Monday, October 10, 2016

WSJ Interview: Making Sense of the Salt Shaker

I have been asked to do several interviews on salt (aka. sodium) in food recently, and wanted to share the one that was published most recently in the Wall Street Journal on September 27, "Making Sense of the Salt Shaker."

This story gives some interesting tips and tricks to reduce sodium intake without sacrificing flavor--including highlighting the method I use to properly season the food that I cook with salt. Clearly, the beef chili example used in the recipe was not my choosing, but the technique works well for anything that you can stir and season: think soups, stews, sauces, or a pot of beans. 

Please try this out and share your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Thai Basil Eggplant

At the farmer's market this weekend, tables were overflowing with eggplants of all shapes, sizes, and colors. They were truly a sight to behold in their different shades and combinations of purples, greens, and whites. 

Different varieties of eggplant*

What seasoned cooks view with admiration and awe, is no doubt a source of anxiety and confusion for those starting out in the kitchen or new to eggplant cookery. To make matters worse, any specific type of eggplant may be called different names depending on where you buy it!

Have no fear! 

The key to eggplant is to get the right shape for the recipe that you're making--regardless of color. 

This is because those of the same shape tend to have the most similar taste, texture, and cooking methods. There are certainly subtle flavor differences between the varieties, however, a dish will generally turn out fine if you substitute a similar shape--but different size or color--eggplant variety. 
Thai Eggplant*

Note: an exception is the small, round, green, Thai eggplant. This one is more crisp and has more small, pronounced seeds than the other varieties and is best not substituted.

The following is a home version of Thai Basil Eggplant--a dish you can find in many Thai restaurants. Don't be confused by the name. "Thai" refers to the type of basil used, NOT the type of eggplant. The best eggplants to use for this dish are the long, slender types which are often referred to as Chinese, Filipino, or Japanese eggplants. However, they go by many other names as well. 

Thai Basil Eggplant

Sauce ingredients:
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce 
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Hoisin sauce or black bean garlic sauce
1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch (or slightly less)

Other ingredients:
1-14 oz. package of firm tofu, drained and patted dry with a paper towel, optional
1 pound Chinese eggplant (about 2-3 large), roll cut** 1-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3 hot Thai chilies finely sliced or minced
1-2 cups fresh Thai basil leaves***
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
4 cups cooked brown rice or quinoa for serving


1. If using tofu, preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, cut the block of tofu width-wise into 7 slices, cut these in half to make 14 squares, then cut these at an angle to make 28 triangles. On a baking sheet covered with parchment (or brushed with oil), lay out tofu triangles in a single layer, not touching each other. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking. 

2. Meanwhile, combine 1 1/2 cups water, soy sauce, sugar, and hoisin (or black bean garlic) sauce in a small bowl and stir. In a separate small bowl, combine 1/4 cup cold water and cornstarch; stir to dissolve and set aside.

3. Heat the oil over high heat in a large fry pan or wok; add the garlic and chilies, stir quickly and then add eggplant and peppers. Stir-fry for 2 minutes (or less if garlic starts to brown or burn). Then, add soy sauce mixture and continue stirring over high head until liquid reduces by half and eggplant is tender, about 3 minutes.  

4. Reduce heat to medium. Stir cornstarch mixture and then stir the mixture into the pan. Bring to simmer. Remove from heat and stir in Thai basil. 

5. Serve immediately with brown rice or quinoa.

Makes: 4 servings

What a roll cut vegetable looks like (example: roll cut carrot)*

**Roll-cut means to cut in irregular pieces, generally 1-2 inches in size. This is done by cutting on a bias, rolling the vegetable 90 degrees, and cutting on a bias through the middle of the previous cut. Don't worry, it doesn't have to be perfect. The goal is just to have more edges that if you'd sliced the vegetable because this will make the pieces less likely to stick to the side of the pan while cooking. 

Left=Sweet (aka. Italian) Basil, Right=Thai basil*

***Thai basil looks similar to the sweet, Italian basil that you see in the grocery store, but you can tell them apart because the stems of Thai basil are purple (or at least partially purple) and the leaves are less shiny and rounded than sweet basil. The flavor of Thai basil also has a slight licorice or anise flavor and is more sharp, pronounced than sweet basil.

*Photo credits: (basket of eggplant), (Thai eggplant), (roll cut carrot), (Thai basil)  By SweetBasilOrThaiBasil0314.JPG: Cchatfieldderivative work: Cchatfield (talk) - SweetBasilOrThaiBasil0314.JPG, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Udon with Shiitakes & Braised Baby Bok Choy

Inspired by some beautiful baby bok choy that I found at the farmer's market today, here is an Asian noodle recipe that would be right at home in any homestyle Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese meal. If you can only find full-sized bok choy, they will also work for this recipe.

Udon with Shiitake Mushrooms & Braised Baby Bok Choy

Two different styles of baby bok choy commonly available at farmer's or Asian markets:

Dry, thin, flat (top) and fresh, large, round (bottom) and  udon noodles:

Udon with Shiitakes

Cooking notes: The flavor of the noodles is best if you have a very high heat burner to use with wok cooking. I, unfortunately, do not have this at home. To try to achieve a bit of caramelization on the noodles, I preheat a large cast iron skillet instead. Even if you aren't able to caramelize the noodles, this dish is delicious. In the picture, above, I have used the flat, thin, dried udon noodles but the dish is best with the fresh, fat, round noodles.

½ pound dried (or 1 pound fresh) udon noodles (large, round are best but any will work)
1 egg, beaten (optional)
1/4 cabbage, shredded
1 medium carrot, shredded or shaved into long strips
8 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 shallot or ½ small red onion, chopped (1/4-inch dice)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons untoasted sesame or peanut oil

Sauce Ingredients:
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons vegetarian oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoon mirin
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 Tablespoons water

  1. If using dried udon noodles, cook in boiling water for 2/3 the amount of time recommended on the package, then drain and run cold water over the noodles to stop the cooking. If using fresh noodles, just untangle noodles with your fingers (do not pre-cook). Set aside.
  2. Mix together sauce ingredients; set aside.
  3. In a hot wok or cast iron skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon of oil, shallot and garlic; stir briefly for a couple of seconds being careful not to let them brown. Add cabbage, carrot and mushrooms, stir-frying for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Remove vegetables from pan and wipe out pan. Return to heat and add remaining tablespoon of oil. When hot add egg (if using) and noodles, stir-frying until heated through. If the noodles begin to stick add another teaspoon or two of oil.
  5. Add veggies back to the pan along with the sauce and stir-fry over high heat until noodles just start to caramelize or until all ingredients are hot. If using a low-power burner, the noodles may never caramelize, but the dish will still be delicious. Do not cook more than 2 minutes.
  6. Serve immediately. Great with braised baby bok choy. 
Serves: 4

Braised Baby Bok Choy

1 pound baby bok choy (or full-sized if you can't find baby*)

Sauce Ingredients:
1 Tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon untoasted sesame or peanut oil
1 cup water

  1. Fill a large bowl with water and soak the whole baby bok choy fully submerged for about half an hour; swish the bok choy vigorously to remove as much dirt and debris as possible. Lift bok choy out of the bowl and into a colander; discard the soaking water.
  2. Cut the very end of the stem off and then cut bok choy in half through the middle of the stem (the long way) so that all of the leaves remain attached.
  3. In a Dutch oven or 6-8 liter stock pot*, bring sauce ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and add bok choy placing the stem ends directly into the liquid and standing the leaf ends up like flowers. Cover the pot and cook for 7 minutes*.
  4. Serve immediately while hot.
Serves: 3-4

Serving suggestions: Goes well with any Chinese, Japanese or Taiwanese meals. I like to top Udon with Shiitakes with these Braised Baby Bok Choy to add some greens to the dish.

*Note: if using full-sized bok choy, cook in slightly smaller diameter pot (so that the bok choy will stand up) and cook for 10 minutes instead of 7.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When Your Doctor is Your Chef

Bloomberg News published a piece today that discusses the movement of doctors learning about healthy cooking and adding this skill to their healthcare toolkit. This is important, because as the obesity and metabolic disease epidemics continue, we realize that relying only on pharmaceuticals is not good medicine. We as physicians, and the broader medical community, owe it to our patients to have the best tools in our toolkits to help prevent and treat disease--including cooking and eating delicious, healthy food.

Delicious, Healthy Meals--Courtesy of @ChefInResidency on Instagram

For more on this, go to Bloomberg News and read "When Your Doctor is Your Chef."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Stanford Medicine's Scope Blog

Many of you know my story from reading the About the Chef-Doctor  section of the blog or reading Hoda Kotb’s book, Where We Belong: Journeys That Show Us the Way. However, if you’re a newbie to the site, or you’re curious about some of the things that I’ve been up to lately, check out my most recent interview with Stanford Medicine’s Scope Blog, “I wasn’t afraid to fail at my dream”: A physician-chef discusses her unusual career.”

Also, be sure to check back for the following upcoming posts (by popular demand) on common GI issues: GERD (acid reflux), lactose intolerance and IBS…and more recipes, of course!