15 minutes. Add water in small amounts to create a thinner soup texture. Simmer 5 minutes more if you add water. Stir in basil and serve hot.
The key to a good Reuben is the thousand island dressing, in my view anyway. A traditional Reuben is loaded with meat and cheese, but it’s really the oozy dressing we love so much . . . in this vegan version, you’ll whip up a creamy dressing in no time with none of the stuff in the bottled versions that you might not want.
Makes 2 sandwiches
1 cup vegan mayo, like Vegenaise)
⅓ cup natural ketchup, (no sugar or artificial additives)
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
Generous pinch sea salt
3 tablespoons natural sweet pickle relish
8-ounce tempeh block, sliced in half and then in half thicknesses, making 4 pieces
4 slices whole grain rye bread
2 slices vegan Swiss cheese
2-3 tablespoons natural sauerkraut
Make the dressing, adjusting seasonings to your taste. Set aside.
Place oil in a skillet to cover the bottom of the pan. Lay tempeh slices in the oil over medium heat and cook until browned, about 4 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. In the same skillet, lay the bread slices with the cheese on 2 of them. Allow the cheese to melt as the bread toasts.
Remove the bread from the skillet and spread with dressing. Place 2 pieces of tempeh on top of the cheese. Spoon sauerkraut on top of the tempeh. Lay bread with melted cheese on top to close the sandwich. Slice diagonally and serve hot.
Basic Miso Soup
Miso is a fermented soybean paste used to flavor various dishes, but most widely used to season soups, like bouillon. Miso’s natural fermentation process creates a combination of enzymes that strengthen and nourish the intestinal tract. As a result, the blood that nourishes the balance of the body is stronger. The quality of our blood creates the people we are, and the health we possess. The best-quality misos are those aged over two or more summers. Basic miso soup encompasses the use of miso, of course, a small amount of sea vegetables to mineralize the blood, and a variety of fresh vegetables. The balance of these ingredients creates a strengthening energy vital to life.
The key to basic miso soup is that it be a light broth, like consommé with vegetables. The flavor should be delicate, not too salty. Any soup or stew can be seasoned with miso. But keep it light and fresh tasting, simple and delicious. Vary the veggies each day.
This simple, yet elegant broth is traditionally served in Japanese households for breakfast. With just a few ingredients, this warming broth is a great way to start the day—a great energy-booster, that is, if you can get past the idea of soup for breakfast!
Makes about 4 servings
3 cups spring or filtered water
3 (1-inch) pieces wakame, soaked until tender (about 3 minutes) and diced
Several pieces each of a few vegetables, such as onion slices, daikon matchsticks, carrot rounds, finely shredded Chinese cabbage or head cabbage and finely diced winter squash
¾ to 1½ teaspoons barley or brown rice miso
1 to 2 fresh green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
Bring water and wakame to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer about 3 minutes. Add vegetables and simmer, covered, over low heat 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender.
Remove a small bit of hot broth, add miso and stir until dissolved. Stir miso mixture into the soup and simmer, uncovered, without boiling, 3 to 4 minutes more. Garnish with green onions and serve hot.
NOTES It is very important that you do not boil the miso. The beneficial enzymes present need warmth to activate, but boiling them will destroy their benefits, leaving you only with the flavor.
Garnishing isn’t arbitrary or done simply because it makes soup look beautiful, which, of course it does. Garnishing adds a final touch of fresh, light energy to a soup that has cooked over fire for several minutes. All soups need that kind of freshness. You can use anything raw and fresh, such as green onions, parsley sprouts or grated carrot, daikon or fresh ginger, to name just a few options.
This amazing salad has fooled some of the biggest chicken salad fans. It has all the ingredients that make a great chicken salad, except the bird! This salad is great on a bed of fresh, crisp greens or served as a hearty sandwich.
Makes 4 servings
1 (1-pound) brick extra-firm tofu
Spring or filtered water
3 celery stalks, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, roasted over a flame, peeled, seeded and diced
½ teaspoon each basil, sage, rosemary and oregano
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 to 1½ cups Tofu Mayo (page 000)
Preheat oven to 400F (205C). Lightly oil a baking sheet. Cut tofu into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place slices in a shallow dish and cover with a mixture that is one part soy sauce to four parts water. Allow tofu to marinate 10 minutes. Place tofu slices on prepared baking sheet and bake 30 to 35 minutes, until deep, golden brown and crispy on the outside.
Remove tofu slices from oven and allow to cool until you can handle them. Then, shred the tofu slices with a sharp knife, creating irregular, angular pieces similar to shredded chicken. Mix with vegetables, herbs, paprika and Tofu Mayo until ingredients are coated. Chill thoroughly before serving.
VARIATION: Broil tofu for a few minutes rather than baking it. You may also use prepared baked tofu (as well as vegan mayo) that you can purchase in any natural food store.
The Best Chocolate Chunk Cookies
These are the best. Not much more to say, really…
Makes about 36 cookies
1 stick Earth Balance or 8 tablespoons, softened
½ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons coconut sugar
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Pinch sea salt
Generous pinch ground cinnamon
Scant ½ teaspoon baking soda
Scant ½ teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1 cup vegan dark chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350o and line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Place Earth Balance, rice syrup, coconut sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and whip until creamy. Add flours, salt, cinnamon and baking soda/powder. Mix with a spoon to create a soft dough. Fold in chocolate and nuts.
Using a spoon, place cookies on baking sheet leaving space between then for spreading. You will get about 12 to a tray. Press lightly on the cookie with your fingers to flatten them slightly.
Bake for 14-15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.