Polyphenols. Xenohormesis. Sirtuins. These are not Star Wars trivia words, surprise, surprise. They are clues in the quest to understand why plants are good for us. The Sirtfood Diet by Aidan Goggins and Glen Matten offers a compelling argument for the science behind why eating plants can give you a healthier, longer life. I’m usually not a fan of “diet” books because I don’t like used car salesman spiels with taglines like “lose 7 pounds in 7 days!” and I don’t think people should estimate the summation of their health as the number glaring back from the bathroom scale. What I like about this book is the way it describes the evolution of a common mechanism of action in the class of foods called “sirtfoods.”
Sirtfoods are foods that when eaten turn on a family of genes (SIRT1-SIRT7) which are evolutionarily critical for energy efficiency. Activation of SIRT1, for example, blocks the storage and production of fat, increases fat burning and conversion of white fat to brown fat, and regulates appetite. Sirtuins also play a role in the prevention of atherosclerosis, dementia, osteoporosis, and diabetes. These foods are like little cellular scrub brushes for the plaques of chronic disease. This is relatively new stuff—wasn’t on my test in medical school (though diet and nutrition rarely is, sadly).
Here’s my favorite part. As living beings, our bodies have systems that allow us to adapt to stress, called hormesis. When we are low on energy, dehydrated, fatigued from exercise, we have metabolic pathways that switch on to conserve resources and repair us. Consider a plant, however. Plants, when thirsty, say it’s been a New Orleans summer day, cannot go inside to enjoy the AC and get a La’Croix. Because plants are stationary, plant stress responses have evolved some rather elegant molecules—a whole menu of polyphenols- which effect hormesis for plants. Polyphenols you have probably heard of: quercetin, resveratrol, epicatechin, caffeic acid, oleuropein. Well, maybe you’ve haven’t heard of these chemicals, but they are the reasons why salad, wine, chocolate, olive oil, and coffee are “good” for you. When you eat them, your body gets to steal some of the plants hormesis effects—a process called xenohormesis.
In reading this book, I was excited to see that I’ve already been eating a lot of sirtfoods in my regular diet. Here’s a list of foods full of phenols to feel good about:
Extra virgin olive oil
So I’ve been into buckwheat again lately. There are several delicious buckwheat recipes in this book. But also, I prefer to make loaves of bread with buckwheat flour and whole buckwheat groats. This week I was gifted a bouquet of flours from Pereg Natural Foods. (Their website in itself could be marketed as an appetite stimulant.) They make a delicious buckwheat flour. Buckwheat isn’t even a grain! It’s a relative of rhubarb.
This bread title sounds like a Muppet. Or a Harry Potter special at the Leaky Cauldron.
Buckwheat Sourdough with Toasted Groats
Adapted from the Tartine Bread Book (sorry, y’all Tartine is metric. Buy a scale, trust me, it’s better)
500g all-purpose flour
400g whole wheat flour
50g buckwheat flour
70g wheat germ (or flax)
150g toasted buckwheat groats
70g crème fraiche
Mix the flours and water together with the sourdough starter. Cover and let rest for an hour or two. Meanwhile, toast 150g of buckwheat groats on a baking sheet for 15-20 minutes. Then soak the toasted groats in warm water for 1 hour, and drain. Quarter turn the bread dough every hour or so during the initial rise (which can be from 4-6 hours, just depends on how speedy your starter is feeling that day). Wait at least two hours before adding the salt (wet the salt in several tablespoons of water so it’s a slurry, easier to knead into the dough), wheat germ, buckwheat groats and crème fraiche. Let rise until it’s fluffy and gorgeous. Divide into two loaves, shape and proof for another hour in bowls lined with cloth sprinkled with either brown rice or corn masa. Place your cloches (I used cast iron pots with lids) in the oven and heat it up to 500 degrees. Yeah. Hot. Wait till the pots are pre-heated and then upturn the dough into the hot pots and put the lids on. Bake at 500 for 30 minutes, then pull the lids off and decrease oven temp to 450 and bake another 25 minutes. Oh this bread is chewy and has so much flavor. You won’t even need butter.
Another buckwheat delicacy (other than pancakes) is soba. You can make your own pasta noodles to serve with your stirfry. A little tricky, but delicious.
Adapted from Sonoko Sakai’s recipe for Ni-Hachi Style Soba Noodles on Kitchn.com
280 grams stone-milled buckwheat flour from Anson Mills or Cold Mountain or Pereg Foods (when I used Bob’s Red Mill Buckwheat it all disintegrated in the hot water)
70 grams all-purpose flour
175 grams filtered or mineral water
Buckwheat starch or tapioca starch, for rolling the soba
Place your mixing bowl on a metric scale and tare to zero. Combine the flours, weighing the two flours as you add them. Mental MATH! It’s good for you! Add the water to the flour. Knead until a crumbly dough is formed: Work the flours and water together with your hands and then knead it in the bowl until it come together into a rough and slightly crumbly dough. If the dough feels dry or you can still see dry flour after a few minutes of kneading, then add water a tablespoon at a time until all the flour is integrated. Conversely, if the dough feels very wet and sticky, add all-purpose flour a tablespoon at a time until it becomes a workable dough.
Knead the dough on the counter until smooth: Turn the dough out onto the counter. Continue kneading until it holds together easily, does not crack while kneading, and becomes smooth. You should not need to add any more flour at this point. The dough will be very dense — and its color will make it look like a rock. Knead until it is a smooth stone.
Shape the dough into a disk. Cover with saran and let rest on the counter for 30-50 min.
Roll out the dough: Sprinkle the counter with a little starch and place the dough on top. Sprinkle the top of the dough and the rolling pin with starch. Begin rolling out the dough, working from the center of the dough outward in long, even strokes. Gently tap the edges of the dough with your rolling pin to shape them into straight lines as you roll, gradually shaping the dough into as close a rectangular shape as you can make it. Use more starch as needed to prevent sticking.
Continue rolling the dough into a rectangle longer than it is wide and 1/16-inch to 1/8-inch thick (as thin as possible!). Feed the dough into your pasta press, I like using the fettucine setting. Keep the noodles tossed with a little more starch to prevent sticking. Cook or freeze the soba within a few hours.
Cook the soba: Set a strainer in your sink. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes, and set this near the sink. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and drop in the soba. Cook for 60 seconds, then drain through the strainer in the sink. Rinse thoroughly under cool water, lifting and gently shaking the soba until the cooking film is rinsed away. Immediately dunk the soba in the bowl of ice water. Drain and serve.
I made the soba into a shrimp dish featured in the Sirtfood Diet book, spicy and delicious. Thanks to all the sponsors of this post–including Pereg Natural Foods! I’ll be make a lot of gluten-free dinners in the weeks to come, thank you!