Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #148

Yellow Rice and Green Beans with Pimentón Recipes, Spotlight on Pimentón and Turmeric, Storing Spices and Your Health, and How Restricting Calories Can Boost Longevity

Want to elevate your cooking this holiday season? Grab your spices and turn dull into delicious! In this installment of my single-origin spice series, I’m focusing on two high-flavor choices that may seem exotic, yet can be used often and with tempting results.

Remember too that spices aren’t just for cooking—many are great for boosting the flavor of finished dishes. So, bring some out when you set your table. You and your guests won’t reach for the salt shaker as often, and that’s good for your health.

Yellow Rice

  • Yellow rice with peas Yellow Rice

    Fragrant and richly hued, yellow rice takes the standard side dish and elevates it. This recipe gets another taste boost from the green peas. 


    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
    • 1/4 cup minced onion
    • 1 cup basmati or jasmine rice
    • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
    • 1-1/2 cups water or chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium store bought
    • 4 strands saffron, optional
    • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed


    Heat a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and butter, then the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and turmeric, stirring to coat the grains. Add the water or broth and saffron, if using, and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 20 minutes, checking after 15 to see if all the liquid has been absorbed. When done, turn off the heat, fluff with a fork, fold in the peas, and cover the saucepan for 2 minutes before serving.

    Yields 4 servings

Green Beans with Pimentón

  • Green beans with pimenton Green Beans with Pimentón

    Wonderful when made with thin French green beans called haricots verts, often available frozen year-round.


    • 1-1/2 pounds fresh or frozen green beans
    • 4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and cut into strips
    • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
    • 1 teaspoon Pimentón or more to taste 
    • 3 ounces cured ham, preferably Serrano, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
    • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • Coarse sea salt, if needed


    If using fresh beans, trim the ends and steam them until tender-crisp, about 5 minutes. Immediately plunge them into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Drain and set aside. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the bell peppers, sautéing the peppers until softened, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and the pimentón, stirring well to distribute the spice. Add the ham and the steamed beans. Season with black pepper and, if needed, salt (the ham itself may add enough salt), and stir the beans with tongs to heat through. If they seem dry, add the rest of the oil. When the beans are ready, taste and add more pimentón, black pepper, and/or salt as desired. 

    Yields 4 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Pimentón and Turmeric


All peppers were brought to Spain from the Americas, but the peppers used to make pimentón (Capsicum annuum) have a history all their own. They were given to monks at the Yuste monastery in La Vera, an area within the region of Extremadura, by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The monks dried them and turned them into a powder. Peppers later made their way to the rest of Europe, notably Hungary, where the unsmoked version of the powder became that country’s classic spice, paprika.

The distinct sweet smoky aroma and flavor of pimentón come from thelocalclimate and the unique, centuries-old and labor-intensive smoking process. After being handpicked, the peppers go to a two-story smokehouse. On the first story is an oak fire that burns around the clock. The peppers are smoked on the second story—for two weeks, they’re continually bathed in the aromatic heat and regularly rotated for even crispness. The spice’s full name is Pimentón de La Vera DOP. DOP means “Designation of Protected Origin,” a label bestowed when a specific region is recognized as producing certain foods with special local characteristics. It’s pimentón that, in turn, gives the region’s famed chorizo and other pork products their distinctive flavor and color.

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Pimentón defines many Spanish dishes, such as shrimp with pimentón and garlic,patatas bravas, and paella. It’s also wonderful in deviled eggs, dry rubs, and marinades for barbecues, and, for the adventurous, homemade sausages. It marries perfectly with fresh-pressed extra virgin olive oil to add heat to any sauté or to popcorn made on the stovetop. I love it on braised greens and cooked legumes.

Golden Turmeric

India is the land of intriguing spices, rich and deep, and none more colorful than turmeric (Curcuma longa). It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes ginger, and you can see the similarity between them when you hold up the edible parts, the rhizomes. Also, like ginger, turmeric has been used for thousands of years, and not only in India but throughout South Asia and into the Middle East, Africa, and beyond, in both sweet and savory dishes. Besides its culinary tradition, turmeric is used in Eastern medicine, in religious ceremonies, and even as a natural coloring.

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Besides using turmeric in your favorite Indian dishes from kormas to dals, add it to sauces, stews, broths, salad dressings, juices, and baked goods for a depth of flavor and a jolt of color. Toss cut-up root vegetables with olive oil, sprinkle with turmeric, and roast at 400°F until soft. For a soothing brew, createa paste with turmeric, honey, cinnamon,and a healthy pinch of freshly ground black peppercorns, and whisk it into a cup of warmed milk of your choice. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Storing Spices

The best way to store spices isn’t the handiest—they should be in tightly sealed glass containers away from light, humidity, and heat, so not above the cooktop. Keep them on a dry pantry shelf or in a drawer away from the oven, and soon it will be second nature to take them out of their new “home” as you prep ingredients and set the table with these great alternatives to salt.

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Spices and Your Health 

Peppers have among the highest levels of antioxidants of any vegetable, including bioactive compounds like vitamin C, phenolics, and carotenoids (the source of their color), all strong disease fighters. The carotenoids include zeaxanthin and lutein, good for eye health, according to International Journal of Molecular Sciences. Pimentón’s spiciness comes from capsaicin, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties. While the amount of all this goodness in a little pinch of the spice is small, all those little pinches can add up to help meet micronutrient needs. 

Most of the interest in turmeric comes from its powerful polyphenol curcumin, thought to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, though research done in Western countries hasn’t quite been able to explain how it works. A newer concept, published in Advances in Nutrition, is that curcumin could have a direct positive effect on the GI tract and that its health benefits could emanate from there. Interestingly, we know that, on its own, curcumin has a low bioavailability, meaning the body isn’t able to draw out and make the most of its nutrients. According to a report in the journal Foods, you can increase that bioavailability by having it along with black pepper, rich in the active ingredient piperine. So, every time you reach for turmeric, grab your pepper corn grinder, too. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #147

Guacamole and Pico de Gallo Recipes, Spotlight on Cumin and Black Lime, Toasting Spices and Your Health, and a 6th Sense Discovered!

Let’s get the party started! Who doesn’t love guac and salsa? (My pico de gallo recipe, below, is one of the simplest salsas you can make.) Just add your favorite dippers—I love bell pepper spears for the extra nutrients—and you’ll have a happy crowd.

Both of this issue’s recipes feature two of the most flavorful spices on the planet: wild cumin and black lime (read on to discover more about them). If these are new to you, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their depth of flavor. I love them both but was frustrated by not being able to find them easily in stores. So, I became determined to locate harvest-fresh, single-origin spices. The latest spice collection in my Curated Culinary Selections includes them both along with six other spice essentials. 

Speaking of taste sensations, I’m also sharing the first taste bud discovery in over a century—turns out we have a sixth taste. I’m sure you’ll find the news as interesting as I did! 

The Only Guac You’ll Ever Need

  • The Ultimate Guacamole The Ultimate Guacamole

    This guacamole gets a jolt of flavor from cumin. You can intensify the heat by leaving in some of the jalapeño seeds.


    • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
    • 1 small jalapeño
    • 1 small onion
    • 1 cup of cilantro, leaves and some stems
    • 3 large ripe avocados
    • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
    • 1 lime, halved
    • 1 teaspoon cumin (wild if possible), toasted and ground
    • Freshly ground black peppercorns
    • Coarse sea salt


    Mince the garlic and set it aside for 10 minutes to allow its healthful compound allicin to develop. Wearing gloves to keep the jalapeño’s powerful oils off your skin, slice the pepper in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out the ribs and seeds, and then cut it into a small dice. On a large cutting board, chop the onion into a large dice and keep chopping as you add in the garlic, jalapeños, and cilantro to meld them together. Halve the avocados and use a spoon to scoop all the flesh into a large bowl. Add the olive oil, coarsely mash the avocado with a fork, and then fold in the onion mixture. Squeeze in the juice of a lime half and fold in the cumin, a few twists of your peppercorn grinder, and a sprinkle of salt. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more olive oil, lime juice, black pepper, and/or salt as desired.

    Yields 4-6 appetizer servings. ​

Pico de Gallo

  • Pico de Gallo Pico de Gallo

    I love this Mexican condiment for its bold flavors and easy prep—no machines needed, just a good sharp knife to dice the main ingredients. Besides being a delicious dip for chips and veggies, it’s a great condiment for grilled chicken and fish for your next Taco Tuesday. 


    • 2 garlic cloves
    • 2 large fresh tomatoes or 6 canned Roma tomatoes
    • 1 medium onion
    • 1 jalapeño or other chile pepper
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (leaves and some stems)
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground 
    • Juice of 1/2 lime
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • Coarse sea salt 
    • Black Lime


    Mince the garlic and set aside. Dice the tomatoes and onion. Wearing gloves to keep the powerful oils off your skin, slice the jalapeño in half lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out the ribs and seeds, and then cut it into a small dice. Place the vegetables in a large bowl along with the garlic and cilantro, and toss well. Fold in the cumin and lime juice. Taste, add a few twists of the black peppercorn grinder and a sprinkle of the salt, and taste again, adding more salt and pepper as desired. Let the flavors meld at room temperature for 30 minutes and then refrigerate until serving. Just before serving, top with a sprinkle of black lime.

    Yields about 2 cups

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Cumin and Black Lime 

Foraged Wild Cumin

Cumin is used in so many cuisines, not only those of countries where it was first grown but also in others a world away. The common variety (Cuminum cyminum) is indigenous to the Middle East and central regions of India. My preference, wild cumin (Bunium persicum), used in cooking for centuries, has a somewhat mysterious history because it’s native to very remote areas of the world. These include regions of central Asia such as Iran, Pakistan, and the Himalayas in northern India, where it is known as kala jeera—you may see it listed that way in recipes, including Mughlai cuisine. The small, dark-brown seeds of wild cumin are extremely rare. They’re not farmed but rather handpicked from wild plants and then sun dried.

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Wild cumin, used whole or ground, shines in classic Indian dishes such as biryanis and curries, Middle Eastern falafel and hummus, and North African tagines and harissa, a heavily spiced chile paste. Cumin also is key to many exotic spice blends, such asbaharat and dukkah. But don’t be shy about using it in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes that typically call for plain cumin, in beans and chili, and in guacamole and pico de gallo.It also adds wonderful zest when sprinkled whole on naan and other flatbreads and when ground for dry rubs and marinades.

Black Lime

Black lime has a rich and storied legacy in Persian cuisine, dating back centuries, and has been used for everything from making a delicious tea to dyeing yarn. It’s popular in northern India, in Iraq, and in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Oman, where it’s known as loomi or limu Omani. Still, many American cooks have never used black lime before, and it’s hard to find outside of some ethnic food stores. To create black lime,ripe limes are dried in the sun to naturally turn black. While black limes are added whole in many Persian recipes, the ground version is very handy to use, plus the grinding process releases their fragrant oils to the max.

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Black lime is the brightest and most intense lime zest you’ve ever tasted. It’s especially delicious on seafood—grilled shrimp, salmon, and tuna—and on meat, rice and other grains, and vegetables. Try it on ceviche, avocado toast, and soft cheeses; as an ingredient in vinaigrettes; in marinades, dry rubs, and za’atar, a spice blend especially delicious with for lamb and chicken; and on any food you like with a squeeze of lime. A fun way to enjoy its flavor jolt is to use it to rim the glasses the next time you mix up a batch of margaritas or bloody Mary’s.

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Toasting Whole Spices

Lightly toasting whole spices like cumin seeds intensifies their flavor. The easiest way is in a small frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat. It’s fast—about three minutes—but requires your attention for the entire time because they can burn in a snap. Shake the pan every few seconds to rotate the spices. As soon as you smell the aroma rising from the pan, they’re done. Let cool briefly before grinding or proceeding with a recipe.

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Spices and Your Health 

Wild cumin has a bounty of antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties. Many cultures have used the essential oils pressed from the seeds as a botanical remedy for digestive and other problems for centuries. Because different strains grow wild in different parts of the world, it’s hard to study its health benefits in a formal setting to truly unlock its potential, according to research in the journal Physiology and Molecular Biology of Plants. 

It’s hard to say how many of the lime’s natural plant compounds, such as vitamin C and other antioxidants, remain intact or, conversely, become intensified by the drying process of making black lime. One thing is certain: It’s a great way to season food without reaching for the salt shaker, and limiting salt has great health benefits, including keeping blood pressure in a safe zone, according to the American Heart Association.

Food Flash

Discovered: A Sixth Taste!

Back in the early 1900s, Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda first proposed umami as a basic taste in addition to sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. About eight decades later, the scientific community officially agreed with him. Now scientists led by researchers at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have unraveled the mystery surrounding a sixth basic taste.

It’s been known for some time that the tongue responds strongly to ammonium chloride. However, the specific tongue receptors responsible for it remained elusive until now. In research published in Nature Communications, USC neuroscientist Emily Liman, PhD, and her team found that the response is triggered through the same protein receptors that signal sour taste (the USC team discovered the protein responsible for detecting sour, too). 

Called OTOP1, it sits within cell membranes and forms a channel for hydrogen ions moving into the cell. Hydrogen ions are the key component of acids, and as foodies everywhere know, the tongue senses acid as sour. That’s why lemonade (rich in citric and ascorbic acids), vinegar (acetic acid), and other acidic foods impart a zing of tartness when they hit the tongue. Hydrogen ions from these acidic substances move into taste receptor cells through the OTOP1 channel.

Because ammonium chloride can affect the concentration of acid—that is, hydrogen ions—within a cell, the team wondered if it could somehow also trigger OTOP1. To answer this question, they introduced the OTOP1 gene into lab-grown human cells so the cells would produce the OTOP1 receptor protein. They then exposed the cells to acid or to ammonium chloride and measured the responses. “We saw that ammonium chloride is a really strong activator of the OTOP1 channel,” Dr. Liman says. “It activates it as well as or better than acids.

“If you live in a Scandinavian country, you will be familiar with and may like this taste,” says Dr. Liman, who is also a professor of biological sciences. In some northern European countries, salt licorice has been a popular candy for over a century. The treat counts among its ingredients salmiak salt, or ammonium chloride.”

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #146

Chicken Saag with Homemade Garam Masala Recipes, Spotlight on Cinnamon and Black Peppercorns, Spices and Your Health, and Food as Medicine

Over the course of 20-plus years traveling the globe—first as a food, wine, and travel writer and then as The Olive Oil Hunter—I’ve savored dozens of delicious and diverse cuisines at farmers’ tables, Michelin-starred restaurants, and everything in between. As different as these meals were, they shared one common denominator: the masterful use of spices—spices that weren’t common at all but rather were the brightest and most intense. 

Over the next four newsletters, I’m going to share the eight essentials I reach for most often, with recipes and tips for using them, starting with cinnamon and black pepper. I love them all so much, I’ve put them together in a collection for you, the latest of my Curated Culinary Selections.

Also in this issue is news about a very important initiative from the American Heart Association called Food Is Medicine. It focuses on diet as prevention, something those who follow the Mediterranean diet for the health benefits of olive oil, nuts, fruits, and vegetables know so well.

Garam Masala

  • Garam Masala Powder Garam Masala

    Many home chefs shy away from exotic cuisines, but you can master any dish with the right ingredients, starting with the right spices. There are as many recipes for the essential Indian spice blend garam masala as there are chefs! This truly exceptional one comes from my friend Prasad Chirnomula, a trailblazing chef and restaurateur in Connecticut whose latest restaurant is Chef Prasad in New Canaan. Prasad’s amazing chicken saag, which uses garam masala, follows. 


    • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black peppercorns
    • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
    • 3 bay leaves
    • 2 teaspoons cloves
    • 1 teaspoon green cardamom
    • 2 pods wild cardamom if available
    • 3 pieces star anise 
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


    Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat and sauté all the spices, except the cinnamon, until fragrant, about 3 minutes—don’t step away, as they can easily burn. Cool slightly and process in a spice or coffee bean grinder (you may need to do this in two batches). Transfer to a bowl, whisk in the cinnamon, and then funnel into an airtight glass storage jar.

    Yields about 1/3 cup

Chicken Saag

  • Chicken Saag Chicken Saag

    This Indian classic is brimming with vegetables and wonderful spices.


    • 6 cups fresh spinach, tightly packed, washed, and drained, or 2 cups frozen spinach, defrosted
    • 1 tablespoon butter 
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 large white onion, chopped
    • 2 green chilis, stemmed and finely sliced
    • 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste*
    • 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala 
    • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder  
    • 1/2 salt or to taste
    • 1 cup fresh chopped tomatoes or diced canned tomatoes  
    • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
    • 1/2 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaf (crushed to powder)
    • 1/4 cup heavy cream, optional


    Step 1

    If using fresh spinach, blanch it for 1 minute in a large pot of boiling water, and then use a large strainer to transfer it to a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Squeeze out the excess water, place the spinach in a blender, and purée it; set aside. If using frozen spinach, once it has thawed, squeeze it gently to remove any excess liquid.

    Step 2

    Heat a large skillet and, when it’s hot, add the butter and olive oil. Add cumin seeds, onion, and chilis and cook for 5 minutes or until the onions are light brown. Add ginger garlic paste, garam masala, cayenne, salt, and tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken and cook until firm and cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes, flipping the pieces halfway through. Add the nutmeg and fenugreek and stir for 2 minutes, then add the puréed spinach and a cup of water, and cook for another 5 minutes. For a creamier sauce, add the heavy cream and cook 3 to 5 more minutes. Serve with naan or over basmati rice.

    *To make your own ginger garlic paste, in a small food grinder process 2 ounces peeled garlic cloves, 1 ounce peeled fresh ginger, and 1 teaspoon olive oil to a paste consistency, adding water by the teaspoon if necessary.

    Yields 4 to 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Cinnamon and Black Peppercorns

Heirloom Vietnamese Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been valued the world over for centuries for medicinal purposes, for religious ceremonies, to make fragrances, and as a sweet and spicy recipe ingredient. Cinnamon became such a coveted commodity that wars raged between countries over its trade. The only “fight” today is over which cinnamon to use. There are a few different types, all species in the Lauraceae family: Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka (known by the country’s former name), Indonesian cinnamon, cassia cinnamon from China, and, what I prefer for its intensity and spicy sweetness, Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi).

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Reach for cinnamon to top your lattes and add sweet spice to smoothies and oatmeal. It elevates fruit-based desserts like apple crisp, a rich babka or richer baklava, brioche raisin bread or gingerbread, or spice cookies. It adds depth to both savory and sweet dishes, from dried-fruit-and-nut-laden Persian rice and Moroccan tagines to Mexican moles and churros to Vietnamese pho to Greek moussaka. Cinnamon is also a magical ingredient in many global spice blends that you can mix up and have ready to go for a dry rub or a flavor boost for hot drinks.

Vine-Ripened Black Peppercorns

Black pepper is the most widely used spice on the planet. The origin of black peppercorns (Piper nigrum, a member of the Piperaceae family) can be traced to Kerala, a province in southwest India, and their written history goes back at least 4,000 years. Once the most coveted spice in the world, peppercorns were the original “black gold.” Black pepper has a place in almost every cuisine, as you can tell from the fact that it’s part of spice mixes from Cajun blends to the French quatre épices to Indian garam masala.

I adore the vine-ripened black peppercornsgrown in one of the most exotic destinations on earth, the Zanzibar archipelago, nicknamed the “Spice Islands” for good reason. Its location just off the coast of east Africa, with fertile soil perfect for growing spices and other crops, put it at the heart of the spice trade for centuries. 

Why you should have this spice in your kitchen: Enjoy freshly ground black pepper on favorite foods like eggs, mashed potatoes, and tuna salad. And have fun finding new ways to appreciate its flavor: It makes a perfect crust for steak or duck breast and enlivens roasted sweet potatoes and winter squashes, vegetable slaws, cold pasta salads, and the Italian pasta classic cacio e pepe. 

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Tasting Spices

So often we add spices to recipes without taking the time to appreciate how they taste on their own. Get to know the flavor profile of a spice before you use it in a dish. Open the lid and inhale the aroma. How do you describe it? Sweet? Pungent? Herbal? (If you don’t smell anything, it’s past its prime and should be replaced.) Next, rub a pinch in the palm of one hand and inhale again. Does it have the same qualities as before, or new ones? Now place another pinch on your tongue and see how your taste buds react. Another way to experience a spice is to make a tea—stir a quarter-teaspoon into a small cup of boiling water and let it steep for five minutes. Take a sip. Swirl it around in your mouth as you would a good wine to engage all your taste buds. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Spices and Your Health 

Even though we only enjoy pinches of spices at a time, they contain plant-based nutrients and have been used for health purposes for centuries. In ancient times, cinnamon was the go-to remedy for respiratory and digestive ills. We’re still learning about its benefits today. According to a review paper in Pharmacognosy Research, the phytochemicals in cinnamon could be good for brain health, boosting the brain’s ability to use glucose, the energy source that supplies every part of the body. They’re also being studied as a way to help lower blood pressure, manage diabetes, and boost heart health, along with fighting off cell damage caused by toxins in our environment.

Ancient Indian and Egyptian cultures used peppercorns as an anti-inflammatory agent, an analgesic, and even a preservative. Contemporary research has found that there’s science to back up those early practices, thanks to the enzymes in the compound piperine—they help the body better absorb both conventional and herbal medications. There’s even the possibility that it could play a role in the development of medications to combat conditions as varied as Parkinson’s, cancer, and depression. Although research is in the early stages, with most studies being done only in labs, one day there could be value well beyond great taste for making pepper an important part of the diet. 

Fitness Flash

Why (the Right) Food is Medicine

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), an estimated 90% of the $4.3 trillion annual cost of healthcare in the US is spent on chronic diseases. An unhealthy diet is a major risk factor for many of them. That’s where the AHA’s Food Is Medicine (FIM) initiative comes in. It represents a paradigm shift focused on the role of healthy foods to treat, manage, and prevent specific chronic conditions in coordination with the healthcare sector. Interventions could one day include medically tailored meals and groceries and even “produce prescriptions.” 

“To unlock the potential of Food Is Medicine and make it a regular and reimbursable component of healthcare, we need an ambitious and coordinated research approach,” said Kevin G. Volpp, MD, PhD, American Heart Association volunteer, chair of the Presidential Advisory writing group, director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics at the University of Pennsylvania, and research lead of the Food Is Medicine initiative. “By addressing research gaps and integrating research efforts in collaboration with stakeholders nationwide, we will fuel cross-sector efforts that ensure Food Is Medicine programs improve health costs effectively and are feasible in practice.”

FIM programs aren’t new, but the study of these interventions in healthcare has been limited by factors including small sample sizes, non-randomized comparisons, and broad differences in data collection and measurement, states the AHA. The advisory proposes a coordinated research approach to compare how well nutrition-based interventions treat and prevent disease compared to standard medical care. This approach is the foundation of the Food Is Medicine initiative, first announced by the American Heart Association and The Rockefeller Foundation at the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September 2022. 

“Food Is Medicine holds the promise to improve health outcomes for millions of patients living with or at risk for cardiovascular disease and other serious chronic health conditions,” said Mitchell S.V. Elkind, MD, chief clinical science officer of the American Heart Association, past volunteer president of the AHA, a member of the Presidential Advisory writing committee, and a tenured professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University. 

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #145

Quick Pickled Cucumbers Recipe, Spotlight on Red Wine Vinegar, Rimmed Sheet Pans, and Is Heart Disease in Your Genes?

Oil and vinegar—it’s a match made in culinary heaven. But just as the uses of EVOO go well beyond salads, so do those of vinegar. As an acid, vinegar adds brightness and zest to recipes. In a marinade, vinegar helps break down and tenderize protein fibers for juicier meat. It’s an amazing addition to classic sauces like beurre blanc and béarnaise. And it’s perfect for pickling—one of its earliest uses—because vinegar preserves foods as it imparts tartness. See how easy it is with my recipe for quick-pickled cucumbers using red wine vinegar.

Also in this issue…how to choose rimmed sheet pans (one of the most versatile pieces of bakeware)…and why some people are more prone to plaque buildup in arteries.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers

  • Quick Pickled Cucumber Salad Quick Pickled Cucumbers

    These cukes make a zesty side dish and a terrific addition to sandwiches, burgers, and salads. They’re ready in less than an hour, but the flavor will intensify the longer they marinate in the fridge (bring them back to room temperature before serving).


    • 2 large cucumbers, trimmed, peel left on
    • 1 large red onion
    • 1 tablespoon sea salt
    • 1 bell pepper, any color, cored and cut into thin rings
    • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
    • 2 tablespoons dill, minced


    Use a mandoline or the thin slicing blade of your food processor to slice the cucumbers and red onions. Transfer them to a colander nestled in a large bowl and toss with the salt. Let sit for an hour to release some of their liquid. Rinse with cold water to remove extra salt and rinse out the bowl. Place the cucumbers and onions in the bowl along with the pepper rings. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and dill, and toss well. Allow the flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes before serving.

    Yields 6 servings

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight: Burrata

Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

Red Wine Vinegar

Red wine vinegar is a must for your pantry. You’ll reach for it for quick-pickling, for making vegetable salads, and as a finishing touch for caramelized vegetables from beets to potatoes and for fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and cod, as well as fried fish. 

But red wine vinegar is only as good as the grapes used to make it, and that’s why mine comes from the Roboredo Madeira family. Members of the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club have come to know my dear friends Filipe, his brother António, and their father Celso—now 90 and still going strong—and the story of how Celso made the delicious decision more than two decades ago to revive the centuries-old olive groves on their estates. Celso thrust Filipe into the world of extra virgin olive oil before he had any idea how the olive pressing machinery worked! As someone who loves a new challenge, Filipe had the idea to repeat this experience of on-the-job training with vinegar making. 

Now 90 and still going strong, CARM founder Celso Roboredo Madeira (left) made the delicious decision well over two decades ago to revive the centuries-old olive groves on the family’s estates. Crafting red wine vinegar was the natural segue for his son Filipe (right).

“Our goal has always been to produce high-quality olive oils and wines, using only olives and grapes from our estates,” Filipe told me. “We already had a top olive oil, so we wanted to make a top vinegar to go with it, and make it ourselves from our own wine. My brother and I decided to use only Touriga Nacional grapes.” These are considered by many the finest of Portugal’s red wine grapes. 

Both red wine and red wine vinegar are made by fermenting red grapes, but the vinegar requires an additional step—the second fermentation that turns the wine’s natural sugars into acetic acid. The typical aging process for red wine vinegar is two years, but Filipe had other ideas. “We wanted to do something totally different. As we went along, we decided to continue the aging process well beyond two years and ended up creating a truly remarkable product that has now been aged for 22 years in American oak barrels! Along the way, we also built our own vinegar cellar and will dedicate one of our grape vineyards to future batches of vinegar.” The natural temperature changes over its many years of aging have made this Vinagre de Touriga a well-rounded red wine vinegar, intense yet velvety as well as tart. This vinegar is exceedingly concentrated, so use it sparingly. When making dishes, add, taste, and then add a little more vinegar as desired.

Why you should have this vinegar in your kitchen: It’s marvelous in soups, stews, and other hearty dishes, like beans with chorizo and rice, and in herb-and-vinegar-based sauces and marinades. It enhances wild greens and vegetable salads and sautés, antipasto platters, and grilled cheeses. 

Pure, clean, and bracing, CARM’s Vinagre de Touriga Nacional redefines red wine vinegar. I wasn’t surprised at all when took gold at a national competition in Portugal. 
Quick Kitchen Nugget: Rinsing Lettuce

Quick Kitchen Nugget

Rimmed Sheet Pans

The popularity of sheet pan dinners—limitless combinations of proteins and vegetables cooked together in the oven—have made this bakeware a kitchen essential. There are almost as many options as there are recipes in which to use them. These tips will help you choose and maintain the right ones for you.

Size: Look for a “half-sheet,” a 13″ by 18″ rectangle—those dimensions are half the professional 18″ by 26″ size and will fit most home ovens. A half-sheet is big enough to hold 4 to 6 servings, depending on whether you’re making a complete main dish or a side, like roasted potatoes. You might also want to buy quarter-sheets. These measure 9″ by 13″ and work for roasting 1 or 2 servings of food.

Shape: Rimmed sheet pans are rectangles with 1″ sides so that they hold in food as well as any juices released during cooking. Look for rolled edges around the rim, easier to grip with oven mitts.  

Material: Choose uncoated rimmed sheet pans made of heavy-gauge steel or aluminum. They stand up best to high heat. You can use parchment paper designed for 450°F to line your pan or sprinkle the surface liberally with extra virgin olive oil. Expect your pans to darken with use. 

Care: A quick wash in hot, soapy water and a towel dry is usually all the cleaning they need. For baked-on food, soak for a few minutes before scrubbing with a brush or nonabrasive sponge. 

For Your Best Health: Imperfect calorie counting may be good enough

For Your Best Health

Is Heart Disease in Your Genes?

An international team of scientists has identified nearly a dozen genes that contribute to the buildup in coronary arteries commonly known as plaque. Early plaque deposits are soft, but over time they harden into what’s called coronary artery calcification. This cholesterol-and-calcium buildup can lead to life-threatening coronary artery disease, a condition responsible for up to one in four deaths in the United States. With this new discovery, it may soon be possible to target these genes in order to slow or halt the disease’s progression.

Despite the known role of genetics in plaque buildup, only a handful of contributing genes had previously been identified. Researcher Clint L. Miller, PhD, of the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s Center for Public Health Genomics, and his collaborators identified new genetic factors that influence the risk for this buildup by analyzing data collected from more than 35,000 people of European and African ancestry around the world, the largest such meta-analysis conducted to date. 

By combining several statistical analysis methods, the scientists identified more than 40 candidate genes at 11 different locations on chromosomes linked to coronary artery calcification. Eight of these locations had not been previously connected to coronary calcification at all, and five were not yet reported for coronary artery disease. Genes at these locations play important roles in determining the mineral content of our bones and regulate key metabolic pathways in the formation of calcium deposits, among other functions. The researchers also identified genes in the adenosine signaling pathway, which is known to suppress arterial calcification. The findings were published in the journal Nature Genetics. 

“By sharing valuable genotype and phenotype datasets collected over many years, our team was able to uncover new genes that may foreshadow clinical coronary artery disease,” says Dr. Miller. “This is a critical first step in identifying the biological mechanisms to target for primary prevention of coronary artery disease.”

Even before people develop coronary artery disease, doctors can detect calcium buildup inside the walls of the coronary arteries using noninvasive computed tomography (CT) scans. This imaging can strongly predict future cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. Calcium accumulation is also linked to other age-related diseases, such as dementia, cancer, chronic kidney disease, and even hip fractures. “Coronary artery calcification reflects the vessel’s accumulation of lifetime exposure to risk factors,” Dr. Miller says. 

While additional research needs to be done to determine how best to target these genes and affected pathways, Miller says the new discoveries could set the stage for improved risk stratification or early interventions that prevent the progression of coronary artery disease before it can take hold. Some of the promising targets may even be susceptible to dietary changes or nutrient supplementation, such as with vitamin C or D. That could be a game changer for treating a disease responsible for more than 17 million deaths annually around the world.

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