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Healthful Hungarian Cooking

There’s the Goulash, the Paprikash, the strudel—traditionally cheesy, fatty, and even lardy dishes that delight the palate but fail to keep the body healthy. Yet Hungarian cooking no longer has to inflict damage. With some innovative alternatives, more healthful ingredients, and lighter recipes, Magyar cuisine can be every bit as healthy as it is tasty.

Traditional Hungarian cooking relies on heavy spices, like an abundance of Paprika, onions, garlic and pepper. The use of artery-blocking animal fats, especially pork based lard, is very common. Sauces are often rich, made with an abundance of butter, cream and sour cream. Rich pasta dishes are common, such as noodles topped with a sweet cottage cheese concoction or with a potato paste made with Paprika.

The result? A tasty and rich, although often too heavy cuisine that’s intriguing and new to many foreigners. Luckily, it’s perfectly easy to lighten up Magyar cooking. By using healthier and more forgiving fats, going easy on spices, and replacing whole dairy products with lighter ones, a hearty Hungarian meal is quickly transformed into a healthy one. Try the following recipes for a healthful Hungarian dinner:

Robust Goulash Soup

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup minced onions
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Paprika (sweet Hungarian brand, if possible)
1 or 2 large tomatoes, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 cups chicken stock
½ cup medium salsa
2 pounds lean beef for stew
1 pound peeled and cubed potatoes

In a medium saucepan, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and continue cooking on high heat until onions become glassy and garlic has browned. Take pot off the stove and add salt, pepper, Paprika, tomatoes, and bell pepper. Continue cooking for about five minutes.

Add chicken stock and salsa, then bring to a boil. Lower the heat and add the beef. Cover and simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours, until beef becomes extremely tender. Mix in potatoes and cook for another 25 to 35 minutes, until potatoes are soft. If necessary, add more chicken stock or water to prevent burning. Goulash should have a thick, yet soupy consistency.

Serve goulash with a side of French or Italian bread. Recipe serves four.

Potato Paprikash

1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup minced onions
½ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon Paprika
1 large tomato, diced
1 bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 cups chicken stock
2 pounds of diced and peeled potatoes
½ cup light sour cream

Cook the potatoes in boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

In medium saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until lightly colored. Take off heat and stir in salt, pepper, Paprika, tomato, bay leaf and caraway seeds. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Add the potatoes and simmer on medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are tender and stock has been reduced into a thick sauce.

Garnish individual plates with a dollop of sour cream. Recipe serves four to six.

Green Pepper Salad

3 large bell peppers
1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
½ cup mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 450. On the rack, roast green peppers for 10 to 20 minutes, until skin begins to char. Remove and let rest for a few minutes. Take skin off of peppers and remove stems and seeds. Cut into thin strips.

Combine vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in separate bowl. Add mixture to strips of pepper and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Drain peppers, then add mayonnaise and mix well.

This is a wonderful side dish for cold meats, or great as a lunch salad with some hot rolls. Recipe serves four.

Black Pepper Fillet of Beef

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 pounds beef fillet
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon Paprika
½ cup chopped mushrooms
½ cup julienned onions
½ cup julienned green peppers

Heat oil in medium skillet. In the meantime, cut fillet into thin strips, about 4 inches long.

Toss meat into oil and stir them around for about 4 or 5 minutes, until meat is browned on both sides. Add salt, pepper, garlic and Paprika and mix together. Stir in mushrooms, onions and bell peppers and sauté until the mixture begins to sizzle.

Cover pan and turn heat to low. Simmer for 25 to 35 minutes, until meat is fork tender.

This dish is excellent over white rice or plain pasta. Recipe serves six.

Simple Jam Slices

1 ½ cups ground walnuts
2/3 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1 cup apricot jam

Preheat oven to 350.

In large mixing bowl, combine walnuts and sugar. In separate bowl, lightly beat egg whites, then add to walnut mixture. Stir together to form a thick paste.

Shape the paste into two rolls, each about 10 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. Using your index finger, make a 1/2 inch deep indentation in the middle of the rolls, almost all the way down.

Place rolls on a greased, floured cookie sheet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and fill the indentations with apricot jam.

Cut rolls into 1 inch slices and serve. Recipe makes about 25 slices.

Re-evaluating Your Recipes

Cooking can be tough without worrying how many calories you have to count to make sure you’re eating healthy. With all the different types of fats and butter, eating well can be a challenge.

There are several things to keep in mind when cooking healthier and it all starts with re-evaluating your recipes. With chefs yelling “pork fat rules” from the mountaintops, how do you make your recipes better for you? Here are some tips to re-evaluate your recipes so they help your body, not harm it.

Choose Your Fats Wisely and Make Them Count

Many recipes have different types of oils or fats within them to help the recipe taste better. Learning what fats are good vs. bad can help to prepare healthier dishes for you. Using processed oils like canola or vegetable will make for empty fat grams and calories that are not necessary to your dishes. When cooking, try using extra virgin olive oil. This oil is not only thought to aid in fighting heart disease, but it is also high in vitamin E. This will make your nails, hair, skin healthier. Extra virgin olive oil also helps with taste. Starting your dish off with vegetable oil or canola oil doesn’t add anything to the flavor of your dish, by adding a little extra virgin olive oil you will have twice the taste of your usual oil.

Making a salad can become a great way to have a light and very healthy lunch or snack, but once you add your toppings and heavy dressing, the health factor has gone out the window. Instead of adding copious amounts of empty calories, try adding avocado or nuts with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This will make your salad light and the avocado will give you good fats instead of empty bad ones. If your having a fat in your dish make it do double duty by being good for you.

Cut the Calories Every Time You Can

Having a sweet tooth can leave you combing through your recipes for something to satisfy your need for sugar, problem is, most recipes give you ingredients with high fat content. Most recipes assume that you will be using the regular versions of the ingredients, but with so many different versions of these same ingredients with less fat, it is possible to conquer your sweet tooth in a healthy way.

Cheesecake is a great dessert that many avoid when trying to be healthy, but you don’t have to. This is one example of how you can cut the calories and still enjoy this delectable dessert. Since the recipe calls for cream cheese, try a fat-free or if you must have your fat, use the one third less fat. Instead of regular sour cream, use fat-free. This will change your cheesecake for the better. The guaranteed end product will be just as decadent with a much healthier touch. If you’re worried about the flavor, add pumpkin or an extract to enhance the flavor. You can cut the fat in almost any recipe you make if you are looking for more flavor enhancers use fresh herbs for savory dishes and fresh fruit or chocolate for sweet dishes.

Cut the Recipe to Fit Your Appetite

Have you ever baked cookies for the holiday season and ended up with so many cookies you had no choice but to eat them all? Or so you thought? Sometimes you come across a recipe that you know you won’t eat all of it but make it anyway. This is where you have to exercise portion control. There is definitely a problem with the portion control amongst the restaurant industry, but just because you eat big at a restaurant doesn’t mean you have to eat big at home.

When making a dish, scale down the amount of food you will consume. You don’t need to make two cups of rice for yourself, try one instead. Scaling down on portions will give you more control over what you eat and how to eat less. Now, everyone is different and eats more or less depending on many factors, but you know when you’re eating too much. Try cutting the recipes you make in half and I’m sure you’ll find that you are completely full without the extra portion you would have made.

In the end, when you’re looking at your recipes, think of them as beginning formula that you can change. Cooking is never set in stone whether it is baking or tonight’s dinner, create and re-evaluate your recipes so they suit your healthy lifestyle.

A Plate Full of Posies

Flowers have been eaten since ancient times, and have medicinal as well as nutritional value. Oriental dishes through the ages have made use of Daylily buds and Chrysanthemums, the Romans used mallow, rose and violets, Italian and Hispanic cultures gave us stuffed squash blossoms and Asian Indians continue to use rose petals in many recipes. Nowadays, in the Western world, the most common use of flowers is in salads. But more and more people are becoming adventurous as they realize the flavor and health potential of flower blooms and buds. Edible flowers have lots of potential. You can in fact add them to sauces, tarts, preserves, pickles, fritters and soft cheeses.

Though many blossoms contain vitamin C and/or vitamin A, not all flowers are edible, so only experiment with ones you know are tried and trusted. Herb flowers usually offer the same flavor and attributes as the edible leaves, though they may be milder.

If you suffer from asthma or allergic reactions to composite-type flowers (calendula, chicory, chrysanthemum, daisy, English daisy, and marigold) you should avoid eating flowers altogether as they may well cause you discomfort. If you’re sampling edible flowers for the first time, the best way is to introduce them into your diet a little at a time to avoid digestive problems.

It is important to remember that flowers are only edible if they are either organically grown or treated with organic pesticides like those used on fruits and vegetables. Flowers from florists, nurseries or garden centers are grown for decoration and have often been chemically treated, either by fertilizers or pesticides. If you don’t have the time or resources to grow your own edible flowers, many gourmet markets now stock them fresh or frozen.

If you’re preparing homegrown flowers the best time to pick them is early morning when their water content will be at its maximum. Only use fresh blossoms that are undamaged by disease, weather or insects. You should be very careful to remove the stems and pistils and also any white inner petal tips from the bud as these often taste bitter. Wash the blooms thoroughly before adding them to your food. Above all experiment and enjoy.

Here are some tasty and nutritious flowers and creative ways of incorporating them into your cooking.

Calendula (calendula officinalis)

This relative of the marigold has a tangy, peppery taste that makes it great for salads or soups and tasty added to cream cheese for sandwiches. It also adds a beautiful saffron color to your cooking. Medicinally it has antispasmodic properties and so can relieve ulcers, cramps, and colitis.

Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

Chamomile has a faint apple flavor that can add a refreshing note to salads and cold drinks as well as teas. This flower can promote a relaxing sleep, soothe asthma and may help relieve toothache.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium)

Chrysanthemum has a light, sweet flavor. It can be added to cool drinks and teas as well as garnishing desserts. The flower contains vitamins A and B and amino acids. It helps to calm the nerves and relieve cold and flu symptoms.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis)

Fresh, young leaves have a spinach-like flavor suitable for salads, quiches and stuffing. Very young buds have a taste similar to mushrooms and are delicious sautéed in garlic. Dandelion has diuretic properties and so is beneficial purifying your whole system.

Dianthus (dianthus caryophyllus)

Dianthus or carnations, have a light peppery flavor that makes a healthful addition to salads or flavorful garnish to cheese dishes. Medicinally, its anti-bacterial properties can help to alleviate gastric discomfort and promote health of the gastrointestinal system.

Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra)

These flowers can be eaten whole or sprinkled over a salad they have a lovely, sweet but delicate taste. If you add flower clusters when cooking berries, they will lend a heady Muscatel flavor to the fruit (remove flowers after cooking). Elder flower is a great anti-oxidant, helping to purify the blood and cleanse the system.

Johnny Jump-ups (Viola tricolor)

These colorful flowers have a wintergreen taste. They are also tasty and decorative on puddings and custards with The flowers can be candied and make a delicious decoration on wedding cakes, ice creams and sorbet. They also make a tasty garnish for marinated vegetable salads, deviled eggs or potato salads. This is another flower that is high in vitamin A and C.

Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)

The flowers look beautiful and taste good in iced drinks, with or without spirits. Lavender blends well with mint and makes a great garnish for sorbet or ice cream. The flower has a light floral taste that lends itself to savory dishes also, vegetable stews that may otherwise be bland. This plant can relieve flatulence and sore throat but should not be consumed in large amounts.

Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

All parts of the Nasturtium are edible and nutritious. The flowers are quite sweet, while the leaves have a mustard-cress flavor. The seeds can be pickled as a substitute for capers. The flowers and leaves make an unusual and decorative salad dish with pasta and snowpeas. Nasturtiums have several medicinal properties. It is antiseptic and expectorant and therefore good for head colds. It is also effective for curing and preventing urinary tract infections.

Rose (Rosa species)

Miniature varieties can be used to garnish ice cream and desserts, or larger petals can be sprinkled over desserts or salads. Freeze them in ice cubes and float them in punches. Their sweet, aromatic flavor is stronger if their fragrance is more pronounced. Remember, the stronger the scent, the stronger the flavor. Avoid bitterness by removing the white inner tips of petals. Rose flowers can ease headache. Both the hips and the petals are a great source of vitamin C and other anti-oxidants.

Squash Blossoms

Fresh blossoms have a wonderful flavor not unlike fresh squash. Try them sautéed after coating them in a light batter. They are also delicious stuffed with soft cheese then lightly fried. Squash blossoms are high in vitamin A.

Although many flowers are edible, there are some you should avoid eating including the Arum Lilly, Begonia, Black eyed Susan, Bleeding Heart, California Poppy, Clematis, Crocus, Daffodil, Euphorbia, Foxglove, Heliotrope, Hyacinth, Lobelia, Morning Glory, Peace Lilly, and Wisteria.

Now that you’re aware of the many ways to incorporate edible flowers into a meal, try some out the next time you want to impress your guests—you’ll not only dazzle them with your presentation, but provide a health boost as well.

Stay Healthy This Winter

It’s that time of the year again, the dreaded cold and flu season. Most adults suffer from at least two colds a year, with children catching them twice as often. Since over 80 percent of colds occur between September and March, most people consider themselves lucky if they survive the winter months without getting sick at least once. Is this really luck? Not so, according to most experts. There are many things you can do to avoid getting sick in the first place.

Aside from the most common advice—getting a flu shot and washing your hands often, a healthy lifestyle can offer plenty of protection. Sleep at least 8 hours a night, drink plenty of fluids, don’t smoke, manage your stress well, and exercise regularly. And don’t forget to eat right. You are what you eat, and a healthy diet makes a healthy immune system.

The immune system is a team of organs and body cells with various functions and a lot of communication. The body needs a constant supply of many different nutrients to build and maintain these defenses. As boring as this may sound, eating a variety of healthy foods is one of the most effective ways to provide your body the nutrition it needs. Below are immune-boosting nutrition ideas:

Eat Your Fruits and Veggies!

Eat colorful produce, bursting with phytochemicals that help the body prevent disease. Especially helpful to immunity are beta-carotene and bioflavonoids, found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. Citrus fruits, mango, papaya, peaches, apricots, carrots, and sweet potato are just a few examples.
A deficiency of Vitamin C impairs immunity. Protect yourself by including a daily dose of Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus, tomatoes, kiwi, strawberries, or sweet peppers.

Garlic, hot peppers and mushrooms are just a few other foods that have been shown to help fight infections. (And if you do catch a cold, hot peppers help clear up the sinuses!)

Get Your Vitamin E and Omega-3’s

Even a mild deficiency of the antioxidant Vitamin E can weaken immune cells. Protect yourself by including Vitamin-E rich green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and wheat germ in your diet. As an added benefit, many of these foods are good sources of omega-3 fats (also found in oily fish such as salmon and sardines), which work with Vitamin E to enhance immunity.

Don’t Forget Protein and Whole Grains

Since immune cells are made of protein, this nutrient is especially important for a strong immune system. Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, beans, nuts, cheese, milk and yogurt are good protein sources.

Red meats, beans, nuts and tofu are also good sources of zinc, while fish, red meat, whole grains and wheat germ are good sources of selenium. These minerals have antioxidant properties that boost immunity by protecting the body from harmful substances.

Include a Daily Dose of Probiotics

When the intestinal tract is lined with ample “good” bacteria, harmful germs are less able to invade the body. Studies have shown that probiotics, foods that contain healthy bacteria, can ward off diarrhea-related illnesses and even the common cold. Yogurt (with live cultures) and kefir (a yogurt-like drink) are examples of foods that contain probiotics.

Drink Tea

The antioxidants in tea have been linked to many health benefits, including protection from heart disease and cancer. Now there’s evidence that tea can boost immunity. In a study of people who drank 20 ounces of tea daily for 2 weeks, immune cells produced a wealth of anti-bacterial chemicals when exposed to bacteria. In contrast, study participants who drank coffee instead of tea produced no disease-fighting chemicals in response to the same bacteria. The beneficial component is L-theanine, which the body turns to ethylamine. This is found in black, green, oolong and pekoe teas.

What About Supplements?

The supplements below are quite popular during the cold and flu season. According to experts, none of these supplements actually prevent colds. But if you do get sick, some of these may help you get back on your feet a few days faster.

Echinacea. Many experts agree that Echinacea kicks the immune system into gear and gives the body a better defense when faced with the common cold. While taking this supplement the onset of a cold may lessen the symptoms, it is not believed to prevent colds. In fact, taking Echinacea on a regular basis may be unwise, since animal studies have shown suppression of immunity after 8 weeks of supplementation. In general, short-term use is considered safe unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have HIV/AIDS, or if you have an autoimmune disorder where stimulating the immune system isn’t a good idea.

Vitamin C. In 1970, Dr. Linus Pauling published Vitamin C and the Common Cold, claiming that megadoses of Vitamin C can prevent and reduce the severity of colds. In doing so, he invited skepticism from the medical profession but popularity from the masses. In the decades that followed, scientists have tried to prove or disprove his theories. At present, most experts agree that while Vitamin C supplements will not prevent a cold, they might reduce the duration and symptoms.

Zinc is known to benefit immunity, but research offers mixed results on the role of zinc lozenges, tablets or nasal sprays. Some studies have linked these products to a speedy recovery from a cold, while others have shown no benefit.

In summary, eating healthy for immunity isn’t about one particular food or supplement. It’s about the whole diet and the interactions between many nutrients and phytochemicals. While supplements may give you an edge, they are intended to supplement, not take the place of a healthy (and colorful) diet. Eating a poor diet is like leaving your front door unlocked and hoping the cold and flu viruses don’t let themselves in. This winter, protect your body with a healthy lifestyle and a healthy diet!

Treating Colds and Flu Naturally

North Americans spend over $ 3.5 billion dollars every year on over-the-counter cough and cold remedies. Despite this, many people still suffer miserably when cold and flu season hits. It seems an old physician saying still rings true—a cold lasts seven days, but if you treat it, it’ll go away in a week.

The truth is that medications won’t cure the cold or flu; they just ease pain and suffering. But modern medicine isn’t the only treatment option. There’s plenty of evidence that certain foods and nutrients can help fight infections. Ample rest and “TLC” can also make a world of difference.

Get Natural to Fight Colds and Flu

Instead of (or in addition to) the traditional over-the-counter remedies, add some natural immune boosters to your “medicine chest” this winter:

Chicken Soup—The ultimate comfort food. When the cold or flu strikes, most people crave comfort foods. Whether your favorite is a grilled cheese sandwich, tomato soup, lasagna, pho (the classic Vietnamese comfort food), or grandma’s chicken soup, these creations make people feel better. Is this just emotional medicine? Not in the case of chicken soup, where the benefits extend far beyond the placebo effect. Research has demonstrated that inhaling the soup’s warm vapors loosens thickened mucus, and that sipping hot chicken soup clears congestion and lessens cold symptoms. The soup broth also replenishes the body with fluid, sodium and minerals—substances that are typically lost during illness. One study identified an ideal chicken soup recipe that included celery, onions, carrots, parsley, mushrooms, parsnips and thyme—all ingredients with immune-boosting properties. Add garlic to your chicken soup and add even more muscle to the cold remedy that has been used by generations of cold and flu sufferers.

Breathe easier with hot & spicy foods. Don’t think you are limited to bland and boring foods when suffering from cold or flu symptoms. Hot peppers and hot sauce assist in opening up the sinuses and clearing congestion. So add some salsa, curry or hot sauce to those comfort foods!

Get your Vitamin C! Most research shows that Vitamin C may lessen the symptoms of a cold but won’t prevent it. For symptom relief, many experts recommend between 200 to 1000 milligrams of Vitamin C daily. While this is generally a safe amount to supplement, it’s smart and quite possible to get your Vitamin C from foods instead. A wonderful benefit of eating Vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables is that they contain a wealth of additional vitamins, minerals and immune-boosting phytochemicals. Rich Vitamin C sources include citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango, sweet peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and potatoes.

Keep on drinking. Every time you cough or blow your nose, you lose some fluids. Diarrhea, vomiting and fever also increase the risk of dehydration. To assist in recovery, drink plenty of fluids. Fluids keep mucous membranes moist and help to thin lung and nasal secretions. Hot liquids such as tea or broth work especially well. Water, juice, popsicles, jello or sports drinks are also good choices. To keep mucous membranes moist, a steamy hot shower, warm bubble bath, or gargling with warm salt water will also help.

A dose of Echinacea? Most experts agree that Echinacea kicks the immune system into gear and gives the body a better defense when faced with the common cold. While it is not believed to prevent colds, taking this supplement at the onset of a cold may lessen the symptoms. In general, short-term use is considered safe unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have HIV/AIDS, or if you have an autoimmune disorder where stimulating the immune system isn’t a good idea. Of note, a recent study showed this supplement offered no benefit in treating colds in young children.

Is it a Cold, or Is It the Flu?

While the terms cold and flu are often used interchangeably, they are very different illnesses. Typical symptoms of a cold include sneezing, sore throat, cough, runny nose and nasal congestion. Influenza (the flu) has more severe symptoms such as high fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, cough and headache. Since both are viral infections, antibiotics will not alter their course. Secondary infections from a cold (ear or sinus infections) or the flu (pneumonia) may require antibiotic therapy.

When to Call Your Doctor

While the misery of a cold or flu may seem like an eternity, symptoms generally subside after 7 to 10 days. The flu sometimes lasts a bit longer. Although most people do not need medical intervention for the cold or flu, some serious conditions can start out feeling like these illnesses. Warning signs include a temperature over 102, severe headaches, stiff neck, sinus pain, ear ache, shortness of breath, wheezing or chest pains. If you have severe symptoms, or feel sicker with each passing day, call your doctor.