Recipes that you and your gut flora will love

Yesterday, I wrote about all the amazing things the trillions of symbiotic microbes that live in our guts do for us. If we want to keep them happy, we need to feed them lots of complex carbohydrates, mostly in the form of whole plant foods. Here are some recipes I took to the farmers markets last week for my gut flora talk. Folks gobbled them up, and I’m guessing so did their microbes.

  • Try to incorporate whole grains and new kinds of grains into your meals. Add in lots of fresh herbs and spices for added phytonutrients. Use unfiltered extra virgin olive oil – it has more antioxidants and keeps longer without going rancid than filtered olive oil – and work in kefir or yogurt for their nutrition as well as their ability to lighten dough and keep it moist once cooked. Here’s a recipe that does all that.

 Herbed Whole Grain and Kefir Flat Breads

  • 2⅓ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (also called besan)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons minced mixed fresh herbs (I used cinnamon basil, parsley, garlic chives and dill)
  • 1/4 cup packed chopped scallions, white and green parts
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup kefir or plain yogurt

Combine all the ingredients, except the oil and the kefir, in a large bowl and toss to combine well. Drizzle in the oil and toss the mixture lightly to disperse it through the mixture. Pour in the kefir or yogurt and mix in well with your hands.

When well combined, turn out onto the counter and knead well for a few minutes. Cut the dough into 16 equal pieces and roll them into balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for 1/2 hour or more before rolling out and cooking.

When ready to cook, sprinkle a little flour on the counter and roll the balls out into thin rounds about 6 inches in diameter. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium high heat and cook the breads as you continue rolling.

Cook the breads on one side for a few minutes until small bubbles begin to appear in the surface of the bread. Flip the bread and continue cooking a minute or two. The bubbles should puff up a bit and the bottom will also have several small rounds of brown.

Stack the breads on a plate as you cook them – this will keep them moist. Serve as you go, or when all the breads are cooked. They can be cooled in the stack then covered with plastic and refrigerated for a day or two before serving. Reheat on the skillet or allow to come to room temperature before eating.

  • Eat lots of fresh greens. One way to do this is by turning herbs into sauces to liven up other foods. Check out Indian cookbooks for many such recipes – this mint and cilantro and hot pepper recipe is very common in many parts of India.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • 2 hot green peppers, such as jalapenos, seeded and chopped (leave in seeds if you want this very spicy)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until it becomes a chunky puree. Taste for seasonings and add more of any of the seasonings as desired. This will keep, sealed in a jar in the refrigerator for several days.

  • Kamut is an ancient form of wheat from Egypt and is easy to find in grocery stores these days. It stays chewy, even after being soaked and cooked, and adds a lot of body to this Mediterranean style-salad. If you are avoiding wheat of all kinds, simply leave it out.

 Kamut, Feta and Vegetable Salad

  • 2 cups cooked Kamut (follow directions on the package)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 medium sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 medium chopped cucumber (peel it in stripes, if it’s organic, to leave on a bit of skin)
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • good olive oil and vinegar, to taste

Combine all ingredients. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

  • Try to find ways to make desserts that use healthier ingredients. Here, olive oil replaces butter, nutritious ground walnuts replace some of the flour, and oranges and blueberries (you can substitute other nuts and fruits), add vitamins and antioxidants.

Blueberry Walnut Cake

  •  3 eggs
  • grated rind one orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 generous cup walnut pieces
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup white flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 if a convection oven). Oil an 8 inch square pan, line with parchment paper, oil the paper, then dust the whole thing with flour. Set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, then whisk in the orange juice and olive oil. Set aside.

Place the walnut pieces, sugar and orange rind in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the walnut pieces are finely ground. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the walnut-sugar mixture and whisk until homogenous. Add 1 cup of the blueberries and toss to coat with the dry ingredients.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and gently fold together using a rubber spatula until well combined and there are no large lumps of dry ingredients remaining.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top of the cake. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 mins. – 1 hour, turning once so it cooks evenly.

  • Use local ingredients with short shelf lives as they become available. Yellow Transparent Apples are a tart heirloom variety good for eating and cooking that ripens in August at the same time as mulberries – a sweet, nutritious, dark purple berry that grows on a tree. Both are perishable, which means they’re hard to find even at farmer’s markets. Pick them yourself when you can find them – they’re a summer treat that you will never find in winter. And if you can’t find them, simply substitute another tart cooking apple and whatever berry is available, including frozen ones (just don’t thaw them before adding them to the apples).

Transparent Yellow Apple and Mulberry Oat Crumble

For the Oat Crumble:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup whole rolled oats (not quick cooking)
  • 2 sticks cool unsalted butter cut into chunks (plus a little more for the pan)
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup sugar

Put the oat flour, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and one stick of butter chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until the mixture is crumbly with some chunks about the size of a pea. Put the mixture into a large bowl.

Put the whole rolled oats, the other stick of butter chunks and the other teaspoon of cinnamon into the bowl of the food processor and pulse until the mixture begins to come together into loose clumps – don’t over-process. Add the mixture to the mixture in the bowl.

Add the sugar and the pinch of salt to the bowl. Toss with your fingers, until the mixture takes a chunky crumble texture. Place in the refrigerator or a cool spot until the filling is ready.

For the filling:

  • 2 pounds Yellow Transparent or other tart summer apple (2½ pounds if organic and in need of a lot of trimming), peeled, cored, and cut into thin slices
  • 3 cups fresh mulberries or raspberries
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup light summer honey

1/4 cup of Oat Crumble (removed from the completed crumble recipe)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (350 if a convection oven). Butter a 13 x 8 inch oval baking dish (you may also use a rectangular dish of a similar size).

Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine. Pour into the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining crumble evenly over the top of the fruit.

Place in the oven and bake, turning once or twice so the crumble browns evenly. The crumble is done when the crumble is golden and the fruit bubbling in the center.

Allow to cool for at least an hour before serving to set the syrup in the fruit filling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

  •  Soba Noodles are made of buckwheat, and sometimes buckwheat with a little bit of wheat. If you are gluten intolerant, be sure to buy only noodles that are 100% buckwheat. They come in packages with single servings divided out with a paper wrapper. They are often served tossed with sesame oil, chilled and with a variety of toppings.

 Soba Noodles with Toppings

  • Soba noodles, cooked (follow package instructions) one bunch per person, rinsed with cold water and tossed with a little sesame oil to prevent sticking
  • Kimchi
  • cucumbers mixed with a little grated ginger, vinegar, and salt
  • fresh tomatoes chopped and mixed with a little sesame oil, chopped scallions and salt

Place noodles into bowls and then allow diners to top them as desired.

  • Cut back on your meat consumption by mixing meat with grains and vegetables. Here, ground beef is mixed with a quinoa pilaf to make meatballs that are then cooked in a roasted carrot and tomato sauce.

Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 pounds tomatoes
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
olive oil
  • 1 quart water or stock
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Clean the carrots and trim them of the leaf end and spindly root end. Cut into pieces that are 3 or 4 inches in length. Toss with a little olive oil and place on a baking sheet and put into preheated oven. Bake for about 1 hour, until tender.

At the same time, cut tomatoes into even pieces and toss in olive oil and bake in the same way as the carrots.

When both are tender, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Place in batches in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Set aside.

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil heated in a large skillet until translucent, then add the pureed carrots and tomatoes. Add the water or stock, basil and salt and pepper. Allow to simmer for 1/2 hour or so, then remove from heat and either use immediately or cool be before using. It may be refrigerated for a week or frozen for up to 4 months.

 Beef and Quinoa Meatballs in Tomato Carrot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 cup white quinoa
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 recipe roast tomato and carrot sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and garlic until softened. Add the quinoa and saute for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned and glossy. Remove from heat and cool.

When cooled, mix with the ground beef, cumin and salt and pepper. Form into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

Brown the meatballs in a large skillet in batches if necessary to prevent crowding. When all the meatballs have been browned, put them back into the pan and add the sauce. Cover and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through. The quinoa will have expanded and the “tails” turned white.

Serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature.

Gut Microbes: or, Why You Ought to Invite Your Trillions of Brand New Best Friends to Dinner

I recently gave a couple of demonstrations at the Canterbury Farmers Market and the Warner Area Farmers Market. The theme was great recipes that feature complex carbohydrates to feed your gut flora.

“Huh?” you may be asking. Read the article below for the lowdown on our microbe friends and why it’s important to feed them. And then look for my next post featuring the recipes I cooked up. Believe me, nobody was choking that rich-in-complex-carbohydrates-food down. Au contraire – people loved it. And I KNOW their microbial body-mates did, too.

Why you need to invite your trillions of microbe friends to dinner, and feed them what they like to eat:

Our bodies contain trillions of micro-organisms – they outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. There are upwards of 100 trillion bacterial cells alone (that doesn’t count things like fungi and other micro-organisms) on our skin and inside of us.

We used to think of these organisms as harmful germs, but it has become clear in recent years that though some them do make us sick, most of them are essential for human health.

In 2008 the National Institutes of Health started the Human Microbiome Project, a 5 year, 115 million dollar project to partner with researchers to map the human micro-biome. Scientists are looking at 5 sites – oral, skin, vaginal, gut and nasal-lung – and identifying the microbes living there and how they affect human health.

The greatest diversity of micro-flora is in the gut. Most are bacteria, but there are a few other things like fungi and yeasts as well. It’s thought that there are at least 1000 different microbial species that inhabit the human gut, and each of us has at least 160 of them.

One of the most important things these microbes do for us is to ferment the carbohydrates that our stomachs and small intestines lack the enzymes to digest. When these carbohydrates reach our large intestine the micro-flora living there can produce the enzymes that will break them down and ferment them.

These bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with us – they take what they need to survive from the complex carbohydrates that reach them (think fiber), and donate to us by-products that they don’t need, primarily short chain fatty acids. These provide we human hosts a huge amount of nutrition and energy that we can’t make for ourselves.

The microbes also help to synthesize important vitamins, like B vitamins and vitamin K, and can break down harmful toxins that have entered our bodies, fighting not only things we’ve ingested that might make us sick immediately, but also things that might give us cancer. They can also influence the production of neurotransmitters and so are involved in brain function; they may even be involved in mental illnesses.

Another essential task they perform is training our immune systems; this happens in a variety of ways. For example, some bacteria train the gut mucosa to produce antibodies that kill harmful pathogens while leaving the good microflora alone. Others encourage T-cells that produce antibodies to turn on. One kind of T cell, the T Helper 17 cells, are suspected of becoming overactive and causing autoimmune diseases like MS and Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as some forms of cancer, and it is now believed that specific gut bacteria may control these overactive cells.

Gut flora also seem to be involved in the production of hormones that tell the body to store fat. It is known that obese people have very different kinds of gut flora than leaner people, and as obese people lose weight, their gut flora changes to look more like that of thinner people. Just how these gut flora contribute to obesity isn’t completely understood, but it may be that they are capable of extracting more calories from foods than other kinds of bacteria.

If you eat lots of complex carbohydrates, like vegetables, your gut will be dominated by bacteria in the family Prevotella; most people in developing countries have gut bacteria in this category. If you eat lots of meat and fat, your gut will be dominated by the family Bacteriodes; most people in Western countries have this kind of gut bacteria. Even vegetarians and vegans, if they eat enough fat and processed foods, can have this kind of gut “enterotype.” Such a diet may be related to inflammatory bowel disease and other inflammatory disorders.

It is very likely, according to early research, that “metabolic syndrome,” the combination of obesity, diabetes type 2, and high blood pressure that plagues more and more people every year, is linked to the kind of bacteria we have in our guts. It has been shown experimentally that changing diet will change gut bacteria, leading to an increase in the number of species that inhabit us, and knocking back populations of some kinds of microbes that might contribute to obesity.

The research so far seems to indicate that most of us could improve our health by eating lots more complex carbohydrates, primarily foods that come from plants and that have not been heavily processed. This gives your gut flora lots of undigested carbohydrates to ferment and feed on, providing the human host with many health benefits. So in order to grow good gut microbes and reap all the health and psychological benefits of a vibrant personal gut biome, many of us need to change our diets.

Here are a few pointers on how to do this:

  • Try to eat a lot more plants than you do animal products. Look for recipes that use a little meat to a lot of vegetables, like stews and stir fries.
  • Shop the edges of the grocery store, where the whole foods are located, and skip as much as possible the aisles that contain processed foods. Just because something is labeled “gluten-free,” “organic,” or “low-fat” does not mean it’s good for you.
  • Try to eat as many different plants as you can. Try for 30 different plants a week. I know this sounds like a lot, but remember that adding some chopped up parsley to a sauce counts as 1 plant. If we sneak lots of little things like this into our diets, we can get to 30 quickly.
  • Try to eat more of the actual plant. For example, don’t just eat the florets on broccoli – eat the stem, too. In many cases, the greatest nutrition in a plant is in its skin. Potatoes are a good example of this. Skins are high in complex carbohydrates, and are great for your gut microbes. They will slow down how fast you metabolize the starches and sugars in the rest of the potato. Remember, though, that skins from conventional produce can be loaded with pesticides – potatoes are notorious for this. So, if you aren’t eating organic produce, it may be best to toss the skin. At the very least, wash thoroughly (though this may not remove all contaminants).
  • Learn more about which vegetables and fruits contain the most nutrition (and the least) and try to pack your diet with the best ones. I recommend Jo Robinson’s book Eating on the Wild Side – she has done a tremendous amount of research on plant nutrition and also includes great advice about which varieties to grow or seek out at farmers markets, as well as storing and cooking foods to retain their nutrients.
  • Some foods have “probiotic” qualities – that is, they already contain bacteria that are good for our guts. Some examples are kimchee, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir, though there are many more. Eat them – they’re good for you. And try making your own. I recommend Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation to learn how.
  • Be aware that, unfortunately, some complex carbohydrates can cause gastric problems in some people. Such problems can be life-threatening, as in celiac disease, where an allergy to the gluten in wheat and some other grains can so degrade the lining of the digestive tract that microbes leak into the blood stream and make the individual extremely ill. For most of us though, such gastric problems amount to uncomfortable bloating, excess gas and, sometimes, constipation or diarrhea – the by-products of happy microbes madly fermenting the food you eat. If you already have such symptoms, or you begin to experience them after you begin eating more complex carbohydrates, talk to your doctor about trying a FODMAP elimination diet. FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Mono-saccharides And Polyols. I recommend the book IBS: Free at Last! by Patsy Catsos for an in-depth description of the diet.
  • Go do some research on the research. Here are some websites to start with: – a link for the NIH Human Microbiome Project.
  • – home of the American Gut Project.
  • Avoid antibiotics when you can do so safely, because they can destroy many of your beneficial gut flora. Avoid conventionally raised meat, because many of these animals are fed antibiotics, and this practice may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant microbes.