by Sean Keeley, culinary specialist, Lincoln Land Community College
Research can be entertaining, and we all seem to have more time on our hands to do just that. I have been looking into foods that are the best immune boosters as well as the worst. The top of both lists are sweets. The worst being sweets like candy, ice cream, cookies and cakes and one of the best being sweet potatoes. Let’s start with the worst – some of which are my favorites. I won’t go into much detail as it is pretty obvious why they are bad. Hint, sugar.
Avoid soda. This was always my go-to beverage for years. I used to drink four or five a day, and now I have about the same amount in a year. I decided to switch to unsweetened ice tea and water 25 years ago which caused me to lose 15 pounds almost instantly. Fried foods. I love my French fries, but if you can air-fry them it is better for you than fried in oil. Booze. Studies recommend one drink a day for women and two drinks for men – here’s looking at you! Energy drinks can contain more sugar than sodas and higher levels of caffeine which can prohibit nutrition absorption – I’m getting tired already. Fast food is bad. Potato chips are too. And finally processed foods, high in salt and sugars. To sum up, avoid sugar, added sugar and saturated fat.
Now the good. Oranges, super high in vitamin C. Maybe your one drink can be a mimosa or a salty dog? Grapefruit and grapefruit juice are often overlooked and contain tons of vitamins. Here’s a link to an old timey brunch beverage https://www.liquor.com/recipes/salty-dog/ (I have been binge watching the Crown, all they do is drink.) Bell peppers, a good rule of thumb is if the fruit or vegetable is bright and colorful it’s great for you. Unsweetened yogurt (hint, add fruit, but don’t get fruit added yogurt). Full of probiotics which helps digestion which also helps aid in nutrient absorption. Garlic, if the recipe (except mine) says use two cloves, use four or five! Legumes. Dried beans last literally forever, canned beans last long as well and the liquid they’re packed in (aquafaba) has many uses as well. Mushrooms, my favorite and can be added to so many dishes and serve as a meat substitute. Berries. Bright red and blue with antioxidants too! Turmeric, not only loaded with antioxidants it is a great anti-inflammatory. And sweet potatoes, they rank as high as carrots with beta-carotene, but also contain a daily dose of fiber.
Here’s a good cold-weather recipe for soup that uses several of the super foods listed above.
Sweet Potato & Carrot Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder, plus a bit more for serving
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 small), peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
8 cups chicken broth
1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1 apple such as Honeycrisp or Fuji, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons honey
Freshly ground black pepper
4 to 12 ounces of coconut milk (optional, see note)
For garnish, sauté 8 ounces of sliced mushrooms (any kind) in a little olive oil with salt & pepper
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Do not brown. Add the curry powder and cook a minute more.
Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, chicken broth and salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the apples and honey. Using a stick blender, puree the soup until smooth and creamy. (Alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then puree in a blender in batches. Be sure to leave the hole in the lid open, and cover with a kitchen towel, to allow the steam to escape.) Season to taste with salt, pepper and more honey if necessary. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with sautéed mushrooms, sprinkle with more curry powder if desired.
Note: As the soup sits, it will thicken up so you may need to add a bit of water, chicken stock or even coconut milk to thin it out.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers associate degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management and academic credit certificates in Culinary Arts and Baking/Pastry. For more information call 217-786-4613 or visit www.llcc.edu/hospitality-culinary-arts.