Falafel Loaf, and remedies for our stressful times

I had an idea of something different that I’d share here today but the past few weeks, with the news cycle, panic-stocking, and fear of a pandemic virus circulating, an entirely different reassurance presented itself to me this morning, so I’ll share it with you.

I was listening to a short meditative story on the goddesses of hearth and home, with the primary archetypes being Hestia or Vesta in Greek or Roman mythology. I was reminded that Hestia’s name means hearth, fire and alter, and that where we create warmth in our homes can also be our alters. Literally—where we create our meals can also be our sacred space.

So often when our minds run ahead or circulate around in fear or worry, it helps us to pull our energy down from that space, down from our head and into our body. This is partially why I find so much joy in athletic activity, as the meditation of physical movement is where my mind can more often turn off. And it’s partially why the kitchen is my favorite space in my home, the figurative center of the home, as it often is for those who love to cook.

For most of us, cooking and providing for ourselves and families are tasks that go on in the background of our lives, not tasks that we consider noteworthy or adventurous undertakings. But as Hestia’s name portrays, they can be powerful and sacred tasks, helping us to do what we’d otherwise avoid, drawing our minds down into our physical bodies, tuning into the senses of using our hands, noticing the smells, sounds and flavors of cooking.

As the onslaught of emails about immune health have reminded me in the past few days, combatting our daily stresses—literally not allowing the mind to run away into worries or coulds about the unknown future—is a powerful antidote to the weakening effects of that stress on our immune systems.

As the weather and temperature shifts into spring if you’re in the northern hemisphere, or fall in the southern, traditional medical wisdom tells us that now is a time when the shifting environmental patterns can invite in more physical or mental illness manifestations. I suspect this is contributing even more to the increasing anxiety and nervousness, and outright fear of our neighbors and community members that we’re currently facing.

The best remedies to combat the anxiety and fear are tuning into the body, acknowledging what it is feeling rather than running or distracting away from it, tuning into the senses, cooking nourishing meals, selecting an enjoyable kitchen playlist or podcast to invite in more relaxation, eating warming and nourishing foods, and deep breathing.

Falafel Loaf, serves about 4
-This is my current favorite meal to slowly harken in the flavors and ingredients that support our systems as we shift into spring: pungent vegetables like garlic and onion, spices to support moving the winter sluggishness from our liver and digestion including cumin, coriander, and cardamom, and ample herbs like cilantro for the same. If this particular herb is not your favorite, sub in parsley or mint instead.
-With all the flavors of falafel but with easier prep and the ability to put it in the oven and walk away for a while, I’m really loving this loaf-version of falafel. Plus, I find it allows me to focus on the side ingredients, which in a pinch are sauteed or braised cabbage, and the quick tahini sauce linked below.
– I haven’t tried making this without the egg since I’ve had limited success with egg-free veggie loaves or burgers staying together, but ground up chia or flax seeds would be my suggestion if that’s needed for you.


3 garlic cloves, peeled + roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
1 ¾ cup cooked chickpeas or 1 can, drained and drained
1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
3/4 tsp. sea salt + more to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. baking soda
1 egg
¾ cup chickpea flour
¾ cup finely chopped cilantro

Suggestions to serve with:
Tahini Garlic Sauce
Socca
Lettuce and/or sautéed greens
Seasonal braised cabbage

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the garlic, onion, and spices, scraping down sides as needed, until coarsely chopped, 30-45 seconds. Then add the chickpeas and apple cider vinegar, and pulse again briefly. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add the vinegar, salt and pepper, baking soda, egg, chickpea flour and finely chopped cilantro. Gently stir to combine, being careful not to mash the mixture too much. Spoon the mixture into a 8 ½ x 4 in. loaf pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Smooth it down so its even, and then bake until the edges are browned and the center is completely set, about 60-70 minutes.
  4. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool at least 15-20 minutes, remove from the loaf pan onto a cutting board.
  5. To serve, cut into big slices and drizzle garlic tahini sauce on top, serve with greens, socca, or other sides of choice.

Golden Fire Cider for times of illness

One of the most practically useful classes I took in grad school was an herbal elective on how to make my own herbal medicines. Each week we used a different method for preparing herbs, from medicinal herbal infusions and decoctions (often simply called herbal tea), herbal honeys, infused vinegars, salves, tinctures, and even herbal baths. As a runner, the best information on the benefits and how-to’s of water therapy for exercise recovery was actually gained in my herbal medicine making course!

Beyond being able to make my own tinctures for potent low-dose, completely natural medicines to help with everything from boosting the immune system, relieving nervous tension, and putting my spinning 2am brain promptly back to sleep, this recipe for fire cider is by far my most repeated recipe that came out of that course.

Fire Cider is a kitchen-hearth recipe originally created by herbal elder Rosemary Gladstar. If you’ve never heard of Rosemary, she is a founder of the Traditional Medicinals tea brand you’ve more than likely seen on shelves in the supermarket tea aisle, among her many other accomplishments.

The idea with fire cider is that the ingredients are easy to access, likely already on hand, and make for a warming, stimulating and potent combination that gets your blood moving, with the heat from the ingredients pushing pathogens and heat to the surface of the body during times of illness. The real key to the formula is movement, using herbs to stimulate and circulate movement through the immune system, lymphatic system, cardiovascular system, and digestive system.

Fire cider is great to take as a tonic all season long, or in larger amounts if you’ve contracted a virus. One to two teaspoons daily mixed in with a little water is usually a good way to take it.

My recipe for Golden Fire Cider varies slightly from Rosemary’s. For one, I add turmeric since it is incredibly anti-inflammatory and pungent, and thus supportive in times of illness. I also don’t add honey to my formula. The honey was originally included to make the stimulating herbs more palatable so can be added if one desires. Lastly, the fresh horseradish root can sometimes be difficult to source. I’ve got a jar of wasabi powder in the back of my pantry that has served as great substitute in those instances. Ideally, the ingredients are infused in the vinegar for at least a month, so if you’d like some to carry you through cold and flu season, start a batch now!

Golden Fire Cider, makes 2-3 cups
¼ cup grated horseradish root
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 Tbs. minced garlic
2 Tbs. fresh minced ginger root
1 small hot pepper such as jalapeño or serrano, minced
1 tsp. dried turmeric root or 1 Tbs. fresh root, minced
a couple pinches black pepper
raw apple cider vinegar
raw local honey, to taste

  • Add all chopped ingredients to a quart jar.
  • Add apple cider vinegar to three inches above herbs. Cap the jar and shake. Infuse for about 28 days before straining, and shake/mix daily or as often as you remember.
  • Add honey to taste, if desired. (I don’t).

cacao super syrup + a simple cacao tea

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This one is for y’all that really like chocolate. Especially if you crave chocolate, particularly during stressful times.

Cacao Tea Co. recently launched a really delicious (herbal) tea that’s essentially the husks of roasted cacao beans. Brewed into a traditional cup with freshly boiled water, it’s delicious as an afternoon pick-me-up sipper without the caffeine, sugar rush, or cravings for more more more that comes with the otherwise delightful combination of sugar and chocolate.

 

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But after a few days of sipping, I got all sorts of inspired and took it to another level by making a superpower cacao, maca, and eleuthero syrup. I’ll get to those ingredients in a moment but this herbal syrup idea is essentially a tasty traditional way to take in herbs when one might otherwise not. It’s exactly the same method by which elderberry syrup (for cold and flu prevention) is made. Like other herbal syrups, it can be used in whatever way one desires, but I’ve been adding a spoonful or so to my mid-afternoon smoothie snacks lately.

 

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Now, about these ingredients: 
Cacao, 
Theobroma cacao // When we eat chocolate, it’s coming from cacao beans. As we can see, the plant name is derived from two words theos and broma, which are ancient Greek and translate to ‘the food of the gods’. Additionally, cacao is rich in a compound called theobromine, an antioxidant that has a mild stimulant effect, similar to caffeine. Studies show that the husks of cacao are rich in these antioxidants, just like the inside portion.

Maca, Lepidium meyenii // Maca is an herbal root that is often considered an adaptogen, meaning it will restore stress levels back to a balanced state, and it’s particularly helpful for adrenal stress (i.e. the fight or flight side of our nervous systems have been on high alert for too long). It increases energy (making it dually great for athletes) and has many antioxidant properties, as well as much research on its ability to regulate reproductive hormones (1). It is also rich in iron, calcium, potassium, and zinc–nutrients that many particularly female athletes are low in.

Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Eleutherococcus senticosus // Eleuthero has an exceptionally long history of use in traditional medicine. It is also known as an adaptogen, a tonic herb, a nervine (to help the nervous system) and is anti-inflammatory. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, eleuthero is used for treating people with wind (spasmodic) conditions, and is also helpful for weak tendons and ligaments, strengthening the qi, and Chinese spleen and kidneys; i.e. it can help extract nutrients from food and is an herb that is really good for “stressed out Type A people” (2). Eleuthero has long been in use in Korean and Russian folk medicine for increasing stamina and promoting overall health (3). Additionally, scientific studies show that it alters the levels of several neurotransmitters and hormones involved in the stress response, chiefly at the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis (1). Further, eleuthero significantly suppresses nitric oxide production, which is a characteristic of inflammation, and has shown strong free-radical scavenging activity. In overworked individuals, it has been shown to reduce their response to stress, and in some studies with both trained and recreational endurance athletes, it has improved work capacity, increased endurance time, and elevated cardiovascular function (1). Overall, I like to think of it as a superpower herb for those that tend to have a lot of stress and fatigue that has accumulated over a long period of time, who wake tired and can’t really get their energy up throughout the day, and whose internal temperature tends to run cool or cold.

I chose to add maca and eleuthero to this cacao syrup specifically because many individuals I’ve worked with clinically present with similar situations in that they are highly driven, are often on the go mentally and physically, tend towards cravings for sweets and chocolate, and experience ongoing fatigue. Without discounting that this presentation can mean there are some truly relevant nutritional deficiencies to be addressed, adding an herbal support that happens to taste excellent can be a great way to return the body to balance a bit more quickly. That’s why I call it super syrup.

 

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Cacao Super Syrup, makes about 3 cups
I often source my powdered herbs such as maca and eleuthero from Mountain Rose Herbs since they are a trusted supplier. Additionally, I highly recommend starting with local, raw honey since it supports your local beekeeper, and contains beneficial enzymes no longer available in processed supermarket honey. If you’d like a ‘purer’ tasting herbal syrup, you can also use sugar in place of the honey.

6 Tbs. cacao tea
3 Tbs. maca root powder
3 Tbs. eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) powder
4 cups filtered water
1 cup honey

  • Combine the cacao tea and herbal powders with the water in a pot. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pot with a lid. Let simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.
  • Remove from the heat  and strain out the herbs – you have now created a strong decoction for your syrup base. I strained mine a little ‘coarsely,’ so there were more herbs in the syrup, but a finer strain using a cheesecloth and/or a fine mesh strainer can also be done.
  • Return the liquid to the pan and add the honey. To retain the beneficial, naturally occurring enzymes in raw honey, gently heat it just until the honey dissolves, being careful not to boil the syrup.
  • Finish by pouring the syrup into clean, sterile bottles, and store in the fridge for up to 3 months.
  • A standard dosage of herbal syrup depends on the herbs used, the situation being addressed, as well as the age of the recipient. A general dosage is a ½ teaspoon to 1 tablespoon taken 1 to 3 times a day. Since we are using adaptogenic herbs that are better used long-term to re-balance, 1/2 to 1 Tbs. per day is a nice starting amount.

 

 
Cacao Tea, serves 1
freshly boiled water
2-3 tsp. cacao tea

  • To prepare a simple cacao infusion, add 2-3 tsp. of cacao tea to a tea ball or infusing basket and then pour freshly boiled water over the top. Cover and allow to infuse for 5-10 minutes before drinking.

 

References:
1. Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs & Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide, vol. 2 (4th ed.). Chatswood, NSW, Australia: Elsevier.
2. Winston, D. and Maimes, S. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Rochester, VA: Healing Arts Press
3. Mountain Rose Herbs. (n.d.). Eleuthero Root Powder