Part Four: How to Take Care of Your Immune System and Reduce Your Risk of Disease





An impaired immune system weakens the body's ability to fend off infection and disease, but the immune system can also produce symptoms such as fever, muscle and joint pain, digestive problems and fatigue. Many of the symptoms of the colds and flus are caused by the immune system's response to the infection and are a normal part of a healthy, functioning immune system.

Some of the symptoms of a weakened or impaired Immune System are:
  •   2 or more colds / flus a year and slow recovery
  •    Allergies
  •    Poor wound healing
  •    Chronic infections
  •    Digestive disorders
  •    Insomnia
  •    Tumours
  •    Low energy and fatigue
  •    Depression
  •  Chronic fever, diarrhea, digestive disorders, pain, and swollen lymph glands
  •    Asthma and other respiratory disorders
  •    Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia
  •    Impaired organ function
  •    Arthritis
  •    Inflammation


CHRONIC INFLAMMATION

Inflammation is normally a healthy response of the immune system to physical injury and pathogens that cause infection, damage and disease. When the inflammatory process fails to turn off, the immune system becomes compromised because it is simply overworked and overused. Once the immune system is compromised, all forms of chronic disease can occur, not just inflammatory diseases.

Chronic inflammation is the main contributing factor to all chronic degenerative disease including allergies, Alzheimer's, arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue, diabetes, digestive disorders, fibromyalgia, heart disease, Lupus, MS, Parkinson's and stroke.

To detect chronic inflammation, which can be silent until a diseased state has been initiated, a health care professional can test for inflammatory biomarkers in the blood. Inflammatory markers are biochemical substances, or messengers the body sends out into the blood to signal to other cells how and where to act in response to a particular pathogen or injury. Inflammatory markers to watch out for include C-reactive protein, lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a), interleukin 6, homocysteine, and fibrinogen. In particular, high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an antibody-like blood protein, indicate chronic inflammation, and therefore risk of degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease.

Causes of Chronic Inflammation:
  •   Neglect of basic health habits
  •   Oral bacteria
  •   Acidosis
  •   Chronic stress
  •   Medications
  •   Infection
  •   High levels of insulin in blood
  •   Oxygen free radicals
  •   Synthetic Chemicals
  •   Nano Particles loaded with synthetic chemicals
  •  Plant Allergens: Defense Proteins loaded with synthetic chemicals  



BASIC HEALTH HABITS 
AND IMMUNE SYSTEM HEALTH

Your immune system health depends upon your basic health habits: Sleep, Nutrition and Digestive Health, Hydration, Physical Activity, Positive Mental Attitude, Breathing, Sweating, Sunshine, Rest and Relaxation, Meditation, Hygiene,  Life Skills, and Nature. Taking care of your basic health habits is the best way to prevent illness and disease and cannot be replaced with pill, cure or therapy. In Part Three we looked at the affect that sleep, nutrition and digestive health, physical activity, and hydration have on our immune system health. In Part Four we will look at breathing, positive mental attitude, sweating, sunshine (and Vitamin D) and immune system health.



BREATHING Your Way to Health

Breathing allows our cells to be saturated with oxygen and expels wastes and toxins; one of the main ways our body eliminates toxins. 

Oxygen is necessary for cellular respiration: the biochemical process by which a cell converts nutrients into energy involving the oxidation of glucose to carbon dioxide and water; and the dysfunction of cellular respiration is the known cause of cancer and many other diseases. 

Oxygen aids in the building and repair of tissues. It reduces pain and helps the health of all of our tissues and joints. It also relieves fatigue and boosts our energy. Oxygen helps to improve blood sugar levels and to balance hormones. 

Breathing is essential to brain function and helps the movement of lymph, stimulates digestion, metabolism, and abdominal organ function. Breathing is like an internal massage for your body.

Oxygen depletion weakens our immune system, which leads to viral infections, damaged cells, growths, inflamed joints, heart and circulatory problems, toxic buildup in blood and premature aging. Low oxygen allows damaged cells to multiply and form growths in our bodies because our cells are oxygen deficient. If the cells in our bodies are rich in oxygen, mutated cells are less able to reproduce. Oxygen displaces harmful free radicals, neutralizes environmental toxins and destroys anaerobic (the inability to live in oxygen rich environments) infectious bacteria, parasites, microbes and viruses.






In deep, abdominal breathing, the downward and upward movements of the diaphragm, combined with the outward and inward movements of the belly, ribcage, and lower back, help to massage and detoxify our inner organs, promote blood flow and peristalsis, and move the lymph more efficiently through our lymphatic system. The lymphatic system, which is an essential part of our immune system, has no force other than muscular movements to help move it, including the movements of breathing.

The average person takes in approximately 12 breaths per minute. 

The ideal intake of oxygen is three to six deep breaths per minute. Slower and deeper breaths alert the physiological systems to function optimally because there is so little stress on the body. The autonomic nervous system receives alerts from rapid shallow breathing and kicks the adrenaline and nervous system into high gear, placing unneeded stress on the body.

Breathing through the mouth is associated with a number of respiratory disorders including asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure. The nose is equipped with mucus to regulate the nerves that control breathing, and filter and warm the air as it enters the lungs. The sense of smell located in the nose also alerts the body to dangerous air qualities. Additionally, oxygen levels are decreased as mouth breathing creates an imbalance in the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels required for optimum health.



click to enlarge


Improper breathing negatively affects the immune system, which is the body's internal protection against disease, bacteria, harmful chemicals and cancer. Cardiovascular health achieved through regular aerobic exercise maintains lung health and supports a strong immune system. Deep breathing exercises, combined with mind calming activities such as yoga or meditation, control stress levels that also adversely affect the immune system.

Please visit HEALTH COACH: Breathing: Life is About Breathing. The Rest is Detail for more helpful information. 





Positive Mental Attitude

A positive attitude can help you to deal with stress more effectively, maintain better interpersonal relationships and lead to improved health. A positive attitude can lead to reduced levels of stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, a positive attitude and thinking optimistically can help you to deal with life's stressful situations by reducing the effects of stress on the body. 






Positive thinking can increase the production of endorphins, which are the feel-good chemicals in the brain. People with a positive attitude typically tend to focus on solutions, and not the problem, which leads to greater feelings of productivity and, consequently, higher levels of happiness. 

A positive attitude can help to keep your heart healthy and lower your risk for heart disease. Researchers found that people who have a positive attitude during stressful events are 22 percent less likely to have a fatal or nonfatal heart attack than those who have negative attitudes, according to a WebMD article.

The mind-body connection is powerful, and thoughts and patterns of thinking can dramatically influence what happens to the body. A study on the mind-body connection found clear evidence that the brain has the ability to send signals to immune-system cells. Studies have shown that people who maintain a positive attitude tend to make healthier lifestyle choices. Evidence suggests that having a positive attitude and longevity are also linked. A healthy mental attitude is a chosen set of thoughts and emotions that are energetic, vital, positive and strong enough to result in an outward or physical achievement.


 



Laughter

The immune system is the master key of health and a weakened immune system exposes us to infection and disease. 

Scientific research by Dr. Lee Berk from Loma Linda University, California proved that laughter strengthens the immune system by increasing the number of white blood cells, natural killer cells and antibodies. Stress and depression are two major components of ill health. 

With Laughter Yoga exercises, the health benefits come from managing physical, mental and emotional stress. When stress levels are reduced, the immune system becomes stronger automatically. Laughter has aerobic benefits. Dr. William Fry, a well-known research scientist from Stanford University scientifically proved that 10 minutes of healthy laughter is equal to 30 minutes on the rowing machine. As a physical activity, laughter it is similar to other aerobic activities like jogging, swimming and cycling.

Laughter Yoga combines laughter exercises and breathing from yoga and brings more oxygen to the body and brain. A good supply of oxygen is the key for maintaining good health as well as healing a variety of illnesses. It is also important for people suffering from cancer and chronic respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma. 

Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have shown that laughter lowers epinephrine levels (which lowers blood pressure), reduces cortisol levels (stress hormones), and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon, and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being.

Please visit HEALTH COACH: Positive Mental Attitude: Happiness is an Attitude, Cultivate It for more helpful information.



Sweating



The skin is the largest organ in the body and through the pores it plays a major role in the detoxifying process alongside the lungs, kidneys, bowels, liver and the lymphatic and immune systems. Sweating is the body's safe and natural way to heal. Sweat refreshes the skin, kills viruses, and boosts the immune system. It also has the ability to transform toxins from lipid-soluble or oil-based, into easier to eliminate water soluble forms. 

If you are suffering from chronic health conditions, you may not have the stamina to exercise hard or long enough to work up a good sweat. Another method to induce sweat is a steam bath. Steam baths, like Far Infrared Saunas, provide an alternative to exercise enabling you to incorporate sweating, and therefore detoxification, into your normal routine. Time spent in a steam bath is comparable to brisk walking or jogging. However, time in the steam bath should not replace physical activity entirely. 


 



Benefits of Sweating:

  • Toxic Waste Removal  While relaxing in a steam bath, amazing things are taking place inside the body. The capillaries dilate, the pulse speeds up, and the blood pressure drops slightly as the blood rushes to the skin and away from the organs to draw the heat away from the skin. Impurities in the liver, kidneys, stomach, muscles, brain, and most other organs are flushed out by the increased flow of juices as their metabolic processes speed up. In only 15 minutes of steam bath use, it is typical to lose nearly a quart of sweat. Although 99% of the sweat is water, the other 1% is waste products that would have otherwise taken 24 hours to be removed, if at all, by the kidneys.
  • Immune System Boost  A steam bath induces a fever-like state in the body. The temperature of your skin may rise up to 10 degrees, but your inner temperature will only raise a maximum of three degrees. Most viruses and harmful bacteria cannot survive these increased temperatures and are thus destroyed. The heat also increases the number of white blood cells in the blood which are beneficial to the immune system. It is also thought that damaged cells repair themselves more quickly under these fever-like conditions.
  • Hormone Stimulation The rise in the body’s temperature from sweating also affects the function of the hormonal system. The pituitary gland is known as the “master gland” because its hormones regulate both metabolism and the activity of other glands. When the temperature rises, the pituitary accelerates the body's metabolism which is especially beneficial for those who have sluggish hormone production.

Our modern lifestyle makes most people's skin inactive. Many of us don't sweat, especially during the winter months. Modern synthetic fibres or tight clothing that don't allow the skin to breathe, can damage our skin and our natural ability for elimination, as does excessive prolonged sun exposure. A sedentary lifestyle also inactivates the skin.




Benefits of the steam bath include:

  • Improved blood circulation: The steam bath increases and improves the rate of blood circulation and breathing.
  • Weight loss: Steam bathing is similar to mild exercise, it burns about 300 calories per average session. Regular steam bath sessions combined with a healthy diet and moderate exercise will help you lose weight and stay fit and healthy.
  • Skin cleansing: A profuse steam bath induced sweat followed by a shower cleanses your skin far more thoroughly than just taking a shower. It makes it soft and healthy with immediately noticeable effects. 
  • Body relaxation: Stress build-up creates tension in the body manifesting in various aches and pains. The heat and humidity of the steam bath diffuses the pain and relaxes tired muscles. A steam bath in the evening will leave tense muscles and sore limbs totally relaxed. Steam bathing also helps to relieves arthritic pain. 
  • Mind relaxation: The steam bath is essentially a place to relax. Regular steam bathing adepts all agree that it effectively helps relieve physical and mental fatigue and stress. Deep relaxation increases healing alpha brain wave activity.
  • The steam bath enhances circulation and oxygenates the cells, tissues and organs. It increases the body's ability to produce energy, which promotes healing. At the same time, heating the tissues speeds up the metabolism and destroys pathogenic microbes including bacteria and viruses. Your cells are gradually capable of eliminating toxins much more effectively. 
  • The release of steam in the steam bath creates negative ions which increases healing. Negative Ion Therapy is used  to used to treat burn victims, cure respiratory diseases, to rid the body of general infection and to prevent the spread of cancer.


  


Sunshine: The Eighth Basic Health Habit
and Demystifying Vitamin D


Exposure to sunlight causes vitamin D to be produced in your skin. But only a portion of the solar spectrum, known as ultraviolet B (UVB), has this effect. Other parts of the solar spectrum can have very different  and even harmful effects. UVA can cause cancerous mutations, and can also break down the vitamin D formed in your skin after outdoor UVB exposure. And vitamin D is a potent defense against melanoma. Melanoma cells convert it to calcitriol, which causes tumour growth inhibition and apoptotic cell death in vitro and in vivo. New research shows that increased UVA exposures and inadequately maintained cutaneous levels of vitamin D promote melanoma.

Vitamin D, calciferol, is a fat-soluble vitamin. It is found in food, but it can also be made in your body after exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun. Vitamin D exists in several forms, each with a different activity. Some forms are relatively inactive in the body, and have limited ability to function as a vitamin. The liver and kidney help convert vitamin D to its active hormone form.

Today, it is well established that besides playing a crucial role in the establishment and maintenance of the calcium in the body, the active form of vitamin D also acts an effective regulator of cell growth and differentiation in a number of different cell types, including cancer cells. The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintainstrong bones. It promotes bone mineralization in concert with a number of other vitamins, minerals, and hormones. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with insulin deficiency and insulin resistance.


Deficiency or insufficiency has been associated with:
  • adrenal insufficiency
  • Alzheimer's
  • allergies
  • autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • cancers of the colon, breast, skin and prostate
  • depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • diabetes, Type 1 and 2
  • gluten intolerance, lectin intolerance
  • heart disease, hypertension, Syndrome X
  • infertility, sexual dysfunction
  • learning and behavior disorders
  • misaligned teeth and cavities
  • myopia
  • obesity
  • osteopenia, osteoporosis, rickets, osteomalacia (adult rickets)
  • Parkinson's
  • PMS
  • psoriasis
  • use of corticosteroids

Vitamin D is not a vitamin. It is more appropriately classified as a pro-hormone. Not only is it a pro-hormone, it is a sunlight derived pro-hormone. The active hormone D, calcitriol, controls calcium in vertebrates. Calcium controls innumerable processes in the human body including specific responses in muscles, bones and glands. Calcitriol is a major player in genomic actions determining how our cells express themselves and regulating production of numerous substances including enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters

Just one example of an important gene that vitamin D up-regulates is your ability to fight infections. It produces over 200 anti-microbial peptides, the most important of which is cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic.  Vitamin D can decrease your risk for common respiratory infections as well. At least five studies show an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and D levels.  That is, the higher your vitamin D level, the lower your risk of contracting colds, flu, and other respiratory tract infections. A 2007 study suggests higher vitamin D status enhances your immunity to microbial infections. When produced in the skin or ingested, it is a vitamin or prehormone and essential for life. Just as cholesterol is metabolized into testosterone, precholesterol is turned into cholecalciferol (vitamin D), which is metabolized into what now is looking more and more like a hormone 25(OH)D. In turn, this is metabolized in the kidneys or other organs into an even more potent hormone 1, 25(OH)2D.

Vitamin D is an essential part of the endocrine system as it controls several of the adrenal hormones, growth of cells, production of enzymes and has other direct genomic functions. The key difference in definition is that hormones have DNA receptor sites, and vitamin A is in that family as well as vitamin D, and vitamins are parts of coenzyme systems (not genomic). In a way, vitamins A and D are both vitamins and hormones. Vitamin D is also produced in plants such as algae, as well as mushrooms (which are neither animals nor plants) exposed to ultraviolet-B (UVB) radiation.

Serum 25(OH)D levels should be in the 30 to 40 ng/ml (75-100 nmol/L) range for cancer prevention and optimal health. The only way to determine 25(OH)D levels is with a blood test which can be ordered through a physician or nutritionist. However, care should be exercised in choice of a laboratory since the testing methods and quality of the tests may vary. In addition, since 25(OH)D and parathyroid hormone (PTH) are inversely correlated and have opposite effects on calcium in bones, one could also have PTH levels measured.




Sunlight


Exposure to sunlight is an important source of vitamin D. Ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight trigger vitamin D synthesis in the skin. 

First, note that the 15 to 30 minutes per day generally applies to fair-skinned, thin, younger individuals, with the more of the body exposed, the better. Darker-skinned individuals may require several hours per day. For those unable to derive sufficient vitamin D from solar UVB, artificial UVB lamps are a viable option, as are vitamin D supplements.

The two viable options are artificial UVB and supplements. If visiting an indoor tanning salon, be sure to ask for the booth with the highest UVB (280-315 nm) to UVA (315-400 nm) ratio since only UVB produces vitamin D. UVA is useful in producing a browner tan.

Melanoma rates are rising as sun exposure and vitamin D status is decreasing dramatically. When you stay out of the sun entirely, you effectively avoid the system nature created to help prevent skin cancer naturally, because the key to unlocking this mechanism is vitamin D. Vitamin D is formed in your skin from exposure to sunlight. The vitamin D then goes directly to the genes in your skin where it helps prevent the types of abnormalities that ultraviolet light causes. When you avoid the sun entirely, or slather on sun block whenever you go out, your skin is not making any vitamin D, and you’re left without this built-in cancer protection.  

Dietary sources of vitamin D are generally insufficient to produce optimal serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D 25(OH)D since milk contains only 400 I.U. of vitamin D3 and 800 to 1000 I.U. per day are probably required. Fish oil with vitamin D can be consumed, but one should see whether and how much vitamin A is included. Vitamins A and D interact and you need the proper balance of  vitamin A. Vitamin D is stored in the blood for a few weeks and in the fat for a few months. Vitamin D comes from two sources: food and sunlight. Some of the best food sources are mushrooms, liver, egg yolks, and fish.

Sun exposure benefits your health by stimulating your skin to produce vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hormone-like substance critical for the vast majority of your biological functions, including:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cognition
  • Sleep
  • Immunity
  • Metabolism
  • Bone health and strength
  • Digestion

Vitamin D is the superhero of nutrients, and the best way to get it is from appropriate sun exposure, which causes your skin to manufacture it. Vitamin D levels have been tied to cancer risk: the lower your levels, the higher your risk. Every cell and tissue in your body needs vitamin D to function properly.  But it does more than just that. Vitamin D is different from other vitamins in that it influences your entire body. Receptors that respond to the vitamin have been found in almost every type of human cell, from your brain to your bones. This is why researchers are finding health benefits from vitamin D in virtually every area they look. For example, optimizing your vitamin D levels can help you to prevent as many as 16 different types of cancer including pancreatic, lung, breast, ovarian, prostate, and colon cancers. 

When you get your vitamin D from appropriate sun exposure, your body can self-regulate and reduce vitamin D production if you don't need it, which makes it very difficult to overdose on vitamin D from sun exposure.



D2 and D3

Supplemental vitamin D comes in two forms: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Recent studies have shown that vitamin D3 is a more potent form of vitamin D. Vitamin D2 has a shorter shelf life, and its metabolites bind with protein poorly, making it less effective. 

One unit of cod liver oil (containing vitamin D3) has been shown to be as effective as four units of Viosterol (a medicinal preparation of vitamin D2). 

Basically there are two types of oral vitamin D supplements. The natural ones are D3, and they contain the same vitamin D your body makes when exposed to sunshine. The synthetic ones are vitamin D2, which are sometimes called ergocalciferol. 

Once either form of the vitamin is in your body, it needs to be converted to a more active form. Vitamin D3 is converted 500 percent faster than vitamin D2. Interestingly, it was previously thought that the kidney exclusively performed this function,  However, in 1998 Dr. Michael Hollick, the person who discovered activated vitamin D, showed that many other cells in your body can make this conversion, but they use it themselves, and it is only the kidney that makes enough to distribute to the rest of your body.

However, nearly all the prescription-based supplements contain synthetic vitamin D2, which was first produced in the 1920s through ultraviolet exposure of foods. The process was patented and licensed to drug companies for use in prescription vitamins. The vitamin D that is added to milk is not D3 but the inferior vitamin D2.



Hypercalcemia: Vitamin D Toxicity

When you take large amounts of vitamin D, your liver produces too much of a chemical called 25(OH)D.

When your 25(OH)D levels are too high, this can cause high levels of calcium to develop in your blood. High blood calcium is a condition called hypercalcemia.

The symptoms of hypercalcemia include:

feeling sick or being sick
poor appetite or loss of appetite
feeling very thirsty
passing urine often
constipation or diarrhea
abdominal pain
muscle weakness or pain
feeling confused
feeling tired

In some rare diseases, you may be at risk of hypercalcemia even if you have low vitamin D levels and haven’t taken much vitamin D. These diseases include primary hyperparathyroidism, sarcoidosis and a few other rare diseases.






Mezzé






Mezzé (meh-ZAY) embraces the vibrant flavours and cooking styles of North Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It is a selection  of small dishes best eaten companionably, alfresco. One of the many plausible theories is that the word mezzé comes from the Arabic word tamazza, which means to taste food slowly in small quantities, giving your tastebuds heightened enjoyment.



Za'atar is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs including oregano, thyme and savory. It is also the name for a condiment made from the dried herbs, mixed together with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt, as well as other spices. Used in Arab cuisine, both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Middle East.

In the Levant there is a belief that this particular spice mixture makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a za'atar sandwich for breakfast before an exam. Palestinians also remind their children in the morning before sending them off to school that eating za'atar for breakfast will make them smarter. Maimonides, a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, prescribed za'atar for its health advancing properties.


Za'atar
4 t sesame seeds
4 T finely chopped thyme
4 t dried oregano
4 t savory
4 t ground sumac
1 t sea salt
4 t ground cumin


In a dry pan, toast the sesame seeds on a high heat for one to two minutes. Place all the ingredients in a blender and process until finely mixed. Store in a jar in the fridge for up to a week.



Sumac

Sumacs grow in subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world, especially in Africa and North America. In Arab cuisine, it is used as a garnish on mezzé dishes such as hummus and is added to salads in the Levant. In Iranian cuisine, sumac is added to rice or kebab. In Turkish cuisine, it is added to kebabs and lahmacun. It is also an essential ingredient in za’atar spice blend. Dark, rusty red sumac is from the dried berries of the elm-leaf sumac and used to impart a slightly tart, fruity flavour. It loses its flavour and aroma in a month even stored in an airtight container, so I recommend purchasing it in small quantity.  



Fattoush is a Lebanese version of bread salad that includes crumbled pita chips, (fattoush means crumbled bread in Arabic) and all the ingredients are tossed with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing that's seasoned with powdered sumac, which has a slightly lemony flavor, and it's the sumac, the lemon, and the fresh herbs that really bump this salad up to something memorable that you'll want to make over and over again.

Fattoush
2 whole wheat pita pocket breads, cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide, then toasted and crumbled
1 t chopped garlic (2-4
cloves garlic
1 t salt (I used fine grind sea salt)
1/2 c fresh squeezed lemon juice, about 2
large lemons
1 t powdered sumac, plus more for sprinkling on individual salads if desired
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
2 heads lettuce, chopped
1/2 c thinly sliced green onion
1 c diced tomatoes (let drain a minute or two if extra juicy)
1 c diced cucumber (same size as tomatoes)
1/2 c coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
1/2 c coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley (leaves only, no stems)
optional ingredients: chopped green pepper or radishes
 
Preheat oven to 350F/200C. While oven heats, mash together the chopped garlic and salt using a mortar and pestle, or the side of a knife or spoon. Put garlic-salt paste in a small bowl, then add lemon juice and 1 t sumac. Whisk in olive oil and set dressing aside. (You can also make the dressing in a glass jar and shake to combine.)


Cut whole wheat pita into strips about 3/4 inch wide and arrange on baking sheet.  Bake until pita strips are crisp but only barely starting to brown,about 8 minutes. Watch carefully because they can go from crisp burnt rather quickly.


Prepare lettuce.Cut into small pieces. (If you have a salad spinner, you can chop the lettuce first, then wash.) Put chopped lettuce into a salad bowl large enough to toss all of the ingredients.


Chop tomatoes, green onions, cucumbers, mint, and parsley and add to lettuce. Add about half of the dressing and toss, then add crumbled pita chops and toss again with more dressing. (You may not want all the dressing, but this salad should be quite wet.) At this point the salad should sit for a few minutes (or longer) to let flavors blend and so the pita chips absorb some of the dressing. To serve, arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with a bit more sumac. You can also serve it in a large bowl with the sumac sprinkled over.




Salatat al Jazar  
Moroccan Carrot Salad

Make the dressing first, so that your carrots can quickly bathe in it once they are grated and start soaking up the deliciousness: 1/3 cup honey dissolved in 1/4 cup lemon juice

Stir in 1 T orange flower water, available in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Add large pinches of kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, dried dill, and ras al hanout, a perfumey Moroccan spice that imparts exotic depth to this salad ( see My Moroccan Dinner Party Menu and Recipes for recipe). 

Turkish dried red pepper and black sesame seeds are other flavour and colour boosters that work very well here, speckling the vibrant vegetables with dainty little red and black flecks. Stir in 1/2 cup golden raisins

Next, grate 8 - 10 large steamed carrots either by a food processor or by hand. Toss carrots with dressing and taste to adjust seasoning. 

Chill for an hour in the fridge to let flavours develop. Keeps well for a few days, refrigerated.

Optional: A clove of minced garlic and a dash of hot sauce for added flavour and heat. A few black olives and a bit of crumbled feta cheese would be welcome additions. I favour the pairing of cumin with carrots and support the idea of throwing in a teaspoon of lightly toasted cumin seeds to the mix.





Muhammara
Roasted Red Pepper and Nut Dip
2 large red bell peppers, rubbed with olive oil
1/3 cup olive oil
1 medium purple onion, chopped
1 T cumin, crushed
2 T walnuts, roasted
2 T cashews, roasted
1/4 t chili flakes
1 T pomegranate syrup (pomegranate syrup is made by reducing pomegranate juice and adds a sweet-tart flavour to Middle Eastern cooking)
1-2 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice 
Garnish: pomegranate seeds and/or pine nuts, roasted

Preheat oven to 375F/ 190 C. Roast peppers in a pan until the skins are charred, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Set in blender or food processor. Sauté onions and cumin on medium heat for 5 minutes until soft. Transfer to blender with the rest of the ingredients and whizz until well mixed. Garnish and serve at room temperature with toasted pita chips.

  
Toasted Pita Chips with Za'atar

Cut pita rounds in half and pull the double layers apart gently and neatly. Rub olive oil on divided half rounds, sprinkle with za'atar and then cut into triangles. Toast in a preheated oven 350F/ 180C for about 8 minutes until golden and crisp. Watch carefully as they can go from golden to burnt quickly. Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days. 





Savoury Spinach and Feta Pastries

The addition of pine nuts and raisins give this version of Spanakopita an Arabic flavour.
 
12 phyllo sheets
7/8 c butter, melted

Filling:
250g baby spinach leaves, rinsed 
2 T olive oil
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
4 T fresh dill, chopped
125g feta, crumbled
1 egg, beaten
2 T pine nuts, toasted
2 T raisins
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Steam the spinach on medium heat with only the water clinging to its leaves for 10 minutes. Drain in colander and squeeze out all excess moisture. Put in a large mixing bowl and set aside. Sauté scallions and garlic 2-3 minutes on medium heat. Add to the bowl with the spinach and the rest of the ingredients and mix to combine.


Preheat oven to 375   F/ 190C. Lay out the phyllo sheets and wrapped in a slightly damp tea towel. Working with one sheet at a time, butter phyllo and fold each side towards the centre in thirds to form a 3 inch long strip, buttering each layer. Spoon 1 T of filling onto the sheet and start folding from side to side to form a triangle. Place the prepared pastry on a baking tray. Continue and repeat these steps for 12 pastries. Bake for 12-15 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve warm or cold. 




Wara Eynab
Stuffed Grape Leaves

This is a favorite dish of Egyptians and is a version of Dolmathes.

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c rice, uncooked
1 onion, minced
1 tomato, minced
1/2 t dried mint
1/2 t pepper
1 t salt
1 T lemon juice
About half a kilo (500 g) or 50 grape leaves. These can be fresh or preserved in liquid in a jar.
 
For layering the pot:
3 garlic cloves (in slices to be placed between layers of stuffed leaves)
2 tomatoes (in slices for the bottom, top and between layers of stuffed leaves)

 
For the soup:
4 c vegetable broth

 
Prepare the rice mix:
Mix the rice, minced garlic, onion, tomato, dried mint, pepper, salt, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. 


Prepare the leaves:

Whether you are using preserved or fresh leaves, you will need to rinse and blanch them. Boil about a liter of water in a pot.  Prepare another liter of cold water in a bowl.  In bunches, put the leaves in the boiling water for 3 minutes and then remove them and place them in the cold water for a few minutes.  Drain in a colander.

 




Wrapping: Each leaf has a shiny side and a duller side. The dull side also is where you can see the stem of the leaf. Be sure to have the shiny side facing down as you wrap. Be gentle as you work with the leaves. They can be very fragile.On the bottom of a medium-sized soup pot, layer some of the leaves that got ripped as you blanched them, any stems you don’t want and a few tomatoes and garlic.  

Now you will begin to make the stuffed leaves and layer them in the pot. With the leaf shiny side down, spoon a heaping teaspoon of rice mixture close to the stem of the leaf.  Begin rolling the leaf stem-side first.  I always gather the sides along as I go, which makes for a tighter, neater roll. With the leaf shiny side down, spoon a heaping teaspoon of rice mixture close to the stem of the leaf.  

Once you finish a layer, add more tomato and garlic slices.  Be sure your layer is as even and complete as you can make it.  If you want to present this in the traditional serving style, this will make a difference. Continue until you use up all your filling.  Don’t forget to add tomato and garlic slices between each layer and on the top of the final layer. Pour the soup over the stuffed rolls  until the soup covers the rolls.  

Cover the rolls with a plate to keep them stable while they cook and cover the pot with a lid and cook on medium low heat for about 30 – 45 minutes.  

Check towards the end to be sure nothing is burning.  You’ll know the rolls are ready once most of the liquid is gone. Remove the plate from the top layer.  Check that the rice is done.
 
For traditional serving style:
Cover the top of the pot with a large plate (large enough so the edges extend over the pot).  Holding the pot handles and the plate at the same time, flip the pot over so the contents will now be on the plate.  (If your pot was the right size, this should work fine for you.  When you remove the pot, you should have a well stacked, pretty presentation for your stuffed grape leaves.  (You can easily remove the broken leaves, stems, and tomatoes we added on the bottom of the pot, which will now appear on the top of your stack.)

Instead of tomatoes and garlic, you can use lemon slices and or lemon juice between layers. Serve hot or cold. Recipe from Alf Hana Cooking Blog
  



Chickpea Farinata
2 c chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour
3 c cold water

3 T olive oil
2 t salt
(extra oil for seasoning the pan)



Preheat your oven to 500° and lightly oil a 9” cast iron frying pan. Put the frying pan in the oven for 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, water, oil and salt until there are no lumps. If you want to add vegetables to the batter do it now. Remove the frying pan from the oven carefully (it will be very hot!) Pour the chickpea mixture into the hot pan and put it back in the oven. Bake for 14 minutes. Open the oven door a little and insert the tip of your oven mitt to keep the door open slightly (this allows the steam to vent). Bake for another 10 minutes or until the farinata is golden brown. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. Top with your favourite sautéed vegetables.



Halloumi is traditionally made with sheep's milk, but it is now commonly made with cow's milk. Made for centuries on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, halloumi is now made all over the world. Because it maintains its shape when cooked, halloumi can be baked, fried or grilled until the outside becomes crisp and golden and the inside melts slightly. Cypriots swear by eating fresh halloumi with wedges of watermelon for a delicious snack.

Grilled Halloumi and Grape Tomato Kebobs

Moroccan Chermoula for marinating:
2 garlic cloves
1 t coarse salt
1-2 t toasted cumin seeds, crushed
1 fresh red chili, seeded & crushed
freshly squeezed lemon juice
2-3 T olive oil, some extra for grilling 
small bunch of cilantro, chopped

 
Crush all of the ingredients in a mortar & pestle or a food processor. You can make extra and store in air tight jar in the fridge for few weeks.

Marinate the cubed Halloumi and tomatoes in the chermoula.  Place the Halloumi cubes on skewers with the grape tomatoes, alternate cheese & tomatoes or any vegetable (or shrimp) of your choice. Grill the kebobs for a minute on each side. Brush on some extra chermoula over the kebobs and cover to keep warm.  Recipe from Novel Eats Vegan Cooking Blog



Rosewater and Watermelon Ice

The best watermelons are reputed to be grown in Iran. Watermelons were cultivated in Egypt before 2000 B.C.

1-5lb. watermelon
2 T rosewater
1-2 T sugar 
Garnish: pistachios, chopped and fresh rose petals


  

Halve and seed the watermelon and cut the flesh into small cubes, reserving the juice. Crush the watermelon pieces with back of a fork or process in a food processor with the reserved juice in batches till it turns into a granita-like consistency. Put in a bowl and then stir in the rosewater and sugar. Chill in the freezer and serve ice-cold garnished with chopped pistachios and rose petals.
  Recipe from Pomegranates and Zataar Cooking Blog





 
 Art Credit 
Top of Post:  Sardinian Coast  Paul Demaria

Colours of Tagine (Morocco) by Jonny Sage





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