Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sofrito, An Unknown But Delicious Sauce

It's been a few weeks since I've posted a recipe, so I'm including a favorite this week. Sofrito is a sauce coming from the Spanish Caribbean that is most commonly associated with Puerto Rico, but that also has variant styles in the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Its roots are not only in Spanish cooking, but Native cooking, African cooking, and even Italian cooking, so it's a mix of flavors that is totally unique.

Sofrito can be used in beans and rice, on chicken, fish and in all types of other dishes. Some even call it the pesto of the Caribbean, noting its central role in Puerto Rican cuisine in particular.

This recipe is adapted from a Puerto Rican style of sofrito. I've tried to stay true to the roots of the sauce, but have noted that many of the authentic ingredients are impossible to find in the US, even in well-stocked ethnic markets. Aji dulce and recao/culantro are very hard to find in the US, to the point of being nonexistent, even to those of you who know where to look, so I've made substitutions.

1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow/Spanish onion
16 aji dulce peppers -- can substitute with 8 cubanelle or Anaheim peppers
1 head of garlic
1/4 cup pitted pimenton olives (alcaparrado is more traditional, but make sure to remove pits)
1/2 cup olive oil
4 sprigs recao/culantro (may omit if you can't find it)
1 bunch cilantro
1 tbsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
1 1/2 tbsp salt

Start by coring and seeding the peppers, and then slicing into strips. Halve the onion and slice it, and peel the garlic cloves. Add all ingredients to a roasting pan and coat with olive oil. Roast for 1 hour at 375 degrees, until the veggies are soft and starting to brown a bit.

Add all ingredients to a food processor and blend until they achieve a perfect consistency, slightly chunky, but without any major pieces hanging out.

Sofrito can be used to flavor rice and beans, chicken, and many other dishes.

Sofrito in the early morning light.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Moment To Pause and Reflect

This past Monday, I had the honor of being present for the signing of the bill that will license naturopathic doctors in the state of Maryland. It has been a long, hard road in pursuit of this goal, but the moment has finally arrived, and in March of 2016, God willing, I will be among the first few NDs to be licensed in the newest licensed state, and this has given me pause for thought.

As a naturopathic doctor actively involved in lobbying efforts on behalf of my profession, I've come to value the following motto, originally said by Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts: "Leave this world a little better than when you found it." More than any other motto, I think this captures the spirit of naturopathic doctors' legislative efforts. Be they attempting to gain licensure to better serve their patients, gain insurance reimbursement so they can provide services to a broader portion of the population, or work on public health efforts, the naturopathic doctors I know and have worked with are committed to leaving their campground cleaner than when they found it.

That the battle would be hard was to be expected. Any time a new profession seeks licensure, there is inevitable opposition, and of course it was the same in Maryland as anywhere else. Additionally, while many medical doctors in the state supported the licensure of naturopathic doctors, the organizations who claim to represent them are often staunchly conservative in their position. Such organizations count on the ignorance of consumers, doctors, and legislators to make their positions hold sway; those who have actually become educated through talking with or working with naturopathic doctors often give up their opposition. In the end, the NDs were simply telling the truth and looking to be better able to serve the people of Maryland, and legislators knew this. A bill was ultimately passed, and while it isn't perfect, it's a first step on the path.

It will be almost two years until the first licenses are issued to naturopathic doctors, and probably many more years until naturopathic doctors are able to bill insurance here in Maryland, major efforts are under way. There are plans to start a school of naturopathic medicine here in Maryland, and some of the more forward thinking medical institutions in the area are looking to bring naturopathic doctors into the fold. Additionally, the upcoming licensure means that there are likely to be many more NDs coming to the state soon, which means that a lot more Marylanders will start being a lot healthier. This campground is already starting to look a lot nicer.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Antibacterial Soaps May Have Unintended Effects

Most of us know about the so-called 'superbug' MRSA, or methcillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and the health problems it causes. Our history of overusing antibiotic drugs has resulted in strains of bacteria that have adapted defenses against those same antibiotics, leaving us in quite a quandary.

There have also been concerns that antibacterial soap may contribute to antibiotic resistance. The conventional line of thinking has been that, like antibiotic drugs, antibacterial soap kill off most bacteria, leaving only a few resistant strains behind, which then multiply and spread. However, a new study has shown something completely unexpected: Some antibacterial soaps may actually promote bacterial colonization.

Triclosan is a common ingredient in antibacterial soap, and is the main one responsible for killing bacteria. It's so common, in fact, that it has begun showing up in the human body and human secretions. In a study published yesterday, researchers found that triclosan is present in the nasal secretions of healthy adults, but that, against expectations, the presence of triclosan in the nasal passages is associated with an increased incidence of Staph aureus colonization, not a decreased incidence.

One might reasonably expect that presence of triclosan in the nasal secretions might help keep out bacteria through antibacterial action, but such is not the case. Instead, the triclosan was present only at nonlethal levels, which, rather than killing the bacteria, simply stressed them and caused them to react. What was their reaction, you ask? Their reaction was to attempt to adhere to local proteins within the nasal passages, forming what bacteriologists call a "biofilm." When bacteria form a biofilm, they're hunkering down for good. The findings of the study show that rather than keeping us squeaky clean, antibacterial soaps actually encourage bacteria to take up residence on our bodies.

It's an old adage that cleanliness is next to godliness. While I won't argue with that, antibacterial cleanliness may be a lot closer to unwanted Staph aureus than any deities. When washing, it's the mechanical action of scrubbing and a mild detergent effect that we need most, not "bacteria fighting power." So go for natural soaps, or at least conventional soaps without added antibacterial agents.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Listening Assignment

I've written extensively about smoking in the past, and so I'm returning to the topic again today. However, instead of composing a long argument about the evils of tobacco for you to read, I'm offering a listening assignment.

Freakonomics Radio is a program on NPR that looks into the economics of various phenomena, such as the costs and benefits of learning foreign languages, problematic trends in the Japanese housing market, and 'reasons not to be ugly'. In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the US Surgeon General's report on smoking, they've tackled smoking this week. They investigate efforts to cut smoking in both the US and abroad, and take a good hard look at what has worked and what hasn't.

So tonight, perhaps while you're cooking a simple fish recipe or my favorite Spanish rice, tune in and take a listen.

Freakonomics: How to Make People Quit Smoking