Hey guys! I hope you’re all doing well amidst the craziness out there. Personally, I have been locked away in my One Ingredient Doomsday Bunker, but I wanted to quickly poke my head above ground to share a new recipe that might be useful in times like these.
A lot of people are (rightly) concerned with their immune system right now, and this recipe is all about immunity. But first, a little background on the subject…
Generally, the idea that there is some food or supplement that will boost your immune system and prevent you from getting sick is nonsense.
A lot of the research on immunity is about deficiencies. Of course, if you are deficient in [folate / vitamin c / whatever], it will impair your immune system because your immune system isn’t an isolated thing, it’s interrelated with all other areas of your health. Folate might boost immunity (if you’re deficient) but will taking extra folate give you any extra benefit? It’s unlikely.
Ultimately, my view is that the best thing we can do to boost our immune system is to boost our overall healthfulness. Anything that makes our bodies healthier and more robust is likely to make our immune system stronger as well… good sleep, a healthy weight, reduced stress, exercise, sunshine, and of course eating a healthy diet with an abundance of plant food from across the spectrum of colors.
Nevertheless, I took a deep dive this week into the research on which vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients have been shown to support immune function. Most of what I mentioned above holds true (i.e. make sure you’re generally eating a nutrient-rich diet, but taking extra won’t help). However, I was surprised to learn that there ARE a few exceptions that seem to have special powers at reducing the chances of getting sick and also speeding recovery once we do get sick. Namely, alliums (onions/garlic) and zinc.
With all of this in mind, I put together this amazing “immunity bowl” recipe! While it sounds like some kind of a prop from Survivor, it’s really just a delicious sesame rice bowl with tons of amazing flavors.
Behind the colorful exterior, however, this bowl isn’t messing around. I designed the ingredient list to basically cover all the bases of immunity. It includes onions, garlic, and zinc-rich ingredients, and also a full spectrum of nutrient-dense foods including fiber, vitamin A, Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Vitamin E, and more. Check it out:
Chickpeas – If you read my Complete Guide to Dietary Fiber, it should come as no surprise that fiber / good gut health is like the first line of defense for immunity. There has also been some research that a high fiber diet supercharges immune cells, so this bowl has tons of chickpeas (and brown rice) for lots of fiber. Plus, chickpeas are a good source of zinc as well (see the pumpkin seeds section for more on that).
Garlic & Onion – Again, garlic and onions are amazing for the immune system. Like Zinc, the compounds in garlic have immune-boosting properties. The catch? They need to be eaten raw and sometimes raw garlic can be a bit… much, so check out the recipe itself to see how I’m dealing with that.
Mushrooms – Mushrooms have a lot of essential vitamins and minerals, and while the research is pretty complex, they seem to have powerful phytochemical that boost immune function as well.
Cruciferous Veggies – This bowl contains sautéed kale and very lightly cooked broccoli because these cruciferous veggies are probably the overall healthiest foods on the planet, not only for their vitamin and nutrient density, but also for the way their enzymes interact with our digestive system to create powerful immune boosting functions (see this awesome video).
Pumpkin Seeds – Zinc is one of those minerals that has been shown to have direct benefits on cold viruses – it can help to both prevent and treat cold symptoms and pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc (100% of the daily value in
Bell Pepper – Bright red or orange bell peppers have 3x as much vitamin C as oranges, BUT the vitamins are heat-sensitive, so that’s why this recipe has us adding the pepper and broccoli (also high in Vitamin C and enzymes that boost immunity) right at the end to just lightly simmer them.
Citrus – For additional vitamin C and some bright flavors to compliment the sesame, I used the delicious and in-season Sumo Citrus here but any type of orange or tangerine would be great.
Avocado – The “Big Avocado” industry has tried really hard to make avocados seem like an immune-boosting food. Those claims seem dubious at best, but they DO have tons of vitamins and minerals, and you don’t have to tell me twice to put avocado in a recipe…
What’s really great about this bowl is that literally all of the ingredients are substitutable. I know grocery stores aren’t fully stocked with everything we want these days and we’re all trying to make our ingredients last between trips, so this bowl is extremely flexible – you can use quinoa or millet instead of rice, you can omit the avocado or peppers, you can add berries or other fruit, you can switch up the spices, and I’m guessing it will STILL be delicious and full of immune-supporting nutrition.
I hope you enjoy the bowl, and stay safe out there, guys!
Makes: 5+ servings
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- 2 cups sliced mushrooms (any kind)
- 2 15 oz cans chickpeas
- 4 cups chopped kale
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- 1+ tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Black pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1 cup chopped fresh broccoli
- 1 sliced red bell pepper
- 5 sliced green onions
- 1 whole orange
- 1 avocado
First, begin cooking the brown rice (or any grain you’d like – quinoa or millet would also be excellent). You’ll need about 3 cups cooked, so maybe start with 1 1/4 cups dry rice and follow package instructions.
In your largest skillet or stockpot, add the sliced mushrooms with a few splashes of water and let them reduce by themselves over medium heat for 5 minutes. Drain the water and then add the chickpeas, 3 cups of kale (reserve one), grated (or dried) ginger, one of the cloves of garlic, a splash of soy sauce, a tiny drizzle of sesame oil, and a grind of black pepper. Stir occasionally and let this simmer for anywhere between 10-20 minutes while the rice finishes.
In a large serving bowl, add the sliced green onions, the remaining two cloves of garlic, and the last cup of chopped kale. When the rice is cooked and still hot, dump it on top of these ingredients and toss with another splash of soy sauce, drizzle of sesame oil, and grind of black pepper.
[Again, the reason for this is to warm the raw garlic / onion / kale without destroying too much of their immune-boosting nutrients that are heat-sensitive.]
While the veggies are sautéing, add the raw broccoli, bell pepper, and pumpkin seeds at the last minute. Give them about 5 minutes of light simmering just to slightly warm (again, to preserve the heat-sensitive compounds). A good rule of thumb is to watch the color of the broccoli. As it begins to warm, it will become much more green. As soon as that happens, pull it off the heat.
Finally, toss the rice mixture with the veggie mixture and add in fresh orange (sliced into small chunks). Serve with slices of avocado and another grind of black pepper for one deliciously healthy (and colorful!) meal.
Note: This makes a HUGE batch and does well the next day, but I would suggest eating it cold (it’s great) to preserve those heat-sensitive nutrients that would be destroyed if you, say, nuked it in the microwave. 🙂