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San Francisco doctor’s new cookbook bridges the gap between the kitchen and the clinic

Where to find “Spicebox Kitchen”

Bookstores: Signed copies of Linda Shiue’s “Spicebox Kitchen” are available at Copperfield’s Books in Napa. Regular copies can be found at other Copperfield’s stores and anywhere books are sold.

To order books through the publisher: bit.ly/SpiceboxKitchen

Blog: spiceboxtravels.com

Upcoming event: The Alternative Food Network will present an online event at 5 p.m. Sept. 14: “Spruce up Your Health: A Culinary Medicine Cooking Class with Drs. Linda Shiue and Sabrina Falquier.” Cost is $15.95. To reserve: go to linktr.ee/spiceboxtravels and click on upcoming events.

The idea of food as medicine has been around since at least 400 B.C., when Greek physician Hippocrates advised people to prevent and treat diseases by eating a nutrient-dense diet.

For thousands of years, India’s ayurvedic followers and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners have taught that a healthy diet is a powerful tool for protecting one’s health.

But when Primary Care Internist Linda Shiue of San Francisco embraced the connection about 10 years ago, there were only a few other medical professionals in the U.S. willing to talk about prescribing food instead of drugs.

“Ten years ago, there were only a handful of people doing culinary medicine,” she said. “Now there are something like two dozen people doing what I’m doing. ...They understand this crazy idea and how fun and powerful it can be.”

About six months ago, the busy doctor and mother of two girls also published her first cookbook, “Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipes” ( Hachette Go, 2021, $32).

Since then, the cookbook has been featured in the national media, from the Washington Post to CBS Bay Area, as well as in food magazines such as Bon Appetit and Eating Well.

“From whole wheat scallion pancakes laced with Sichuan peppercorns to coconut-creamed callaloo, Shiue proves that eating healthy can, and should, be delicious,” columnist Ali Francis wrote in the March 2021 issue of Bon Appetit.

“Spicebox Kitchen” has 175 vegetarian and pescatarian recipes featuring a range of spices from amchar masal to za’atar. There’s also a comprehensive introduction to healthy cooking, with lists of must-have ingredients for the pantry, including spices from all over the world.

“I like to think of a spicebox as the cook’s equivalent of a doctor’s bag, containing the essential tools to use in the art of cooking,” Shiue wrote in the book’s introduction. “Learning to use spices is the best way to add interest and vibrancy to simple home cooking.”

Her interest in culinary medicine started about 10 years ago, when she felt frustrated in her attempts to help her patients. The lightbulb moment came when she attended one of Harvard’s Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives conferences at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena.

“That truly was the door that I didn’t know I was looking for,” she said. “I was burned out, and I felt like I was treading water with patients. I didn’t know how to make them better.”

At the conference, everyone was fed meals that illustrated the principles of the Mediterranean diet, a way of eating based on the cuisines of Greece, Italy and other Mediterranean countries. The diet is based on plant-based foods such as whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. Olive oil is the main source of added fat.

“The food was delicious, and they talked about how it was changed to be more healthy,” she recalled. “I thought, ‘This is what patients need.’”

So instead of telling her patients to eat more potassium, she started telling them to eat kale because it was good for their blood pressure. Then she would scribble out a recipe for kale chips on her prescription pad for them.

“I think that was always missing from how myself and other doctors were trained to talk to patients,” she said. “They need practical advice.”

Born and raised on Long Island, Shiue did her undergraduate degree in anthropology and medicine at Brown University, then continued her studies at Brown’s medical school. She moved to the West Coast for her residency at UCSF.

In 2015 to 2016, Shiue decided to take a self-funded sabbatical to pursue her culinary passions. She completed an online certificate in nutrition from Cornell University while attending culinary school at San Francisco Cooking School full time for six months, One of the best experiences she had was her externship at Mourad, a Michelin-starred Moroccan restaurant in San Francisco owned by chef Mourad Lahlou.

She chose the San Francisco Cooking School not only because it was convenient but because it embraced modern, global flavors, which is how she likes to eat. Her parents were born in Taiwan, her husband hails from Trinidad and she lived for a year in Singapore during college and traveled through Southeast Asia.

In culinary school, her goal was to learn cooking techniques, how to flavor food and how to become a better cooking teacher.

“I also learned how to cook more efficiently at home, which helps people cook more often,” she said.

In 2017, upon her return to medicine, she founded Thrive Kitchen, a formal cooking program that she runs at a major medical center in San Francisco.

Where to find “Spicebox Kitchen”

Bookstores: Signed copies of Linda Shiue’s “Spicebox Kitchen” are available at Copperfield’s Books in Napa. Regular copies can be found at other Copperfield’s stores and anywhere books are sold.

To order books through the publisher: bit.ly/SpiceboxKitchen

Blog: spiceboxtravels.com

Upcoming event: The Alternative Food Network will present an online event at 5 p.m. Sept. 14: “Spruce up Your Health: A Culinary Medicine Cooking Class with Drs. Linda Shiue and Sabrina Falquier.” Cost is $15.95. To reserve: go to linktr.ee/spiceboxtravels and click on upcoming events.

“At the time, the idea that food should be part of medicine was very new to people,” she said. “But my boss was very open to new ideas and saw the wisdom in that.”

Meanwhile, she had already started writing a food blog, spiceboxtravels.com, focused on food and travel. After she attended the Healthy Kitchens conference, she started to incorporate healthy recipes, too. A few years ago, with more than 100 recipes already curated on her blog, she realized she had to take to the next step and write a cookbook.

Looking back, Shiue is not sure where she found the time to make the cookbook happen, between her busy work and family life.

“Every single moment that I wasn’t working, for a good part of a year plus, were spent on this book,” she said. “While developing the recipes, I was also cooking dinner for the family, so that helped.”

Although she wrote the book for everyone, her ideal reader is someone who loves food and wants better nutrition but does not want to go on a formal diet.

“The flavor should come first,” she said. “I know patients who have failed on their diets. If it doesn’t taste good, you are not going to stick to it.”

The book is divided by region, not mealtimes: California, Asia, the Mediterranean/Middle East and Trinidad. The Trinidad section was the most difficult to pull off, she said.

“There is only one cookbook from Trinidad that you can get in this country and only two in Trinidad,” she said. “So that was a very big challenge, not only because the recipes were new to me but because they were not vegetable-heavy.”

But with her husband as the tester, she could tell when she hit the right flavors while substituting vegetables for meat.

“I knew I had a winner when my husband would say, ‘It’s so good. It reminds of when so-and-so made it for me,’“ she said.

She also tried to make the recipes user-friendly, so no one would be too intimidated to try them.

“Anyone who can cook at all can do these recipes,” she said. “They taste much more complex and sophisticated than they are to make.”

Whatever healthy foods you choose, Shiue stresses to always put flavor first.

“That’s the problem with most healthy cooking and healthy cookbooks. The flavor is secondary to nutrition.”

Here are Shiue’s top five spices in her spicebox:

Turmeric: “I always bring up turmeric, just because we have the best evidence that it is very potent as an anti-inflammatory. I use it as an ingredient in curries of various types.”

Chile peppers: “There are so many varieties, and there are so many that are floral and fragrant rather than spicy. I think it’s fun to explore them, plus I do like heat. That’s a good way to enliven your food.”

Cumin: “I use a lot of cumin for Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes,” she said. “I like it because it has an earthiness and makes food very satisfying. It is a source of iron and helps with digestion.”

Cinnamon: “I like cinnamon, and I find it even sweeter to the palate than sugar, so it’s good for people who can’t have sugar,” she said. “In terms of health benefits, it helps with blood sugar control and blood pressure.”

Cardamom: “My favorite sweet spice is actually cardamom, but it can go either sweet or savory,” she said. “It has an interesting flavor. It’s used in Sweden in baked goods and in savory foods in India and other parts of Southeast Asia.”

The following recipes were excerpted from “Spicebox Kitchen: Eat Well and Be Healthy with Globally Inspired, Vegetable-Forward Recipes” by Dr. Linda Shiue.

This warming Korean stew is perfect for a cold, rainy night. It traditionally includes pork belly or seafood, but you won’t miss those in this vegan version. Depth of flavor comes from the umami in the fermented ingredients (kimchi and gochujang), as well as the mushrooms. Traditionally, this is cooked in a stone pot, but any heavy pot (such as a Dutch oven) will work. The finishing touch is usually a raw egg, added and stirred in to cook the bubbling stew just before serving.

Kimchi Jjigae (Vegan Korean Soft Tofu and Kimchi Stew)

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon neutral oil (such as canola)

6 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup chopped kimchi

4 cups low-sodium vegetable stock

1 ½ tablespoons gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)

14 ounces silken tofu, sliced into 10 slabs

4 ounces enoki of bunapi mushrooms (1 standard package), or any sliced mushrooms

6 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced

Steamed rice, for serving

1 large egg (optional)

Heat oil in a 3-quart saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic and kimchi and cook for 1 minute.

In a bowl, whisk together stock and gochujang until smooth, then add to pot. Bring to a boil.

Once kimchi is tender and slightly translucent, carefully add tofu in a single layer (it’s delicate, so you don’t want to break it), then add mushrooms. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

Just before serving, top stew with scallions. Increase heat to bring to a rapid and vigorous boil, then remove from heat and serve immediately.

Serve over rice and stir in raw egg, if desired.

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This is a simple and quick way to prepare very flavorful salmon. Extra glaze can be stored, tightly covered, in the refrigerator indefinitely and also be used to glaze tofu, eggplant and other vegetables.

Miso-Glazed Salmon

Makes 4 servings

Cooking spray

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

2 tablespoons white miso paste, reduced-sodium if available

2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari

½ teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 tablespoon water, if needed, to thin glaze to a pourable consistency

1 pound skin-on, center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions

2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallion

Position oven rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Line a small baking sheet with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray.

Toast sesame seeds in a small, dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk together miso, mirin, soy sauce and ginger in a small bowl until smooth. Thin with water as needed; glaze should be thick but pourable.

Place salmon fillets, skin side down, on prepared baking sheet. Brush with miso mixture.

Broil salmon, 3 to 4 inches from heat source, until opaque in center, 6 to 8 minutes.

Transfer salmon to serving plates and garnish with toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallion.

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The practice of milling tea leaves into a fine powder and then whisking in water originated in China around the 10th century. These days, it is most often associated with Japan, where matcha, as it’s known there, is the staple ingredient on which traditional Japanese tea ceremonies were developed in the 12th century. This matcha pudding was inspired by bubble, or boba, tea. Chia seeds become like boba pearls when soaked in liquid. The coconut milk complements the natural bitterness of the matcha to make a smooth, creamy, light dessert.

Matcha Coconut Pudding

Makes 4 servings

1 (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk

3 tablespoons chia seeds

1 tablespoon matcha powder

1½ tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Unsalted butter, for pan

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Keep tightly sealed in a jar or container with a lid and refrigerate overnight.

Stir well before serving. Thin with additional water, if desired.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

Diane Peterson

Features, The Press Democrat

I’m interested in the home kitchen, from sheet-pan suppers to the latest food trends. Food encompasses the world, its many cultures, languages and history. It is both essential and sensual. I also have my fingers on the pulse of classical music in Sonoma County, from student mariachi bands to jazz crossover and symphonic sounds. It’s all a rich gumbo, redolent of the many cultures that make up our country and the world.

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