1. Nitric oxide is absolutely essential to vascular health--a finding that won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1998.2. It relaxes blood vessels, selectively boosting blood flow to the organs that need it. It prevents white blood cells and platelets from becoming sticky, and starting the buildup of vascular plaque. It lowers blood pressure.
3. But with every meal of processed oil, dairy or meat we eat, within minutes there is damage & injury to the "life jackets" of our vascular health--which is the single layer of endothelial cells that line all of our blood vessels.
4. The essential building block for nitric oxide production is an amino acid that is found in rich supply in plant foods.
5. And what can you eat to insure that your endothelial cells will have the raw materials to produce this healing nitric oxide? Beans & leafy greens. Load up on kale, collards, Swiss chard, bok choy, & beans and you will be well on your way to healing the linings of your blood vessels.
6. Dr. Esselstyn's patients who adopted a strictly plant-based diet brought about rapid restoration of their endothelial cells' capacity to manufacture nitric oxide--and restore circulation.
-Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D., Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease-
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Lately, I've been craving Swiss chard. It's in my shopping cart every time I go to the grocery store--and believe me--I go to the grocery store a lot.
Provencal Greens soup--made with just Swiss chard, dandelion greens, leeks, and vegetable broth. Can't get enough of it. Click here for the recipe
So when I saw Martha Rose Shulman's recipe for a Sardine and Chard Gratin in the New York Times on March 29, 2010 I knew I was going to give it a try.
Now that was a pretty crazy thing for me to do--because number one: I've never let a sardine pass my lips, ever! Sardines were my dad's all-time favorite food--but as a kid, their fishy smell and the whole slimy look of canned sardines sent me running out of the kitchen. And number two: I rarely eat fish these days.
And for years I wouldn't give Swiss chard the time of day, either! My father-in-law LOVED Swiss chard, and grew it in his summer garden before he retired to Florida. He was always trying to get me try his chard. Never even took a single bite.
Now it's always in my fridge, and I blend it into Green smoothies, saute it with garlic, and use it anyway I can think of. Love it. If only my father-in-law could see me now.
As soon as I read that Martha Rose Shulman's gorgeous gratin would take 3 pounds of Swiss chard to make--I was bound and determined to give it a try--in spite of those sardines.
My dad and my father-in-law both died from massive strokes--long before we knew a thing about nitric oxide, Swiss chard, or omega 3s. If only they had known what we know now.
I made my chard gratin when Passover ended--and I could top it with bread crumbs.
Two days after we enjoyed the Swiss chard gratin I came across this article published last January in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, with a most appropriate title: "Impaired Endothelial Nitric Oxide Bioavailability: A Common Link Between Aging, Hypertension, and Atherogenesis?" So does this mean that you're only as young as your nitric oxide supply holds out?
"Chronological age should no longer be viewed as an irreversible cardiovascular risk factor. The concept of "vascular age" may be a more useful construct in determining vascular risk.
Accelerated vascular aging and the "age related" vascular disease processes of hypertension and atherosclerosis are associated with impaired endothelial nitric oxide bioavailability at relatively early stages.
Pharmacotherapeutic intervention aimed at improving endothelial nitric oxide bioavailability has the potential to alter these related disease process."
And who says you need a drug to improve endothelial nitric oxide bioavailability? A plant-based-diet with plenty of Swiss chard, kale, collards, bok choy, legumes, and beans does a fine job--without the side-effects! Just ask Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr. if you don't believe me.
As for the Gratin--it was everything Martha Rose Shulman had promised:
"This is unbelievably easy to make and so delicious I can hardly believe it's made with sardines from a can. The recipe is a simplified version of a traditional Provencal dish made with fresh sardines and spinach You can easily throw this dish together on a weeknight."
For the vegans who are reading this--please forgive me for the sardine slip-up. That's what happens when you're "veganish". I still do occasionally eat fish--about once every-other-month. Blame it on my 8 day Passover fast from beans, grains, legumes, and rice. I needed some protein.
But honestly, I loved those sardines! I truly am my father's daughter. And eating them made me think of him and put a big smile on my face! Sis--have you ever tasted sardines?
And I know I will also lose points for including a recipe that requires a bit of olive oil to give it a true Provencal taste. And I'm sure it could be left out.
There's no denying that cold-water fish contain heart healthy omega-3s that have been shown to lower triglycerides, decrease inflammation, as well as reduce the risks of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. And even the Environmental Defense Fund puts sardines into the "eco-best category. Because they are lower on the food chain they have less contaminants.
This dish is dedicated to my Dad who loved sardines, and my father-in-law who loved Swiss chard. And now I finally understand why.
Dad's Sardine and Swiss Chard Gratin
adapted from a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman
1 3.5-ounce can boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil (Martha recommends 2 cans of oil-packed--no need)
1 3.5-ounce can boneless, skinless sardines packed in water
2 1/2 to 3 pounds Swiss chard (about 3 bunches) stemmed--but leave a few inches of stem intact--and wash carefully
1-3 tsp. of olive oil--your choice (Martha uses 1 TBS.)
1 medium onion finely chopped
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBS. fresh thyme leaves, roughly chopped (or 1 tsp dry)
1/2 cup low-fat unsweetened soy milk
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh or dry whole grain bread crumbs.
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a 2-quart gratin or baking dish. (I used a 10 inch square baking dish) Drain the sardines over a bowl, and separate them into fillets. Set the oil aside.
2. While the chard is still wet from washing, heat a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Working in batches, pile a few handfuls into the pan and stir until the chard begins to wilt. Cover the pan for a minute, then uncover and stir the greens until they have wilted. As each batch collapses, transfer it to a bowl. When you have wilted all of the chard, rinse briefly with cold water, squeeze out excess water and chop medium-fine.
3. Either heat the olive oil (not the oil from the sardines) (or use 1/4 cup of vegetable broth in lieu of oil) in the skillet over medium heat, and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt, stir in the garlic and thyme, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the chopped, wilted chard and salt and pepper to taste. Stir together for one minute until everything is blended. Add the milk, and stir together for about one minute until you no longer see liquid in the pan. Remove from the heat. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper.
4. Spread half the greens in the bottom of the baking dish. Top with the sardine fillets in one layer. Drizzle a tablespoon or less of the oil from the can over the sardines (or skip this all together), then top with the remaining greens in an even layer. In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs well with a small amount of oil--either the reserved sardine oil or fresh olive oil, before sprinkling the crumbs over the chard.
5. Place in the oven, and bake 15 minutes until sizzling. Serve hot or warm.
Yield: Serves four to six.
Advance preparation: You can assemble this up to a day ahead of baking. Keep well covered in the refrigerator.
Nutritional count is based on 4 servings per recipe.
The Healthy Librarian's
Dad's Sardine and Swiss Chard Gratine
Serving Size: 1 serving
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