Cooking Tips

Judith Hurley's Health Tips

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Judith Hurley's Health Tips

Thai Iced Tea
Making an Herbed Vinegar
Making an Herbed Oil
Cooling Beverages
Natural Insect Repellents
Refrigerator Preserves

Thai Iced Tea

Judith loves Thai Iced Tea because it is so refreshing on a hot summer day. Here's how you can make it:

  • 6 teabags (or teaspoons) Lapsang Souchong Tea or Orange Pekoe Tea (or 3 bags of each)
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • half and half to taste
  • fresh mint sprigs for garnish

Herbed Vinegar
Pack about 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs or dried spices into a 1 1/2 cup glass jar, then pound them lightly with a spoon to bruise them and release their aromas. Heat about a cup of vinegar -- but don't boil -- and pour it over the herbs. Let the vinegar cool, then cover and stash it in a cool place for a couple of weeks before using in vinaigrettes, to deglaze pans, to snap up soups and sauces. Herbed vinegars will keep for about a year.

Flavor Combos:

  • Basil, bay leaf, and garlic
  • Cilantro, dried hot chili pepper, and garlic
  • Black pepper, nutmeg, ginger, and cinnamon

Herbed Oil
Pack about 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs into a 1-cup glass jar. Pound the herbs lightly with a spoon to bruise them and release their aromas. Heat about half a cup of olive oil until it's warm, then pour it on the herbs. Let the oil cool, then cover and refrigerate for about two weeks before using. Use the oil to paint on fish or vegetables before grilling, in vinaigrettes, in marinades for vegetables, and in dressings for whole-grain salads. Store the oil in the fridge.

Flavor Combos:

  • Ginger, garlic, and lemon grass
  • Thyme, tarragon, parsley, and chives
  • Cinnamon stick, ginger, black peppercorns, and bay
  • Dried hot chili peppers, thyme, and garlic

People have always enjoyed believing that what they like to drink is good for them. And in the case of beer made with hops, that notion may actually be true. Beer brewers originally used the herb as a preservative. Beer brewed with hops could be stored longer before being sold, and the bitter flavor that hops contributed became popular. But, as any beer-lover knows, hops also have a relaxing effect on the central nervous system, and that's why, for centuries, herbalists have recommended hops to treat insomnia, stress, tension, and anxiety. Interestingly, they came to the idea by observation.

As hops cultivation spread through Europe, herbalists noticed that hops pickers fell asleep on the job, or rather, in the field, more so than other farm workers. The reason? A volatile oil that hops contain has a mild sedative effect on humans. In addition to beer, herbalists suggest making a relaxing tea of dried hops flowers. To make a cup, steep one teaspoon of crushed, dried flowers in one cup of just-boiled water, covered, for 10 minutes. You can also use pellet hops, compressed bits of hops flowers used in brewing beer, which, some experts say, retain their flavor longer than regular hops flowers.

Sometimes, for an extra-calming effect, hops are combined and steeped for tea with the herb skullcap. Or, for insomnia, hops are mixed with passion flower and valerian, or even chamomile or catnip. Since the relaxing volatile oil hops contain evaporates rather quickly, when buying hops for tea, make sure the flowers are aromatic and have not been in storage too long. Hops flowers stored for nine months, for instance, will lose about 85% of their vitality. Hops can also be made into a slumber pillow by filling a cotton or silk pouch with dried hops flowers. Tuck the hops slumber pillow into your usual bed pillow, rest your head upon it, and see if you sink into slumber. Hops slumber pillows have been used for centuries, reportedly by the likes of King George III, and also Abe Lincoln.

Since hops may increase the effects of prescription sedative drugs, don't use hops with these medications. Also note that some herbalists say hops may amplify the feeling of depression, so it should not be taken by people suffering from depression.

Cooling Beverages
Lack of sufficient liquids to keep the body hydrated is a major cause of summer fatigue and irritability. On a commonsense level this seems obvious, but scientists have validated the notion in a number of alertness tests, the results of which indicate that people perform better mentally and physically when they are hydrated.

Thirst, of course, is one way to tell if you need a drink. But since dehydration may occur on more subtle bodily levels such as muddled thinking and sluggishness it's a good idea to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day. Or, experiment with refreshing herbal beverages.

Peppermint herb tea is a classic hot weather beverage. When taken internally, either hot or cold, peppermint stimulates the cold-perceiving nerves just below the surface of the skin, helping you to feel cooler. You can make a cup of peppermint tea and drink it straight; or add sprigs of fresh peppermint to your drinking water.

For an extra cooling effect, make peppermint slush. Start with 1 Ohm cups of brewed, chilled peppermint tea, 1 and 1/2 cups of white grape juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Combine the tea and juices in an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. The recipe makes 4 large dessert servings, with 64 calories per serving. As a variation, substitute spearmint for the peppermint.

Another herb that helps cool the body naturally is sage. Make a cup of tea by using a teaspoon of dried sage, steeped in 1 cup of hot water, covered, for five minutes. Then sip warm or chilled. For an exceptionally reviving herbal tonic, brew equal parts of dried sage and peppermint. Make enough tea to sip throughout the day, taking it along to work or school, to help you stay refreshed.

Natural Insect Repellents
This time of year there's nothing quite as charming as eating outside. Be it romantic dining under the stars; a luscious mid-day picnic; or an al fresco brunch, be sure to bring along a natural insect repellent to keep the bugs at bay.

To make your own, in a spray bottle combine one cup of liquid witch hazel (available at pharmacies, supermarkets, and herb shops) one tablespoon of cider vinegar, and two 4-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary. Spray your skin and the area around you, repeating every 20 minutes or so. Make the mixture ahead so it will be ready when you need it; it keeps for about two weeks. Also note that since many biting and stinging insects are attracted to sweets, peel and eat that banana indoors.

You may also wish to light herbal candles or incense sticks around the area of your picnic. Candles or sticks containing cedarwood, sage, lavender, or citronella may help repel insects, and also create a rather fetching atmosphere.

If you've ventured out without your sprays or herb sticks, and do get bit, dot pure honey on the bite. It's comforting and will help fortify the healing process. In addition, honey is antibacterial, so it's great to apply to cleaned scratches and cuts. To amplify honey's effect, empty a capsule of powdered echinacea herb into a tablespoon of honey before applying.

For an especially hot, itchy bite apply toothpaste, because the cooling menthol will help soothe the sting. Note that if a bite suspiciously swells, or if you feel faint or feverish after getting bit, forget the toothpaste and please see a health professional.

Of all the fruits in the world, my very favorite is Durian the King, the Elvis of tropical fruits. " Duria" means thorn in Bahasa, and "durian" means thorny. So when searching for durian, which is available fresh in produce sections right now, look for a green-to-grayish football-shaped fruit with fat, non-threatening thorns.

Once you have found a durian, pick it up and shake it. The seeds should rattle and the stem end should be solid and firmly attached. This means the durian is perfectly ripe. If the stem is soft and beginning to rot, the durian is overripe and eating it may cause some burping. Then look the durian over on all sides, if there is any rotting, pick another durian. Back to the seeds again, if they don't rattle when shaken, the durian has not been allowed to ripen on the tree and though the flesh may be soft, the taste will not be developed.

And it IS that characteristic taste that makes durian the King of Fruits. Imagine papaya with a hint of garlic. Some describe it as melon-like with smoked ham or limburger cheese. The English novelist Anthony Burgess said that dining on durian is a lot like eating vanilla custard in a latrine, but nonetheless he ate it and loved it all the same.

It's really the smell, not the taste, of durian that throws one for a loop. Using a strong knife you pry open the naturally cracked shell, revealing creamy flesh that is golden yellow to orange, and at first smells ahhhhhhh somewhat embarrassing. But go ahead. Be adventurous and eat it anyway, the flavor is divine. Enjoy it straight away as a fresh fruit snack or dessert; or puree the flesh and make durian ice cream.

A quarter pound of durian contains about 150 calories and is a decent source of dietary fiber. Durian also offers small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, manganese, vitamin C, and some B vitamins. Durian is a great source of immune-enhancing beta carotene, a quarter pound offering 45,000 IUs, about as much as a large sweet potato.

Southeast Asian folklore holds that durian is warming, thus good to balance the body in cold weather. It's also rumored that durian is a tonic to the lungs and digestive system. And speaking of digestion, a word of caution: NEVER eat a durian and drink beer at the same meal. The combination will create what the Chinese like to call "internal wind" But for the King of Fruits, it's more like an internal typhoon.

If you're more inclined to evoke fire than wind, you may wish to try this Valentine's day potion: It's a lovely red fruit slush that will invigorate your sweetheart. For two servings you'll need half a cup each of pitted cherries and durian chunks; a 1/2 cup of cranberry juice, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 1 and 1/2 cups of crushed ice. If you can't find the fresh fruit, frozen is OK. Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and whiz until very well combined and slushy, then serve immediately in chilled wine glasses.

Refrigerator Preserves

It's easy to be charmed and tempted by the wholesome idea of making ordinary foods from scratch. One of the most creative of these culinary endeavors is making fruit preserves, and even if you've never canned fruit before, even if you don't have a thermometer, pectin, cheesecloth, or proper canning jars, you can easily make your own fresh version of fruit preserves and store it in the refrigerator. And so it's called Refrigerator Preserves.

Fruits, particularly strawberries, do so well as refrigerator preserves because the limited exposure to heat retains the flavor, color, and texture of the fruit that is normally cooked away in other preservation methods.

Refrigerator preserves MUST be stored in the refrigerator or freezer, because they are not canned. After preparation, scoop the preserves into ultra-clean jars with tight-fitting lids and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks, or store in the freezer for to to 6 months. If you're planning to freeze your preserves, be sure to leave half an inch of headspace for expansion, and let the jars cool down in the refrigerator overnight to allow the preserves to set up before freezing.

And here is what you'll need to make Fresh Strawberry Preserves:

  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin or agar
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped strawberries (from about 1 quart whole
  • berries)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup honey

Pour the orange juice into a large fry pan and sprinkle the gelatin or agar over it, letting it stand for 5 minutes.

Add the berries, lemon juice, and honey, and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Pour the liquid into ultra-clean glass containers and refrigerate. When the preserves cool, tightly cap the jars and remember that if you plan to freeze them, leave half an inch of headspace. The recipe makes about 3 cups.

Feel moved to substitute blueberries, use half blueberries and half strawberries, or create a combination of your own.


A Chef's Table Herb and Health expert Judith Benn Hurley contributes healing secrets for all seasons.

If you have any questions for chef Coleman please call us at 1-888-302-9499 or e-mail us at chef@whyy.org.

The Good Herb: Recipes and Remedies from Nature
The Good Herb: Recipes and Remedies from Nature
by Judith Benn Hurley

©2005 WHYY